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Identity and Memory in Christian Nubia: A study on strategies of (self-)presentation and preservation of the past in medieval African society

Project description

The formation of Nubian identity

The Battle of Dongola in 652 stopped Muslim expansion into Nubia. However, its social and cultural dimensions and its projection in future developments in the region remain unexplored. The EU-funded IaM NUBIAN project will investigate the formation of Nubian identity after this historical event and its transformation over time. By combining traditional historical disciplines with social sciences and statistics, the project will exploit documentary and literary evidence produced inside and outside Nubia in Greek, Coptic, Old Nubian and Arabic. The project will conduct four case studies on linguistic strategies of (self-) presentation, gender-determined identity, the role of public inscriptions and the perception of Nubians in external sources.


In 652 CE the successful expansion of Islam into Africa was halted at the gates of Dongola. While the historical significance of this ‘Nubian dam’ is well known, its sociocultural dimension also for subsequent developments in the region remains completely unexplored. IaM NUBIAN addresses this gap by examining how Nubian identity was shaped in the aftermath of this world-historical event and how it changed over time to witness the rise to glory and eventual fall of Christian Nubia in the 15th century. Using the extensive, but hardly exploited written evidence (documentary and literary) produced inside and outside Nubia in 4 languages (Greek, Coptic, Old Nubian, and Arabic), I will study textual and contextual means of expressing ‘Nubianness’ in 4 case studies on (1) linguistic strategies of (self-) presentation, (2) gender-determined identity, (3) the role of inscriptions in public space, and (4) how external sources presented Nubians. For the first time in Nubian studies, traditional historical disciplines (e.g. philology, papyrology, epigraphy, history) will be combined with insights from social sciences (sociolinguistics, identity and memory studies) and statistics to unlock the sophisticated interplay of text and context that underlies the studied writings. Moving well beyond the boundaries of current knowledge and approaches, IaM NUBIAN shifts the focus from the political-religious to the sociocultural to understand the historical processes that shaped medieval Nubian society. IaM NUBIAN is best executed in the Leiden Institute for Area Studies with its interdisciplinary approach to studying society at large, while Freie Universität Berlin offers crucial additional digital humanities and sociolinguistic expertise. Through an intensive cooperative and interactive research and training programme I will gain crucial linguistic, disciplinary, and professional skills, which will put me in position to obtain an ERC Consolidator Grant and a permanent academic position.


Net EU contribution
€ 187 572,48
2311 EZ Leiden

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West-Nederland Zuid-Holland Agglomeratie Leiden en Bollenstreek
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 187 572,48