Call out: Textile in Ethiopian Manuscripts (TEM) Project

14 Jul 2023


Textiles in Ethiopian Manuscripts: Ethiopian Manuscripts and the Global Textile Trade 15th to the 19th Centuries

The Textiles in Ethiopian Manuscripts (TEM) Project aims to investigate the patterns of use of textiles found on the inside covers (board linings) of Ethiopian manuscripts made from the earliest known examples in the 15th to the 19th centuries. The initial phase of the project was the completion of a research database of at least 1,000 manuscripts in collections around the world. The ultimate aim is to record as many as possible. The project organisers have so far identified over 1,050 examples; 60% in Ethiopian repositories and the balance in European and American institutions. The project will run until 2027.

What is a board lining?

“Pieces of sheet material adhered to one or other, or both, surfaces of a board before the book is covered, and either before or after the board is attached to the bookblock. Linings on the inside of the board may have been intended to counteract the tendency of the covering material to pull the board outwards as it shrank on drying, but in other cases the purpose may have been to consolidate or neaten up the board surface.” (
It is very possible that in the case of Ethiopia these “linings” may be considered relics or mementos.

Project objectives

1. Determine the physical properties and origins of the textiles, chronicling the place and time of manufacture

2. Uncover Ethiopia’s global exchange networks, charting specific trade and diplomatic connections

3. Deepening knowledge of Ethiopian manuscripts through the inclusion of textiles in bindings

4. Unveil role of textiles in Ethiopia’s larger milieu of textile imports and dress

5. Assess the historic-cultural, and religious meaning ascribed by Ethiopians to textiles used in book covers and their relationship with other arts

Year 2 objectives

1. mprove functionality of the database of textiles, and integrate it into Beta Masaheft (

2. Continue to search for examples in both Western and Ethiopian collections

Get involved

To reach their goal, the project wishes to locate and identify textiles used as board linings in Ethiopian manuscripts in cultural institutions in Ireland and to obtain images thereof to incorporate into the research collection.

In addition to providing access and high-resolution images of eight Ethiopian manuscripts in its collection, Chester Beatty will coordinate the gazetteer of examples in Ireland.

Anyone with relevant collections and interest in the project please contact Dr Jill Unkel at the Chester Beatty, Dublin:

Funding Institution: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada

Project leaders: Professor Michael Gervers, Carolina Almenara-Melis, and Hagos Abrha, University of Toronto, and Sarah Fee, Royal Ontario Museum

Irish Project Partner: Chester Beatty, Dublin

Period: 2022 to 2027