Greek Studies Now: A Cultural Analysis Network” sprang in 2019 from a partnership between two vibrant research communities working on the culture of Modern Greece and South Europe in the universities of Oxford and Amsterdam. It was initiated by professors Dimitris Papanikolaou and Maria Boletsi together with the newly made website which seems to be a promising achievement

Maria Boletsi is Endowed Professor of Modern Greek Studies at the University of Amsterdam (Marilena Laskaridou Chair) and assistant professor in Film and Comparative Literature at Leiden University.

Maria Boletsi talks to George Vailakis about the present and future of Modern Greek Studies abroad.

What does the creation of the network of cultural analysis of modern Greece Greek Studies Now” and the new website mean? What is the idea behind this partnership between the University of Amsterdam and the University of Oxford?

The network was initiated in 2020 by Dimitris Papanikolaou and myself, with the key contribution of Kristina Gedgaudaitė who acted as a bridge between our two departments, as she received her PhD from Oxford and was in Amsterdam in 2019, as Laskaridis visiting fellow.

We wanted to make the current energy in Modern Greek studies circulate more and grow, and open conversations with scholars in other fields – anthropology, geography, media studies, comparative literature etc. We are interested in situating Greek culture in transnational theoretical, political, and cultural debates –for example, on the climate crisis, populism, biopolitics, race, (crypto-)colonialism– which reveal its interconnectedness with other contexts in Europe and the South. In other words, we envision Modern Greek Studies as part of larger conversations.

We also wanted to offer young researchers a dynamic platform through our conferences, online roundtables, blog, and other activities. Our website’s editorial team includes two such young talented PhD candidates, Yiorgos-Evgenios Douliakas and Claudio Russello.

The fact that so many scholars internationally have embraced the network and contributed to its activities confirms our initial hunch that there is a momentum for rethinking our field. I invite you to browse through our website to get an idea.

Greece is changing rapidly

Why rethink Modern Greek Studies today? What are the new challenges of the cultural and social study of the Greek world after the ten years of crisis?

The exit from the bailout in 2018 led to narratives of recuperation and rebuilding but these were interrupted by the pandemic. The “year of the virus” has showed us that crisis as a framework of experience is not over –not only in Greece, of course– despite its shifting forms and different consequences for diverse groups.

Greece has been changing rapidly in recent years, and these shifts have triggered a rethinking of previous cultural narratives. Through our network, we want to trace new cultural narratives –through literature, cinema, theatre, popular culture– emerging from a disorienting present marked by intersecting crises. We also need to rethink our academic vocabularies and approaches in order to respond to these new realities and the questions they raise.

Can the two anniversaries in 2021 and 2022 –the bicentennial of the Greek Revolution and the centennial of the Asia Minor catastrophe– become occasions for revisiting the past from plural perspectives and imagining different futures? How can we be receptive to the many “Greeces” that emerge from the experiences of different people in the country – including marginalized groups? Rethinking Modern Greek Studies means disorienting and reorienting our vision and the narratives we live by: pluralizing them, making them more inclusive.

To give an example: for our last event on April 21, called “What Greece…?”, we asked cultural creators –authors, filmmakers, cartoonists– to reflect on what the idea of “Greece” conjures for them today through a short video. The 19 videos we received formed a collage that registers varied experiences, emotions, stories, without offering a coherent narrative. This, I think, provides a model for how we can (re)think Greece: through the many voices that capture the diverse experiences of “being Greek” or “being in Greece” today. The event is available on YouTube, like all our online events.

What are the prospects of Modern Greek Studies at international level? In what terms do you think scholars and students approach Greece after the crisis?

Although most departments of Modern Greek abroad face budget cuts and dwindling student numbers –a development that concerns most language and literature departments– the new energy I’m experiencing in the field makes me quite optimistic about the future.

In our department in Amsterdam, we see an interest in modern Greek history and culture from students in other departments, which take our courses as electives. This is also the result of our effort to structure our courses around questions that situate Greece in transnational debates about Europe, the Mediterranean, the South. Synergies are key to the future of our field: turning the “islands” of our departments into an archipelagos. Another example is our department’s participation in the European-wide program EPICUR, coordinated from our side by my colleague and head of our department Tatiana Markaki: we collaborate with Modern Greek departments in three other European universities, offering courses to participants from different countries. Such initiatives broaden the reach of our study programs.

The full interview of Maria Boletsi is included in the May/ June 2021 issue of Greek Business File, available here.