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Book Reviews 123 A History ofEthiopia Harold G. Marcus Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994. Pp. xv, 261. Ethiopian historiography has long needed this work. Not since 1935 when A.H.M. Jones and Elizabeth Monroe published A History ofAbyssinia has there existed in English a broad, introductory text that was both scholarly and readable. Jones and Monroe has been reissued many times, the last in 1978 (Oxford: Oxford University Press), but except for the appending of a chronology of the Italo-Ethiopian War, the authors never endeavored to revise or update the text. In this light, then, Marcus's volume is particularly welcome. Although comparable in length, the two works represent sharp contrasts in emphasis. Jones and Monroe devoted slightly over 60 percent of their work to the ancient and medieval periods (up to 1855) while Marcus gives it something less than 30 percent. This difference reflects the need to represent some 55 years of modern history after the Italian War not in Jones and Monroe at all, and Marcus's own scholarly interests which have focused primarily on Emperors Menilek ? and Haile Sellassie I. Whereas Jones and Monroe cover Ethiopia from Axum to Walwal, Marcus encompasses Lucy (Dinqinesh) to Mengistu Haile Mariam, incorporating an impressive mass of new scholarship produced since 1935. The contributions of Ethiopian scholars and of Marcus's own graduate students are quite evident in his analysis, but the overall synthesis, particularly of the modern period, highlights Marcus's own energetic research over 35 years. By and large, Marcus's synthesis of "Ethiopian" history is both compelling and convincing. Some might wonder, though, at his conception of the Ethiopian state, at what a history of that state ought to represent. The traditional approach, which Marcus largely follows, is evolutionary; it describes an inland Abyssinian kingdom, embracing Christianity, monarchy and feudalism, with its roots in ancient Axum, which evolves over centuries into the core of the modern Ethiopian state through Menilek's conquests. Ethiopia thus supposedly has existed for 2000 years. The tale of its trials and tribulations makes for fascinating reading. In its periods of expansion and contraction, the old Abyssinian kingdom possessed a shifting periphery and was always multi-ethnic in composition, features similar to Menilek's modern state. But Menilek's conquest tripled its size, making it larger than it 124 Book Reviews had ever been at any time in its history and turning the Abyssinians (however one defines them) into a minority within, potentially diluting, transforming, or replacing the state's core institutions and values. The centralization efforts of both Menilek and Haile Sellassie were thus as much to maintain Abyssinian control of the empire-state from within as to preserve its independence in the face of external colonialism. In this evolutionary approach to Ethiopian history, the state's peripheral peoples have no recognition and thus apparently no history until either the Abyssinians decide to conquer them or until the peripheral peoples somehow impinge upon the highlanders directly. Thus, the Oromo, for example, are of no apparent importance until their invasion of the highlands in the 17th century; others do not enter the realm of Ethiopian history until Menilek forcibly incorporates them into the state in the nineteenth. These peripheral peoples thus are part of Ethiopian history only if and when the Abyssinians have any consciousness of them, and only as they are included within the geographical boundaries of the Abyssinian state. Unfortunately, it reflects a rather imperialist conception of history: "Ethiopia is us, and you are part of it only to the extent that we say you are." Should a book called "The History of Ethiopia" not deal with the separate histories of the various peoples who find themselves today within the political confines of that state? If not, then why should they legitimately be expected to call themselves Ethiopian? Maybe such a book and others like it should more accurately be called "The History of the Ethiopian State." Do not the Oromo, Wolayta and Kaffitcho, among others, have histories that are as ancient as that of the Abyssinians? Most Ethiopians today do have some broad sense of the multiethnic nature of their state although few have any detailed knowledge about...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1535-6574
Print ISSN
0740-9133
Pages
pp. 123-125
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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