Sandscribe at Bristol University, UK

The Bristol Institute for Research in the Arts and the Humanities (BIRTHA) invited Sandscibe’s Dhaba Wayessa and Dr. Steven W. Thomas to England to talk about their work. Steve was accompanied by his wife Maya Tessema. They spent three days (Mar 9 – 11) with Bristol University’s professors Richard Pettigrew (Department of Philosophy), Josie McLellan (History), Tom Sperlinger (English), and Madhu Krishnan (English).

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With Engaged Arts & Humanities team (L–R): Josie, Maya, Richard, Madhu, Dhaba, Steve, Tom

The Bristol professors are part of initiatives at Bristol University to innovate ways in which the arts and humanities might engage the community beyond its traditional partners.

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Steven presents his research

On the first day, Steve presented his scholarly research, “Multiethnic Ethiopia and American Literary History: the Transnational Routes of a Symbolic Root.” Steve narrated the long and complex history of cultural relations among Ethiopia, Europe, and the Americas from the 15th to  21st centuries. Steve revealed the hidden significance of Ethiopia’s cultural diversity for European and American authors.

Steve has presented pieces of this research at other venues, such as the annual convention of the Modern Language Association, and he won an award in 2015 from the Society of Early Americanists for his conference paper, “The Circum-Atlantic Surrogation of Ethiopia,” given at a conference at Kingston University. His academic work provides a scholarly support and historical context for the international film education at the heart and soul of Sandscribe’s mission.

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Bristol University, UK

On Friday morning, Dhaba and Steve gave a two-hour presentation on Sandscribe’s work in Ethiopia, focusing on its three-year collaboration with Wagner College in New York, where Steve teaches. Their presentation was titled “Transnational Networks for an International Education: Teaching Film Production and Media Literacy in the United States and Ethiopia.” Following, Dhaba and Steve were delighted to converse with members of Bristol University’s faculty who share similar aspirations about connecting university education to other communities.

Later that day, they visited Her Majesty’s Prison at Eastwood Park, where they had a stimulating discussion with twelve women incarcerated there. Bristol University’s work with the women’s prison is one example of the sort of outreach to communities done by its program in engaged arts and humanities. Dhaba and Steve asked the women about the effect of media and movies in shaping perception of Ethiopia and other places; the women observed parallels between their experiences of Welsh culture and the experiences of Ethiopia’s many different ethnic groups. They also enjoyed a screening of Dhaba’s short film “The Fallen Beats.” Afterward, Steve’s wife Maya, who works for a U.S. philanthropy whose work includes prison reform, was able to talk with the learning and skills manager at Eastwood Park.

In between the three events, Dhaba, Steve, and Maya had some opportunities to explore the city of Bristol and venture out to the nearby town of Bath and the ancient temple Stonehenge.

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Enjoying Stonehenge (L–R): Dhaba, Richard, Madhu, Maya, Steve

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