A PhD thesis completed in the academic year 2014/15 at the University of Konstanz and Mekelle University has won the award of the “Best PhD Thesis of The Year” of the University of Konstanz, one of the few leading “Universities of Excellence” in Germany.
Based on a co-tutelle, signed by the presidents of the universities of Konstanz and Mekelle, the thesis was carried out at both universities in a bi-national framework. It discusses the early cultural and diplomatic contacts between the Solomonic Ethiopian state and European kingdoms of the 15th to early 16th centuries, a period marked by a greatly flourishing, internationally highly active Ethiopia, a subject widely overlooked in global history and cultural history so far. It was authored by Dr Verena Krebs, under the advisor ship of Professor Dr Dorothea Weltecke of the University of Konstanz and co-advisor ship of Professor Dr Wolbert Smidt of Mekelle University. The advancement award is granted yearly, based on a jury decision selecting the best thesis, comparing all nominated theses from all disciplines. It is funded by the leading German academic think-tank ‘Stiftung Wissenschaft und Gesellschaft’ (‘Foundation for Science and Society’).
The thesis is titled ‘Windows onto the World: Culture Contact and Western Christian Art in Ethiopia, 1402-1543’, and encompasses some 200.000 words. It investigated the diplomatic, artistic and trade contacts between the Christian Kingdom of Solomonic Ethiopia and kingdsoms in Western Europe in the late medieval period with a focus on an Ethiopian perspective: What were the Ethiopian aims and interests? What was driving the astonishingly successful diplomatic initiatives from Ethiopia, and which concepts were behind the Ethiopian interest in arts and craftsmenship coming from abroad? And in what were the differences in the interests and perceptions of both sides? The work combines approaches from the fields of history, art history and cultural studies, with sources drawn from both written sources and material culture.
Therefore, her thesis was successfully defended ‘summa cum laude’ in December 2014 at the University of Konstanz. During the first phase of her research Dr Verena Krebs stayed as a visiting researcher at the Department of History and Cultural Studies; presented the first results of her work in a public lecture, and was greatly supported by the College of Social Sciences and Languages of Mekelle University during her field research (2011/12). Since 2014, Dr Krebs has worked as a postdoctoral research fellow at the Martin Buber Society of Fellows at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel. She is currently also involved in a project investigating the medieval history of the Bete Israel (Ethiopian Jews) at Ruhr-University Bochum, Germany. Accordingly, the award ceremony will be held on October 21st, 2016, at the Audimax of the University of Konstanz in Germany.