Maria Kaliambou is Senior Lector in the Hellenic Studies Program and teaches folklore and Modern Greek language at Yale University. Photo: Courtesy of Maria Kaliambou
NEW HAVEN, CT – Maria Kaliambou is Senior Lector at the Hellenic Studies Program and teaches folklore and Modern Greek language at Yale University. She spoke with The National Herald about her work in academia and her latest book project, The Book Culture of Greek Americans.
Kaliambou earned her BA in History and Archaeology at the University of Thessaloniki, Greece, and her PhD in Folklore Studies at the University of Munich, Germany. She held post-doctoral positions at the University Charles-de-Gaulle Lille 3 and in Princeton University. In 2006, her dissertation received the Lutz Röhrich prize in Germany as the best dissertation in oral literature, and in 2011, the European Commission elected her as Erasmus Student Ambassador of Greece. In 2006, she published her first book Home – Faith – Family: Transmission of Values in Greek Popular Booklets of Tales (1870-1970) (in German), and in 2015, The Routledge Modern Greek Reader Greek Folktales for Learning Modern Greek. Her research focuses on the dialogue between folklore and book history, particularly in the diaspora. She is also interested in foreign language pedagogy, especially teaching Modern Greek. She is the Chair of the Modern Greek Special Interest Group at the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL).
TNH: Were you always interested in pursuing a career in academia?
Maria Kaliambou: I was curious to learn more about the subjects I love, namely folklore, ethnology, popular literature. When I was a PhD student at the University of Munich in Germany, I couldn’t imagine where and what exactly my career would be, given the fact that there aren’t many academic positions in humanities. What has led me to academia was my love to teach. I love interacting with students of all ages, transmitting knowledge, and debating about topics we are passionate about.
TNH: How has the pandemic affected your work and the Hellenic Studies Program?
MK: Overall, I have to say, that Modern Greek at Yale went very well during the pandemic. Students participated with the same enthusiasm as they would before or after this crisis. One positive outcome was that the program became more visible and accessible. For instance, the online conference I organized, The Greek Revolution and the Greek Diaspora in North America, on October 16, 2021, was attended by people from three continents (America, Europe, and Australia). I believe, the pandemic offered an opportunity to small programs such as Hellenic Studies to reach out to a broader audience.
TNH: How long does it take to put together the booklets of the students’ work?
MK: I strongly believe that the language curriculum should be enhanced with cultural projects outside the classroom. For these booklets, students worked during one semester on a specific project. In our first book project, entitled Modern Greek at Yale, you will find creative writing, such as fairy tales, poems, short stories, written by students of all levels. Our second book, entitled Cinderella: The Light of God, is a theatrical production of our students, based on the Greek version of Cinderella. For our third book, Interviewing Greek Americans, students had to develop ethnographic skills and interview members of Greek communities. The stories included are moving and, in some cases, go beyond the imagination. With our latest booklet Learning about the Greek Revolution, we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Greek Revolution and the 20 years of the Hellenic Studies Program at Yale University!
TNH: What has been the most rewarding aspect of your work in the Hellenic Studies Program at Yale?
MK: My dedicated students! All my students have shown remarkable enthusiasm, commitment, and genuine interest in the Greek language and culture. My classes are mixed from students who never had any exposure to the language before with heritage students of Greek-American descent. It is a blessing to have such a cohort of wonderful students. These are the future Philhellenes!
TNH: What has been the most challenging aspect?
MK: The most challenging aspect is the constant struggle to convince the administration that we may not offer the quantity in terms of student enrollments the university is looking for, but we undoubtedly provide high quality in terms of teaching and cultural exposure. I would like to take this opportunity to make an appeal to Greek-Americans and other interested parties to financially support the Hellenic programs across the U.S. It is up to us to continue teaching Greek language and culture to our children. Thus, we need to secure the existence of these programs.
TNH: Where do you see the future of the program?
MK: I would love to establish a research hub on Greek-American Studies within the Hellenic Studies Program at Yale. As the late Dan Georgakas advocated, if Hellenic Studies programs want to survive, they should include Greek-American Studies in their mission.
TNH: What are you working on next and when can we look forward to your next book?
MK: In my current book project, The Book Culture of Greek Americans, I investigate the broad range of Greek books published by the first wave of Greek immigrants in the United States between the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. Contrary to the stereotype that the first immigrants were “illiterate,” I show that there is an extensive variety of Greek-American books which were crucial to the Greek immigrants’ cultural awareness. I also continue my work on popular books with folktales, and, of course, am interested in language pedagogy.
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