By Aria Socratous
Harvard University, established in 1636, is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and one of the most prestigious universities in the world. Over 20,000 students attend, and among its virtually limitless list of distinguished alumni are eight U.S. presidents.
Five distinguished and accredited Greek Professors at Harvard University, Vassiliki Rapti, Preceptor in Modern Greek; Angeliki Asimaki, Pathoanatomist and Researcher at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center; Nicolas Prevelakis, PhD Lecturer, Committee on Degrees in Social Studies & Assistant Director of Curricular Development, Center for Hellenic Studies; Ioli Kalavrezou, Dumbarton Oaks Professor of Byzantine Art Department of History of Art and Architecture; and Andreas Georgoulias, Lecturer in Architecture and Senior Research Associate Research director for the Zofnass Program for Sustainable Infrastructure spoke with The National Herald about their academic career and to the extent that Greek culture has contributed to it.
TNH: Can you tell us about yourself? Where were you raised and how did you build this extremely successful career?
VR: Thank you for your kind words. I do not know if my career is extremely successful, but it certainly is an “extremely passionate path” that makes me feel always engaged and alert, always on the move, or to use Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s words from his poem “Ulysses,” always with a strong will “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield”! For, “I cannot rest from travel: I will drink Life to the lees.” There was always in me a natural curiosity and an innate exalted imagination that sought to find a channel in order to be voiced out, whether through nature (I was born in a small corner of Thessaly in Greece endowed with a myriad of mythic allusions and vivid folklore) or through books, or simply through the play of imagination. The latter was kindled by my desire to reach out to my absent (yet affectively present) father who was a Gastarbeiter in Munich for ten years that coincided with my early childhood. When he returned, I used to be an avid listener of his turbulent yet appealing stories, and I was encouraged by him “to learn letters” in order to succeed in life.
TNH: Can you describe some of your teaching experiences at Harvard and the teaching methods that you use?
VR: You can find more details about my teaching experiences at Harvard in this article: http://www.darthcrimson.org/darth-limelight-vassiliki-rapti/, which talks about my innovative teaching that pushes the boundaries of digital humanities. Simply put, I would say that I feel lucky to be given the opportunity to work in the course of eight years with extremely motivated students and make ample use of the extraordinary recourses of the university. Furthermore, I have benefited from the emphasis of the university on the integration of the arts and technology in the curriculum and my teaching methods found a great ally in with these principles. My teaching method is student-centered and advocates experiential learning. In other words, I want my students to wholly engage themselves and contribute the best part of themselves in a friendly learning environment where collaboration life impact are keys. And when do the students give their utmost? When you ask them to be creative and share with everyone in the class what motivates them, what makes them passionate. In the collaborative final video-performance projects that I create with them instead of final exam, everyone works hard and learns and undergoes a transformative experience. Part of this transformative experience is what I call the so-called “surprise piece” as part of their final portfolio, in any format they wish. Thus, I have received numerous surprise pieces thus far that are extremely rewarding (poetry translations, music compositions, drawings, installations, films, ceramic pieces, hip hop songs, newly-designed board games, short stories, essays, etc.).
TNH: You are the creator of Ludics seminar which is based on your book Ludics in Surrealist Theatre and Beyond. Could you give us some more information about it?
VR: The Ludics Seminar is part of the series of the seminars of the Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard, directed by Homi K. Bhabha. I founded it and co-directed it with my colleague Kathleen Coleman, the James Loeb Professor of the Classics and President of the American Philological Association in 2013 and since 2015 I am the only Chair. Ludics “focuses on the concepts of play and games, widely interpreted. Interdisciplinary at its core, it aims by means of innovative approaches at fostering an open dialogue among scholars who are interested in exploring the ludic principle across a broad spectrum of human culture, from literature, rhetoric, and theater to law, economy, and politics.” Since 2013 it has hosted 13 events on a wide range of topics as the following titles bear evidence: “Playing with Design: Cultivating Childhood Creativity in Postwar America”, “Playing to Engage: How to Revitalize Society”, “Sounds from Europe’s Margins: Bagpipes in Boston”, “Games Translators Play in Bilingual French-Canadian Theater”, “Laughter in Greek Lyric Poetry”, “Playing Scrabble with Sappho: A Translation Workshop for Anyone Interested in the Interplay of Poetry, Translation, and Play”, “Ludi, Ludic, Ludicrous: Choreographing Rome from Spartacus to Caligula”, “Casino Royale in Ancient Skyscrapers? On Recent Finds from Roman Tower Houses in Tuna el-Gebel (Egypt)”, “Τhe Dissonance of Ludic Poetics in Greek ?Wedding Song Tradition: A Workshop on the “Interdiscursivity” between the Epithalamia and the Laments in Greek Antiquity”, “Purposeful Gaming”, “Creativity and Entrepreneurship”. “Crossing: Virtual Experiences, Games, and Teaching”, and “The Ludic Impulse in Post-Postmodern Fiction”.
