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A Coptic Center in Medieval West Africa: Reframing Prester John and Early Global Trade

A Coptic Center in Medieval West Africa: Reframing Prester John and Early Global Trade

Lecture by Suzanne Preston Blier

Given at The Courtauld Institute of Art on October 29, 2019

Abstract: This paper explores the importance of new technologies in the art historical study of Medieval West Africa and how related methodologies both help us understand the important art and architectural landscape here in this period, and how Africa and the eastern Coptic Christian world helped to reshape Africa in this era. A key focus of this discussion are various art historically rich sites in West Africa (Ife, Hausa, Bornu, Mafa), in Nigeria, Cameroon and Chad and how they may relate to the larger African European diaspora. At the same time this paper will also take up the importance of new technologies such as GIS, DNA, and geological analysis in addressing these and other issues are important to understanding the broader role that economy, trade, and religion have played in these and other contexts.

This paper accordingly takes up the relative merit of new and older technologies in contexts where other data such as written resources are largely missing. While my focus is on medieval African art scholarship, the implications clearly are broader. I will argue that both quantitative and qualitative analysis can, in different contexts, offer unique insight into core art historical questions. Specifically, I will draw on vital differences in formal analysis, material analysis, GIS, DNA, environmental analysis.

Suzanne Preston Blier is a Professor of Fine Arts and of African and African American Studies at Harvard University. Click here to view her faculty page.

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