The GDJA at the MGSA Symposium in Sacramento, CA

Modern Greek Studies in the United States and Grecian Cincinnatians
Modern Greek Studies generally finds its home in Classics departments in the U.S. (which was true also for UC which used to have a professor and lecturers in Modern Greek in addition to a curator of the Modern Greek collection in the Classics Library, Eugenia Foster) in acknowledgement of its Ancient Greek legacy.  Also, most librarians of Modern Greek Studies at U.S. institutions are classicists. I guess because Modern Greek is closer to Ancient Greek than Italian is to Latin and Greeks do not share the same influential medieval and Renaissance past as Italians (although one might argue that the importance of Byzantium has been much undervalued), so contemporary Greeks feel maybe a closer connection to antiquity.  Italy was also not ruled by a foreign empire for several hundred years, thus not allowing for more modern Greek cultural expressions to develop. The concept of Philhellenism, love of Greece, is also still alive and well among many humanities scholars, especially among ancient historians, classical archaeologists, and philologists. However, there are some American institutions that have recently opened Centers for Hellenic Studies focusing primarily on Modern Greece such as UCLA and the University of Chicago. The UC Classics Library is aware of its history and believes very strongly in continuity with regard to collection strengths. Even though some might argue that our Modern Greek collection fills no function since UC does not teach Modern Greek at the moment, we acknowledge that academia is not immutable and that having a distinguished historic collection requires curating it and continuing to acquire important titles to remain an important resource and that UC as an academic research institution has a responsibility towards scholarly communities beyond UC.

On March 25, 2021, the Classics Library is planning to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Greek Revolution with lecture and exhibits, Greek foods and music, and possibly the release of what we hope will be a growing repository of full-text Greek historic journals as part of the GDJA. The project includes many journals and newspapers that were instrumental to the opposition during the Greek War of Independence (1821-1830) from centuries of Turkish rule. Even though the Greek rebels were initially denounced, enthusiasm for the Greek cause won the day, so much so that many foreigners, the most famous of which was of course English poet Lord Byron, including Americans went to Greece to fight for Greek independence. The concept of Philhellenism was born. Architects designed churches, courthouses and banks to look like Greek temples. Americans quoted Greek literature and history.  Eva Catafygiotu Topping, who taught Modern Greek in the UC Classics Department and was married to Peter Topping, UC Professor of History and Modern Greek Studies, describes some Americans, popularly known as “Grecians” as having been stricken by “Greek fever” (“Cincinnati Philhellenism in 1824,” Cincinnati Historical Society Bulletin 31.2: 127-141) and this was manifest also in Cincinnati. President James Monroe who considered himself Grecian, even included in his “Monroe Doctrine” speech his hope for Greece to become an independent nation. Irish “Cincinnatian” Moses Dawson, editor of the Inquisitor and Cincinnnati Advertiser, made the Greek Revolution his personal crusade.  The Cincinnati music club, the Euterpian Society raised money for the cause with a concert at the First Presbyterian Church on Mount Adams on January 23, 1824.   General William Henry Harrison delivered an address at the concert. Many of the city’s most prominent citizens declared themselves Grecians and successful fund-raising events took place throughout Cincinnati to aid the revolutionaries.
The Greek Digital Journal Archive at the Modern Greek Studies Symposium, 2019
A recent blog described the Greek Digital Journal Archive, “Greek JSTOR,” project initiated by the Classics Library and my participation at a conference in Athens, Greece, this past August. The conference in Athens gave us an opportunity to engage our Greek partners. A conference in Sacramento, California, in early November allowed us to present the project to end users, American and Greek scholars. The Modern Greek Studies Association held its 26th biannual Symposium in Sacramento co-organized by California State University at Sacramento and the Tsakopoulos Hellenic Collection. In spite of the GDJA session’s unfortunate time slot coinciding with a session led by keynote speaker Professor Artemis Leontis, UMich, a tour of the State Capitol building, and a delayed luncheon, our meeting was well-attended and appreciated. In fact, one of the organizers of the Symposium, Thomas Gallant, Professor at UC San Diego and Chair of the Executive Board of the MGSA,  was full of praise as was Vangelis Calotychos, the Executive Director of the MGSA. All agreed that our undertaking is welcomed and long overdue.
