It is axiomatic that historians should use all available sources. African historiography has been on the cutting edge of methodological innovation for the last three decades, utilizing written sources, oral traditions, archeology, linguistics, ethnography, musicology, botany, and other techniques to bring respect and maturity to the field.
But the use of such a diverse methodology has brought controversy as well, particularly regarding oral traditions. Substantial criticisms have been raised concerning the problems of chronology and limited time depth, variations in different versions of the same events, and the problem of feedback between oral and written sources. A “structuralist” critique deriving from Claude Levi-Strauss's study of Amerindian mythology has provided a useful corrective to an overly-literal acceptance of oral traditions, but often went too far in throwing out the historical baby with the mythological bathwater, leading some historians to reject totally the use of oral data. A more balanced view has shown that a modified structural approach can be a useful tool in historical analysis. In Ethiopian historiography some preliminary speculations were made along structuralist lines,5 although in another sense such an approach was always implicit since the analysis of Ethiopie written hagiographies and royal chronicles required an awareness of the mythological or folk elements they contain.
Two more difficult problems to overcome have been the Ethiopie written documents' centrist and elitist focus on the royal monarchy and Orthodox church. The old Western view that “history” required the existence of written documents and a state led to the paradigm of Ethiopia as an “outpost of Semitic civilization” and its historical and historiographical separation from the rest of Africa. The comparatively plentiful corpus of written documentation for Ethiopian history allowed such an approach, and the thousands of manuscripts made available to scholars on microfilm in the last fifteen years have demonstrated the wealth still to be found in written sources. However, such sources, although a starting point for research on Ethiopian history, no longer seem adequate in themselves because they focus primarily on political-military and religious events concerning the monarchy and church.