TNH: You have also founded The Advanced Training in Greek Poetry Translation and Performance Workshop at Harvard. What is the mission of this workshop?
VR: The Advanced Training in Greek Poetry Translation Workshop and Performance at Harvard fosters a dialogue among professionals of poetry translation and performance with an emphasis on Greek poetry, both ancient and modern. Through presentations and intensive work, it helps rethink the role of translation today in order to advance the participants’ translation skills and ultimately produce a body of work of translations that can be shared by others. I founded it in January 2014 with only eight members and now our Facebook page shows 97 members. What started as an extension of my research interests, is now an open forum and tremendous resource for anyone who is interested in the theory and practice of poetry translation. The last year we have partnered with the Paros International Poetry Translation Symposium that takes place annually in Athens, Greece, and this collaboration was proven so fruitful that we plan to expand our partnerships with other relevant workshops. Also, all the members of the Workshop who live in the greater New England area benefit from the participation in the majority of the open workshops on the theme of “Rethinking Translation”, organized by the Woodberry Poetry Room at Harvard. Also, we benefited from the funding provided to some of our events by the Alexander Onassis Public Benefit Foundation (USA).
TNH: You have published several books such as Ludics in Surrealist Theatre and Beyond, and some other poetry collections. Which skill does it prevail, academic research, creativity or a combination of them?
VR: I would say that the main body and focus of my work is the scholarly work, but I cannot write without also expressing myself in my creative work. My poetry writing/ music collaborations/performance collaborations/translations/playwriting not only provide a balance in my life like the one that jewelry making does offer me, but also they feed my academic work. Likewise, my creative work is animated by the theoretical principles which I elaborate in my scholarly work, which many times revolve around the multiplicity of forms of the play concept. Like two communicating vessels, they work better by being conceived as “one into another”.
TNH: Is there any special project you are working on right now that you might want to share?
VR: I have several projects on which I am currently working, both scholarly and creative. The creative ones are collaborative.
The first is the monograph Air, Water, Earth, Fire, in the Poetry Of Nikos Engonopoulos,” which is a reworking of my D.E.A. thesis at the University of Sorbonne-Paris IV, and which will be published in February by the editions Rome in Greek. The second is the publication of two volumes of the unknown theatrical work of Nanos Valaoritis. The third one is a new volume of poetry/songs in collaboration with composer Ivaana Muse and a new project/tour/series of workshops with composer Kostas Rekleitis. Also, my extended poem “Subito” [was performed] in Edinburg in his music by soprano Peyee Chen on November 28, with the Edinburgh Ensemble. Also, on December 12th, there [was] a reading of my recent poetry collections Transitorium (Somerset Hall Press, 2015) and IA Songs (with Kostas Rekleitis, Musica Ferrum, 2015) at Cornelia Street cafe under the auspices of the Greek-American Writers Association.
TNH: Where were you born and raised, and how did you create this notable niche of yourself?
AA: I was born and raised in Athens. I only left my country when I was 18 to study in London, United Kingdom. When I was a third year PhD student, my mentor “sent” me to Boston to complete a 4-month internship by the side of a world renowned pathologist, Professor Saffitz, at the Beth Israel Hospital. Little did I know at the time that four months would turn into an actual decade at Harvard Medical School. For the past 13 years I have worked on the mechanisms of pathogenesis of a disease known as arrhythmogenic cardiomyopathy (ACM). This is an inherited form of heart disease, affecting approximately 1:1000 individuals in the general population, which causes sudden death in young people particularly those engaged in strenuous exercise. ACM is my “niche”, and I hope to continue to work on it for the remaining of my career.
TNH: You are a pathoanatomist at Harvard University and Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Boston. As a Member of a research team you made a breakthrough discovery of a new drug that can help those suffering from life-threatening arrhythmias. Can you give us some more information about this discovery and your findings?
