The University of Chicago Launches New Center for Hellenic Studies

Theodosios Kyriakidis of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, presents on the “Greeks of Asian Minor” at the University of Chicago's Center for Hellenic Studies Polyhedric Conference. (Photo by TNH/ Anthie Mitrakou)

CHICAGO – This academic year saw an exciting addition to the study of Hellenism, with the launch of the University of Chicago’s Center for Hellenic Studies, an interdisciplinary research center serving as a forum for researchers who examine various aspects of the Hellenic world.

Professor Anastasia Giannakidou, director of the Center for Hellenic Studies and professor of Linguistics at the University of Chicago, and Dr. Stefanos Katsikas, Associate Director and Assistant Instructional Professor of Modern Greek, spearheaded the establishment of the Center, after several years of campaigning on the importance of studying the Greek language and the interdisciplinary significance of Hellenism in liberal arts.

“For a number of years now, it became clear that the study of Greek language and Greek ideas and culture cannot remain segregated, and that scholars of Greece will benefit from more integrative studies,” Giannakidou said.

The visionary Center’s inauguration was celebrated with a two-day conference titled “Polyhedric Greece: The Many Faces of the Greek World,” which took place in early November at the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute.

The central theme of the conference, as the title suggests, is the understanding of Greece as a diverse concept: Greece has many sides, it is polyhedric. A chief aspect of the polyhedric nature of Greece and Greek culture is that it has never been confined to the physical territory of what is now the Modern Greek State.

“Wherever they went, Greeks brought along with them their language, their worldview, their love of freedom and πόλις (self-government), the appreciation of reason, the pursuit of truth and knowledge, the concepts of αρετη and αξια (virtue and merit),  the pursuit of excellence,  their ideals of just government…their art, their theater, their poetry,” Giannakidou said.

University of Chicago. (Photo by Oleg. via Flickr)

The conference, in turn, touched on the multidimensional and multifaceted elements of Hellenism that entails a diversified intellectual space which, through time and geography, that continues to produce ideas that can inform, engage, and inspire contributions in a multitude of research areas, methodologies, and audiences.

“Polyhedric Greece is the experience of the big and grand, but also of the small and dependent,” Giannakidou said. “The Greek identity is defined by this duality. It is the high culture during classical, Hellenistic and Byzantine times, but it is also the experience of the oppressed people struggling for survival during centuries of oppressive colonization. It is the experience of the rural Greek in the young Modern Greek state of the 19th century, and it is the urban, cosmopolitan Greek that lived at the same time in the West and in the Asia Minor cities of Smyrna, Constantinople, and Trabzon. It is the experience of the Greek that will be persecuted and become a refugee in the early 20th century, and will be forced to leave Asia Minor for good,” Giannakidou explained.

Opening remarks at the November conference were given by Professor Giannakidou, while additional greetings were provided by Anne Walters Robertson, Dean of the Division of Humanities, University of Chicago, along with Jason Merchant, Vice Provost, Ekaterina Dimakis, Consul General of Greece in Chicago, and Maria Pappas, Cook County Treasurer.

The conference commenced with a plenary talk by Edith Hall, Professor of Classics at King’s College London, exploring the influence of Homer’s Odyssey in Greek and world literature, and the longevity of its impact.

The afternoon session explored the “Polis (Πόλις): Sovereignty and the State,” with a presentation by Stathis Kalyvas, Gladstone Professor of Government at the University of Oxford, who examined the financial crisis, and offered a positive outlook on its impact on Greece, in light of the historical difficulties such as the Asia Minor Catastrophe that Greece has experienced.

Following his presentation was a discussion by Professor and Chair of the Department of Classics at Ohio State University, Anthony Kaldellis, who spoke about the evolution of Classical Greek though Byzantium, as well as the enduring resonance of Plato’s Republic as an allegory of wise government. Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago, Demetra Kasimis, provided commentary to supplement the discussions.

The conference’s second day commenced with a morning session on “Glossa (Γλώσσα): Language and the Teaching of Greek Language in the U.S.,” with presentations by Ioanna Sitaridou, Reader in Spanish and Historical Linguistics, Department of Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics at Cambridge University discussing the variation in Modern Greek dialects; Zoe Gavriilidou, Professor of Linguistics and Vice Rector at Democritus University of Thrace, sharing her research on profiling Greek heritage speakers of Chicago; and Christopher Brown, Director of the Modern Greek Language Program at The Ohio State University, exploring best practices on teaching Greek to the next generation of non-native speakers.

“Without the Greek language, you can’t keep the identity or anything about Greece. Sooner or later, the Greek part of the ομογενείς will fade away. We must give priority to the Greek language and how it is taught to the next generations,” Dimakis said. “This conference was a very good opportunity to talk about this issue. It was very interesting to see and hear what the problems are according to children, according to parents, and according to teachers, and in many ways those problems were common. It’s very interesting that a discussion has started on a public basis now on what the problems are, and how to face those problems,” she said.

The conference’s final session explored “History (Ιστορία): Greece in the East” with a brief summary of the historical presence of Greeks in Asia Minor by Theodosios Kyriakidis, Reader of Pontic Studies at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. The presentation was followed by a private viewing of a documentary produced by the Hellenic Research Center for Asia Minor and Pontos, prefaced by George Mavropoulos, President of the Hellenic Research Center for Asia Minor and Pontos in Chicago, in commemoration of the centenary of the Genocide of Pontic Greeks who lived along the northern coast of Asia Minor.

The Center’s main goal is to build the paradigm of Hellenic Studies as an interdisciplinary study of a continuous, unbroken tradition of language, ideas, literature, art, culture, and history that stretches back for more than three thousand years. It’s scope is comparable to that of other existing centers in the University of Chicago, such as the Center for Jewish Studies, the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, the Center for Latin American Studies, and the Center for East European and Eurasian Studies.

“We want to offer a forum for students and faculty who want to study this rich tradition, and to show how useful, and indeed relevant, Greek ideas are today,” Giannakidou said.

Another important goal for the Center’s team is to foster the building of bridges between the University of Chicago and the institutions of the larger Greek community in the Chicago area and beyond. The Center will pay special attention to the study of the Hellenic diaspora, highlighting the largely unknown Greek experiences and identities that exist in the world today. In this respect, the scope of the Center is unique with respect to other existing Hellenic Centers in the U.S. and Western Europe.

The Center’s future goals include establishment of a chair or a visiting chair in Hellenic Studies, and an interdisciplinary undergraduate Minor in Hellenic Studies, which will be designed to incorporate courses across divisions and schools, allowing students to combine the study of the language with history, literature and other fields. The Center also hopes to partner with institutions and organizations of the Greek community in Chicago, including the National Hellenic Museum, the Panhellenic Scholarship Foundation, and the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago, as well as with non-Greek organizations like the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, the Chicago Art Institute, and the Museum of Science and Industry, to organize and co-sponsor events to increase the Center’s visibility in Chicagoland and beyond.

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