Trained as a historian of medieval Europe with a particular interest in the intersection of religion and politics in Italy, Samantha Kelly’s current research examines the relations between Latin Europe and the Christian kingdom of Ethiopia in the pre-modern era. Her 2003 book, The New Solomon: Robert of Naples (1309-1343) and Fourteenth-Century Kingship (winner of the Marraro Prize of the American Catholic Historical Association) examined the ruling strategies and image-making of a monarch who juggled the responsibilities of his several Mediterranean territories and who cultivated an image of erudition and piety that attracted the attention of contemporary luminaries like Petrarch and Dante. In 2011 she published The ‘Cronaca di Partenope’: An Introduction to and Critical Edition of the First Vernacular History of Naples, examining the dating, authorship, sources, historical context and later influence of a text that was a landmark in Neapolitan communal identity and foundational to many later histories of the city and kingdom.
A Mellon New Directions Fellowship afforded Professor Kelly the opportunity to spend the year 2012-13 studying Ethiopian and African history and Gǝ‘ǝz, the literary and liturgical language of premodern Ethiopia, in order to facilitate analysis of Ethiopian-European relations from both sides. To date she has published nine essays and articles on this topic. Her edited volume A Companion to Medieval Ethiopia and Eritrea (2020), a multidisciplinary collection of essays by sixteen scholars, was chosen as a Choice Outstanding Academic Title and winner of the African Studies Review prize for best Africa-focused anthology or edited collection.
Her forthcoming monograph, Translating Faith: Ethiopian Pilgrims in Renaissance Rome draws on Gǝ‘ǝz- and European-language sources to reconstruct the history of a remarkable community: that of Santo Stefano, an Ethiopian Orthodox pilgrim hostel/monastery established in the very capital of Latin Christianity. During a century of religious conflict and intensive global interactions, the pilgrims of Santo Stefano undertook a series of intellectual projects with Latin Christian collaborators that aimed to purvey and promote Ethiopian culture. In excavating the pilgrims’ efforts to carve out an Ethiopian Orthodox space in this foreign host society, the substantive Ethiopian knowledge they purveyed in their collaborative works and the various ways their knowledge was received and reinterpreted by Latin Christian partners and patrons, the study examines the mixed legacy of Santo Stefano’s reputation as the birthplace of Ethiopian Studies and the fraught debates about religious identity and racial categorization with which the pilgrims and their collaborators contended. It is scheduled to appear in spring 2024 from Harvard University Press.
In addition to the Mellon Foundation, Kelly’s research has been supported by the American Academy in Rome, the Istituto Italiano di Studi Storici in Naples, the École française de Rome, Villa I Tatti, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. She has served as director of Rutgers’ Program in Medieval Studies (2008-11), a councillor of the Medieval Academy of America (2014-17), and co-organizer of the Ethiopian Studies webinar series at the Institute for Advanced Study (2021-22). She is currently Associate Chair of the History Department and co-organizes the Ethiopian Studies of North America workshop.
COURSES REGULARLY TAUGHT
- 510:101 Ancient and Medieval Europe
- 508:220 Ancient Africa
- 510:317 The Renaissance
- 510:337 Medieval Kings and Queens
- 510:509 The Teaching of History
- 510:541 Global Colloquium (rotating topics: Race in the Medieval Mediterranean; Premodern Race and Slavery)
- 510:615/616 European research seminar (2 semesters)
- “Ethiopia and Ethiopian Languages in Renaissance Italy.” In Languages and Cross-Cultural Exchange in Renaissance Italy. Edited by Alessandra Petrocchi and Joshua Brown. Turnhout: Brepols, in press (2023).
- “Ethiopian Monks in Europe.” In Balthazar: A Black African King in Medieval and Renaissance Art. Edited by Kristen Collins and Bryan C. Keene. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2023, 72-75.
- “Medieval Ethiopian Diasporas.” In Samantha Kelly, ed., Companion to Medieval Ethiopia and Eritrea (Leiden: Brill, 2020), 425-453.
- “Heretics, Allies, Exemplary Christians: Latin Views of Ethiopian Orthodox in the Later Middle Ages.” In Michael D. Bailey and Sean L. Field, eds., Late Medieval Heresy: New Perspectives. Studies in Honor of Robert E. Lerner (Woodbridge: York Medieval Press/Boydell & Brewer, 2018), 195-214.
- “The Two Yoḥannǝses of Santo Stefano degli Abissini, Rome: Reconstructing Biography and Cross-Cultural Encounter through Manuscript Evidence” (co-authored with Denis Nosnitsin). Manuscript Studies 2, 2 (Fall 2017). In press.
- “Biondo Flavio on Ethiopia: Processes of Knowledge Production in the Renaissance.” In William Caferro, ed., The Routledge History of the Renaissance (London and New York, 2017), 167-182.
- “Ewosṭateans at the Council of Florence (1441): Diplomatic Implications between Ethiopia, Europe, Jerusalem and Cairo.” Afriques: débats, méthodes et terrains d’histoire [en ligne], Varia, 29 June 2016.
- “The Curious Case of Ethiopian Chaldean: Fraud, Philology and Cultural (Mis)-Understanding in European Conceptions of Ethiopia.” Renaissance Quarterly 68, 4 (Winter 2015), 1227-1264.
- “A New Interpretation of the Ethiopian-European Diplomacy surrounding João Bermudes.” At international workshop Penser et écrire une histoire des connexions entre les royaumes chrétiens d’Éthiopie et de Kongo et la Méditerranée médievale et moderne. Rome, Italy, July 2022.
- “Ethiopian Orthodox in 16th-century Rome: Promulgating Knowledge, Contesting Critics.” At conference Between the Black Mediterranean and the Black Atlantic: Complexifying Stories of Connectivity and Resistance, Cambridge University, May 2022.
- “Ethiopian Pilgrims in Religious Diplomacy Between Rome, Portugal, and Ethiopia, 1536-49.” At conference Horizons orientaux des savoirs romains sur la nature du monde, Rome, Italy, November 2021.
- “The Other Christians of the Late Medieval Mediterranean: Ethiopian Settlement and Exchange with Latin Christians, c.1200 - c.1550.” Annual Riggsby Lecture on Medieval Mediterranean History & Culture, University of Tenessee at Knoxville, October 2020.
- “Ethiopia and the Global Middle Ages.” Public plenary lecture at conference “Medieval Ethiopia: A Second Colloquium,” Toronto, Canada, October 2019.
- “Connected Histories: Ethiopia and the Global Middle Ages.” Invited lecture, Harvard University, April 2019.