The MGSA Symposium is always well-attended. As it is smaller than the annual conference of the Society for Classical Studies and as many of the participants share a common Greek heritage, it feels like a community event rather than a “stuffy” conference.  In addition to Artemis Leontis, a “rock star” in Modern Greek Studies, and who the GDJA was fortunate in having as keynote speaker at a conference at UC last October, the second keynote speaker was Antonis Liakos, a contemporary historian and professor emeritus at the University of Athens. Professor Liakos is an eminent historian and very well-known, so it was quite a shock when he had to give his address via a video-recording from Greece because he had been denied entry to the U.S. and the conference twice. His left-leaning political views apparently do not sit well with the current U.S. administration. The challenges to academic freedom and freedom of speech in recent years should concern all in higher education. As George Orwell put it in Animal Farm: “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”  I would add that higher education means nothing without words and images which challenge perceptions, compelling us to think and question beliefs. The President of Sacramento State, Robert S. Nelson, was moved to tears as he explained the situation in his introduction to the conference.
The conference goers were also treated to a tour of the Tsakopoulos Hellenic Collection at California State University, Sacramento. This library houses the premier research collection on Greek culture, ancient to modern, in the western U.S. and one of the largest of its kind in the country. It consists of the holdings of the former Speros Basil Vryonis Center for the Study of Hellenism. It currently numbers approximately 75,000 volumes and comprises a large circulating book collection, journal holdings, electronic resources, non-print media, rare books, archival materials, art, and artifacts. The Classics Library was fortunate to receive a donation of ca. 3,000 monographs, journals, and archival material from Tsakopoulos this past year, which we are presently reviewing. It contains many jewels and constitutes a wonderful addition to our Modern Greek collection in the humanities and the social sciences. To read about the strength of our historic collection and how it came about, see an earlier blog “The Greek Digital Journal Archive in Athens, Greece” .
The following are some photos from the MGSA Symposium, November 7-9, 2019.
Antonis Liakos, Professor Emeritus of Contemporary History at the National & Kapodistrian University of Athens, had to give his keynote speech via a recording from Greece after being denied entry into the U.S., thereby also not allowing any questions for Professor Liakos from the conference participants.
Artemis Leontis, C.P. Cavafy Professor of Modern Greek & Comparative Literature and Chair of the Department of Classics, University of Michigan, gave the second keynote lecture.
Tsakopoulos Hellenic Collection at California State University, Sacramento.
Business meeting of some of the GDJA Steering Committee members in the Donald & Beverly Gerth Special Collections & University Archives at Sacramento State: Zachary Quint, Librarian for Classical Studies and Modern Greek, University of Michigan, and Rhea Karabelas Lesage, Librarian for Hellenic Studies and Coordinator for Classics, European Languages Division, Harvard University.
George Paganelis, Curator of the Tsakopoulos Hellenic Collection and one of the organizers of the MGSA Symposium, and Zachary Quint.
Conference goers were treated to Greek food and Greek music.
Enjoying some wine and nice company after the presentation of the GDJA and after George Paganelis’ talk  on “The Greek Agricultural Experience in California’s Central Valley.”
Relaxing after a long day of lectures and meetings. Gonda Van Steen, Koraes Professor of Modern Greek & Byzantine History Language & Literature at King’s College London (King’s is a partner in the GDJA), and Vangelis Calotychos, MGSA Executive Director and Visiting Associate Professor of Comparative Literature at Brown University, can be seen seated.
The venue for the conference was a hotel in downtown Sacramento with a roof terrace and open fire. It reminded me of the many residential and hotel roof terraces in Athens. I expected to see the Acropolis, Lykavittos, Filopappou. The view was impressive, but Sacramento is not Athens, for better or worse. However, Sacramento was a nice surprise. In spite of it being November, the temperature was in the upper 70’s and dry, so perfect weather. It boasts the most trees of any urban area in the United States. With the confluence of the Sacramento and American rivers and its many parks it seems a very livable city, which some might argue Athens for all its splendor is not.