Antonia Dalivalle

Antonia’s research sheds light on a chapter in the history of British-African relations which departs from predominant narratives surrounding the presence of Europeans in Africa, and the narratives of acquisition surrounding African artefacts in Europe. In a radical reassessment of the eighteenth-century ‘Grand Tour’, Africa is placed firmly in the picture of this British phenomenon. 

The PhD project ‘The Grand Detour: James Bruce of Kinnaird (1730-1794) and the Reception of Ethiopia in Enlightenment Europe’ aims to re-appraise the historiographical significance of the Scottish traveller James Bruce’s four-year journey across modern-day Ethiopia, which took place from 1768 to 1772. Bruce has often been dismissed as an eccentric Scottish laird, with the knowledge he brought to Europe from Africa as false and unreliable. His decision to ‘detour’ to modern-day Ethiopia will be viewed, for the first time, in relation to his unpublished ‘Dissertation’ of 1762/3, in which he argues for the African origins of European civilisation. 

In an examination of the essential and constructive role of Africans in the development of European diplomacy, this project will examine the agency of Ethiopian gifts to Bruce in relation to his subsequent circulation of Ethiopic manuscripts among the monarchies of Europe. The extent to which this ‘presented’ view of Ethiopia converged, clashed, reflected or affected European views of Ethiopia during this period will be considered, as well as the degree to which Bruce’s dissemination, circulation and study of Ethiopian material culture allowed them to perform as ‘material emissaries’ in Enlightenment Europe.

Material evidence – such as Bruce’s collection of Ethiopian artefacts and antiquarian drawings of Africa – supplies opportunities to appraise how Ethiopian objects have been re-contextualised and re-appropriated in Europe. Investigating Bruce’s negotiation between two cultures of knowledge - British and Ethiopian - following his return to Europe in 1772, Antonia’s project will explore the intersection between eighteenth-century British print culture and Ethiopian material culture. Through ‘rethinking’ Bruce, the project aims to reinstate the place of Africa in practices of early modern European antiquarianism, viewing the evolution of Ethiopian Studies in relation to eighteenth-century antiquarianism. By exploring the influence of Bruce’s travelogue and collection of Ethiopian manuscripts on European artistic and literary developments, such as British Romanticism, the wider significance of Ethiopian material culture will be highlighted.

Before undertaking her postgraduate research, Antonia’s BA and MA degrees explored theoretical and practical approaches towards the preservation of cultural heritage, comprising a range of modules from Culture, Heritage and International Law to Digital Data Acquisition and Textile Technologies. Interested in the use of emerging technologies to protect heritage, Antonia was selected to participate in the Slovak Arts Council-funded Grupa Arhitekata Summer School of Architecture in Serbia, where she trained as part of a team to digitise the Bač Fortress. As Director’s Intern at the Museum De Lakenhal in 2018, Antonia wrote a report on the decade-long renewal of the museum into a more transparent institution, which examined the implementation of new collection management, digital and display strategies. Antonia is also interested in different forms of public outreach, and in 2019, researched and recorded short audio productions in collaboration with the production company ‘Digital Drama’ about selected items that relate to Ethiopia in the British Red Cross for the digital exhibition 150 Voices. Her research about Bruce has been the subject of a podcast for Pod Academy and the subject of articles in The Historic Environment Scotland blog, The Scotsman and the Falkirk Herald.


Supervisor: Professor Margot Finn (Primary Supervisor) and Dr Jacopo Gnisci (Secondary Supervisor) 
Working title: ‘The Grand Detour: James Bruce of Kinnaird (1730-1794) and the Reception of Ethiopia in Enlightenment Europe’


  • 18th Century Africa
    Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH), University of Cambridge (June 2021) 
    As part of the panel on ‘memory’, presented paper titled ‘The Grand Detour: James Bruce of Kinnaird (1730-1794) as an Agent of Ethiopian Antiquarianism’.

  • Annual Postgraduate Lightning Talks Seminar
    British History in the Long 18th Century (March 2022)
    Selected alongside a number of early-stage PhD students to provide a brief, ten-minute ‘lightning talk’ on my PhD research project.


  • Historic Environment Scotland (November 2020)
    Contributed a feature article for Black History Month 2020 on the Ethiopian influences on James Bruce’s monument in Stirlingshire, Scotland, titled Echoes of Ethiopia: The James Bruce Monument.