Monday, 8 November 2010

Websites for Writers: The Institute of Ethiopian Studies

It's Monday, so it's time for another website to inspire all you writers out there. This week we're looking at the Institute of Ethiopian Studies, where I spent part of this year researching a book on the Adowa campaign of 1896 for Osprey Publishing. Now this site won't be of much practical use to you unless you're writing about Ethiopia (if so, get in touch) but it sure is inspiring.

The institute is on the campus of Addis Ababa University in one of Haile Selassie's old palaces. The reading desks are in a giant, ornately decorated room that looks like it was used for state functions. It's the nicest room I've ever researched in! Founded in 1963, the institute has weathered coups, civil wars, famine, and lack of funding yet has continually produced two journals as well as a host of other monographs, books, and collections of academic papers. The staff have assembled a huge collection of works on Ethiopia and surrounding countries. Upstairs is an extensive and well-organized ethnographic museum that's one of the highlights of any visit to the city.

Conducting research here was a delight. Despite some problems with language barriers the staff was very helpful and the large amount of English-language material was invaluable for my book. While many people in the West think of Ethiopia in terms of the television images of war and famine from the Eighties, Ethiopia is on the rise. The UN recently ranked Ethiopia number one in Africa in improving quality of life in the past forty years, and number eleven worldwide. One criterion the Ethiopians scored highly on was improvements to education, and their excellent institute is part of that positive trend.

The campus itself is a pleasant place with the usual attractive coeds and lush gardens. Plus there's this cool cafe made from a converted London Routemaster! I ate lunch there a few times. Their Ethiopian food was good, of course, and they also made tasty chips and salsa.

So remember, writers, the so-called developing world is rich with scholars and libraries. They may not have a lot of money, they may only have a dialup connection, they may lose power a couple of times a day, but they keep researching and writing books.

So. . .what YOUR excuse for not writing today?

[Image of institute courtesy Yigal Chamish. I took two photos of it but can't find them! The Routemaster shot is by my wife Almudena Alonso-Herrero]

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