The museum as prison and other protective measures in socialist Ethiopia

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Abstract

In 1974 Emperor Haile Selassie was overthrown in a revolution that ended Ethiopia’s long Imperial history and ushered in a military Marxist dictatorship. The challenge of what to do with Ethiopia’s vast royal and religious cultural heritage–of symbolic national and Pan-African significance–immediately presented itself. This article considers the treatment of the Ethiopia’s historic heritages in the wake of the Emperor’s fall, examining both acts of iconoclasm and the proliferation of a cultural heritage bureaucracy in keeping with a putatively socialist political agenda. Focusing specifically on a UNESCO report about the proposed new National Museum, this study explores efforts to recast Ethiopia’s national narrative within a ‘progressive’ framework, and the influence of Leninist attitudes towards ‘imperial’ heritage in the wake of revolution. The latter evidences the impact of Soviet heritage concepts, known in Addis through the circulation of Progress Publisher books from the later 1970s onwards, and through educational sojourns by Ethiopian intellectuals to Soviet cities. Though the revolution was a destructive, iconoclastic process in which many (including the Emperor) lost their lives, it left a curious legacy regarding national cultural heritage, the very definition of which was dramatically expanded to include much more than royal crowns and Orthodox treasures.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1166-1184
JournalInternational Journal of Heritage Studies
Volume26
Issue number12
Early online date10 Sept 2019
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Keywords

  • Socialism
  • Internationalism
  • Ethiopia
  • Soviet Union
  • UNESCO

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