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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


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.
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Rapenburg 70
2311 Ez Leiden


Activity type

Higher or Secondary Education Establishments

EU Contribution

€ 187 572,48

Project information

Grant agreement ID: 842112


Ongoing project

  • Start date

    1 September 2019

  • End date

    31 August 2021

Funded under:


  • Overall budget:

    € 187 572,48

  • EU contribution

    € 187 572,48

Coordinated by: