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The study of modern Greece in a changing world: fading allure or potential for reinvention?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 April 2016

Dimitris Tziovas*
University of


Periodically reviewing developments in a subject area and reflecting on the past and future directions of a discipline can be useful and instructive. In the case of Modern Greek Studies, this has rarely been done, and most of the reviews of the field come from USA.1 So I take this opportunity to offer some thoughts on what has propelled changes in the field over the last forty years, on the fruitful (and occasionally trenchant) dialogue between Neohellenists inside and outside Greece and on the future of modern Greek studies as an academic discipline. During this period modern Greek studies have flourished with a number of new trends, debates and scholarly preoccupations emerging. At the same time many research students received their doctorates from departments of Modern Greek Studies, particularly in the United Kingdom, and were subsequently appointed to teaching posts at Greek, Cypriot or other European, American and Australian universities. Modern Greek departments in the UK have often been the driving force behind the discipline since the early 1980s. New approaches were introduced, challenging ideas were debated and influential publications emerged from those departments, which shaped the agenda for the study of modern Greek language, literature and culture. It should be noted that the influence of those departments in shaping the direction of modern Greek Studies has been out of all proportion to the number of staff teaching in them.

Copyright © Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies, University of Birmingham, 2016 

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1 See the relevant sections of the special issues of the Journal of Modern Greek Studies 15.2 (1997), 24.1 (2006), 29.1 (2011), 33.1 (2015).

2 Ricks, D., ‘Greek tout court?’, Arion 1.3 (Fall 1991) 2944Google Scholar.

3 Following this trend a number of departments were renamed during the early 1990s (e.g. from Departments of French to Departments of French Studies). In this respect, it should be noted that my chair is the first and only such chair in the UK in Modern Greek Studies and not just in Modern Greek or Byzantine and Modern Greek Language and Literature, notwithstanding the fact that the most recently updated subject benchmark statement for the subject by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (December 2014) refers to ‘Modern Greek’, not Modern Greek Studies.

4 Lambropoulos, V., ‘Modern Greek Studies in the age of ethnography’, Journal of Modern Greek Studies 15.2 (1997) 199CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

5 Compared to the scarcity of historians in the UK and the rest of Europe (with the exception of Greece and Cyprus) there is a slight increase in the number of historians dealing with modern Greece in US and Canadian universities.

6 Brewer, D., The Flame of Freedom: The Greek War of Independence, 1821–1833 (London 2001)Google Scholar and Greece, the Hidden Centuries: Turkish Rule from the Fall of Constantinople to Greek Independence (London 2010).

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8 Gourgouris, S., Dream Nation: Enlightenment, Colonization and the Institution of Modern Greece (Stanford 1996) 38Google Scholar.

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10 See the Edinburgh History of the Greeks, the 10-volume series covering the history of Greece and the Greeks from antiquity to the present day, edited by Thomas W. Gallant. Molly Greene has written the volume covering the period from 1453 to 1774.

11 Mackridge, P. and Yannakakis, E. (eds), Ourselves and Others: The Development of a Greek Macedonian Cultural Identity Since 1912 (Oxford 1997)Google Scholar, Politou-Marmarinou, E. and Denissi, S., Ταυτότητα και ετερότητα στη λογοτεχνία, 18ος-20ός αι. (Athens 2000)Google Scholar, Clogg, R., Minorities in Greece: Aspects of Plural Society (London 2002)Google Scholar, Tziovas, D. (ed.), Greek Diaspora and Migration since 1700 (Farnham 2009)Google Scholar, Christopoulos, D., Ποιος είναι Έλληνας; το καθεστώς ιθαγένειας από την ίδρυση του ελληνικού κράτους ώς τις αρχές του 21ου αιώνα (Athens 2012)Google Scholar.

12 Dubisch, J. (ed.), Gender & Power in Rural Greece (Princeton 1986)Google Scholar, Varika, E., Η εξέγερση των κυριών: η γένεση μιας φεμινιστικής συνείδησης στην Ελλάδα, 1833–1907 (Athens 1987)Google Scholar, Loizos, P. and Papataxiarchis, E. (eds), Contested Identities: Gender and Kinship in Modern Greece (Princeton 1991)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, Van Dyck, Karen, Kassandra and the Censors: Greek poetry since 1967 (Ithaca, NY 1998)Google Scholar.

13 Layoun, M. N. (ed.), Modernisms in Greece? Essays on the Critical and Literary Margins of a Movement (New York 1990)Google Scholar, Tziovas, Dimitris (ed.), Greek Modernism and Beyond (Lanham, MD 1997)Google Scholar and Jusdanis, G., ‘Is postmodernism possible outside the “West”? The case of Greece’, BMGS 11 (1987) 6992Google Scholar.

14 Lambropoulos, V., Literature as National Institution: Studies in the Politics of Modern Greek Criticism (Princeton 1988) 156Google Scholar.

15 See Kallinis, Y., Ο μοντερνισμός ενός κοσμοπολίτη (Thessaloniki 2001)Google Scholar, Pourgouris, M., Mediterranean Modernisms: The Poetic Metaphysics of Odysseus Elytis (Farnham 2011)Google Scholar, Katsan, G., History and National Ideology in Greek Postmodernist Fiction (Madison 2013)Google Scholar.

16 Vayenas, N. (ed.), Νεοελληνικά μετρικά (Herakleion 1991)Google Scholar and Η ελευθέρωση των μορφών: η ελληνική ποίηση από τον έμμετρο στον ελεύθερο στίχο (1880–1940) (Herakleion 1996).

