Stories about the Virgin Mary “have been told by more people, over more centuries, in more countries, and in more languages” than stories about “anyone else ever,” said Wendy Laura Belcher (Comparative Literature and African American Studies), in a story featured on the University homepage. “No other body of literature illuminates as much about how different cultures have made sense of the human and the divine.”
Belcher has led a major research project about a huge collection of these stories from the African continent, which have never been the subject of deep, wide-ranging scholarship outside of Ethiopia. Five years of work by a primarily Ethiopian team of researchers and translators, as well as Princeton undergraduate students, has culminated in the Princeton Ethiopian, Eritrean and Egyptian Miracles of Mary (PEMM) website, a project in the digital humanities.
The easy-to-navigate PEMM website includes over 2 million pieces of painstakingly collected data documenting the development of these Marian stories from the very beginning to their flourishing in Africa in the middle ages, into the present day.
The Humanities Council supported the PEMM project through a four-year Global Initiative, with funding from the David A. Gardner ’69 Magic Grant for Innovation and the Stewart Fund for Religion.
In 2021, the project was awarded over $600,000 in two NEH grants. The project has also received support from Princeton University Library, the Center for Digital Humanities, the Princeton Institute of International and Regional Studies (PIIRS) and the Department of African American Studies, among others.
“I’m so grateful for all that Princeton does for the humanities and its faculty. I can’t imagine this project, on eight centuries of woefully understudied African texts, would have happened anywhere else,” Belcher said.