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Princeton Ethiopian, Eritrean, and Egyptian Miracles of Mary (PEMM) project

Wendy Laura Belcher

Project Director and Principal Investigator

Wendy Laura Belcher is professor of comparative early modern African and European literatures, with a joint appointment in the Princeton University departments of Comparative Literature and African American Studies.

In 2013, Prof. Belcher was writing a conference paper on the Ethiopian Miracles of Mary and realized that she could not make even basic claims about them, such as how many there were, when they were first were composed, and where.

In 2018, she asked the Princeton Center for Digital Humanities for help in setting up a digital humanities project to explore the topic: the Princeton Ethiopian, Eritrean, and Egyptian Miracles of Mary (PEMM) project. In 2021, she received two substantial grants from the the National Endowment for the Humanities. With an amazing team of researchers, PEMM collected information on over 1,000 stories in Gəˁəz (classical Ethiopic), over 2,500 paintings, and over 1,000 Miracle of Mary manuscripts. She has assisted with the translation of over 150 of those stories. Five years after she began the project, the PEMM data portal and web application was launched in late 2023. Meanwhile, she is working on her related book in progress, titled Ladder of Heaven: The Miracles of the Virgin Mary in Medieval African Literature and Art (under contract with Princeton University Press). 

She has published ten books, including (1) an exploration of the power of African thought to shape Europe: Abyssinia’s Samuel Johnson: Ethiopian Thought in the Making of an English Author (Oxford, May 2012); (2) a co-authored translation of perhaps the first book-length African biography of an African woman, originally written in in 1672 by an Ethiopian community: The Life and Struggles of Our Mother Walatta Petros: A Seventeenth-Century African Biography of an Ethiopian Woman (Princeton University Press 2015); (3) a co-authored translation of two important works of African philosophy: The Hatata Inquiries: Two Texts of Seventeenth-Century African Philosophy from Ethiopia about Reason, the Creator, and Our Ethical Responsibilities (DeGruyter 2023); and (4) a co-edited translation of historical documents: The Jesuits in Ethiopia (1609–1641): Latin Letters in Translation. She is completing a co-authored translation of a medieval African text: The Kebra Nagast: The Ancient Book about Glorious Monarchs, including the Ethiopian Queen of Sheba, King Solomon, and Their Son Menilek. Information on her other research and publications is available at her website.

Prof. Belcher was awarded her doctorate in English literature (2008), her master’s in urban planning (1993), and her masters’ in African studies (1991) from the University of California at Los Angeles. Her bachelor’s in English literature (1984) is from Mount Holyoke College, in South Hadley, Massachusetts. She went to high school in Seattle, Washington, at Nathan Hale High School. Before that, she attended Lincoln Community School in Accra, Ghana, and the International School in Gondar, Ethiopia.

Favorite Painting

pricenton ethiopian eritrean & egyptian miracles of marry project

The Princeton Ethiopian, Eritrean, and Egyptian Miracles of Mary (PEMM) project is a comprehensive resource for the 1,000+ miracle stories written about and the 2,500+ images painted of the Virgin Mary in these African countries, and preserved in Geʿez between 1300 and the present.

Princeton Department of Comparative Literature 133 East Pyne, Princeton, NJ 08540

Princeton Department of African American Studies Morrison Hall, Princeton, NJ 08540

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