17 Cavafy, C. P., Complete Poems, trans., with introduction and commentary, by D. Mendelsohn (New York 2009)Google Scholar.

18 Perhaps the purchase of Cavafy’s archive by the Onassis Foundation offers an opportunity for the collection and the archiving of new material related to Cavafy’s oeuvre. The Kazantzakis Museum in Myrtia (Crete) could also take a similar initiative for the work of Kazantzakis.

19 Middleton, D. J. N., Novel Theology: Nikos Kazantzakis's Encounter with Whiteheadian Process Theism (Mason GA 2000)Google Scholar, Broken Hallelujah: Nikos Kazantzakis and Christian Theology (Lanham, MD 2007) and Beaton, R., Ο Καζαντζάκης μοντερνιστής και μεταμοντέρνος (Athens 2009)Google Scholar. A new English translation of Zorba the Greek: The Saint’s Life of Alexis Zorba by Peter Bien has recently been published (New York etc. 2014). Special mention should be made of Peter Bien’s edition of Selected Letters of Nikos Kazantzakis (Princeton 2011) because there is no equivalent edition in Greek.

20 Translation studies also developed during this period in Greece, and the translations of Greek literary texts in other languages have been collected and studied. See Stavropoulou, E., Βιβλιογραφία μεταφράσεων νεοελληνικής λογοτεχνίας (Athens 1986)Google Scholar, Philippides, D. M. L., Census of Modern Greek Literature: Check-list of English-language Sources Useful In The Study Of Modern Greek Literature (1824–1987) (New Haven, CT 1990)Google Scholar and Vasileiadis, V. (ed.), ‘. . . γνώριμος και ξένος. . .’ Η νεοελληνική λογοτεχνία σε άλλες γλώσσες (Thessaloniki 2012)Google Scholar.

21 Leontis, A., Topographies of Hellenism (Ithaca 1995)Google Scholar, Wills, D., The Mirror of Antiquity: 20th Century British Travellers In Greece (Newcastle 2007)Google Scholar, Kolocotroni, V. and Mitsi, E. (eds), Women Writing Greece: Essays on Hellenism, Orientalism and Travel (Amsterdam 2008)Google Scholar and D. Tziovas, ‘Indigenous foreigners: The Greek diaspora and travel writing (1880–1930)’, in Tziovas (ed.), Greek Diaspora and Migration since 1700, 157–75, Mahn, C., British Women's Travel to Greece, 1840–1914: Travels in the Palimpsest(Farnham 2012)Google Scholar.

22 Beaton, R., George Seferis: Waiting for the Angel – A Biography (New Haven 2003)Google Scholar, Bien, P., Kazantzakis: Politics of the Spirit, 2 vols (Princeton 1989–2007)Google Scholar and Liddell, R., Cavafy: A Critical Biography (London 1974, repr. 2000)Google Scholar.

23 Papadimitriou, L., ‘Locating contemporary Greek film cultures: Past, present, future and the crisis’, Filmicon: Journal of Greek Film Studies 2 (September 2014) 4Google Scholar.

24 Carabott, P., Hamilakis, Y. & Papargyriou, E. (eds), Camera Graeca: Photographs, Narratives, Materialities (Farnham 2015)Google Scholar.

25 Karalis, V., A History of Greek Cinema (London 2012)Google Scholar.

26 Papadimitriou, L. and Tzioumakis, Y. (eds), Greek Cinema: Texts, Histories, Identities (Bristol 2012)Google Scholar.

27 Holton, D., ‘Can Modern Greek survive in UK universities?’, The Anglo-Hellenic Review 50 (Autumn 2014) 32–3Google Scholar.

28 Quoting Gilbert Murray's injunction that it is the Greeks, not Greek, who are the true object of the humanist curriculum, Edith Hall in her Gaisford Lecture at the University of Oxford argues that Oxford and Cambridge should ‘lead by example and offer challenging classics courses that do not fetishise grammar and consequently repel state-sector students who have been excited by reading classics in English’. Classical knowledge, she claims, should not be limited to reading competence in Latin and Greek, nor should classical civilization modules be treated as ‘intellectual baby food’ (E. Hall, ‘Classics for the people – why we should learn from the ancient Greeks’, The Guardian, 20 June 2015, (accessed 1 July 2015)).

29 The future of Classics has also been debated over the same period. In this respect see Culham, P. and Edmunds, L. (eds), Classics: A Discipline and Profession in Crisis? (Lanham 1989)Google Scholar and M. Beard, ‘Do the Classics have a future’, The New York Review of Books, 12 January 2012.

30 Kitromilides, P. M., ‘Paradigm nation: the study of nationalism and the ‘canonization’ of Greece’, in Beaton, R. and Ricks, D. (eds) The Making of Modern Greece (Farnham 2009) 2131Google Scholar.

31 Vitti, M., Iδεολογική λειτουργία της ελληνικής ηθογραφίας (Athens 1974Google Scholar; 2nd edn 1980, 3rd edn. 1991).

32 Vitti, M., Η Γενιά του Τριάντα: ιδεολογία και μορφή (Athens 1977; 2nd edn 1997)Google Scholar.

33 For a comparative understanding of what is going on in other disciplines a recent review of Ottoman Studies by Aksan, V. H. (‘What's up in Ottoman Studies’, Journal of the Ottoman and Turkish Studies Association 1.1–2 (2014) 321) could be helpfulCrossRefGoogle Scholar.