AA: In order for one to understand the mechanisms of disease pathogenesis, one needs to first understand the actual human disease. To pathologists, understanding the human disease meant studying heart tissue samples obtained either at autopsy or by endomyocardial biopsy. I spent several years elucidating a range of sub-cellular abnormalities characterizing ACM in patients and armed with this information we established a collaboration with Calum MacRae of the Brigham Hospital and created a zebrafish model of ACM. Creating a fish experimental model allowed us to screen thousands of compounds for disease modifiers. Out of over 5000 substances tested, one drug, SB216763, could reverse and prevent the disease phenotype. The next step was to try the drug on a mammalian model of disease, a mouse model, that would be much closer to our patient. Our drug was tested on different mouse models of ACM ,one created by us at Harvard and one created by Dan Judge at the Johns Hopkins. Both mice showed dramatic improvement in disease phenotype both in terms of arrhythmias and heart failure. At this point, I cannot tell you if and when this drug will make it to the market. It has, however, been a tremendous step forward not only in curing the disease but also in understanding its pathogenesis and recognizing targets that need intervention.
TNH: Has your research focus been one of your interest since early age?
AA: Yes. I have been interested in heart diseases in the young since I was a child myself. I was both unfortunate and fortunate to be born with a rather complex form of congenital heart disease. To date, this has been my number one motivation to help young people that are born with weaker hearts.
TNH: You have been focusing your research on cardiomyopathies and arrhythmias for years, and in 2009 you became widely known with the discovery and the related publication in the medical journal New England Journal of Medicine for a noninvasive diagnostic procedure for the arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy. Can you share the details of the discovery?
AA: Despite advances in understanding the genetic determinants of ACM, its diagnosis remains challenging. This is owing to the reduced genetic penetrance, vast phenotypic variation and age-related progression associated with the disease. Obtaining heart biopsy samples from the right lower part of the heart (the free wall of the right ventricle) may be challenging. In 2009 I published a novel disease marker, plakoglobin, whose distribution appeared to be disrupted in the heart of every patient with ACM and not only in the right ventricle. This would allow cardiologists to obtain heart samples from safer locations and still identify this abnormality. Essentially – the heart cells are held together with “mechanical bridges”, called desmosomes. These structures provide cell-cell adhesion allowing the heart to withstand the enormous stress it is undergoing with every beat. One protein found in the desmosomal structures is plakoglobin. In a normal heart, plakoglobin would reside at the edge of a cell, where it meets another cell. In a heart with ACM, however, plakoglobin is re-distributed, “translocated” from the cell membrane to the nucleus. This marker has allowed us to aid in the definitive diagnosis of several cases of ACM since.
TNH: Ιn which field are you currently working?
AA: Although using plakoglobin as a marker appeared highly specific for ACM at the time, further research showed that it could not in fact differentiate between this disease and another entity responsible for arrhythmias in the young; cardiac sarcoidosis. Due to this observation, I have now expanded my research to identify novel markers which overcome this limitation.
Moreover, although obtaining a myocardial biopsy sample from the septum as opposed to the free wall of the right ventricle is safer, a biopsy remains an invasive procedure, which comes with risks. In addition, while a patient manifesting disease could justifiably undergo a biopsy, this would be impossible in his family members or when it comes to cascade screening of people that would like to be involved in competitive sports. Accordingly, I have now discovered a new, surrogate tissue, which can be obtained within seconds and without any accompanying risk and appears to show the exact same abnormalities we see in the heart.
TNH: Have you ever considered going back to Greece and helping people there, given your expertise?
AA: Greece is my home. Yes, of course I have considered going back. Unfortunately for the time being my homeland does not have the infrastructure or the funding to support my work. Having established collaborations with multiple hospitals in my country, however, I receive heart samples from several Greek patients and help with their diagnosis and management, albeit from far away.
TNH: Can you elaborate a little about yourself? Where you were raised and how you came about creating this niche for yourself?
NP: I was born in Athens. I moved to Paris with my family when I was eight years old, so I spend most of my childhood between France, where I lived during most of the year, and Greece, which I would visit during Christmas, summer, and other vacation periods. I became very interested in, and ended up studying, philosophy. It was the last years of the wars in Yugoslavia, and I also became very interested in the relation between religion and politics, and the political use of religion by nationalism.
TNH. Whom would you like to mention in terms of literary/spiritual inspiration-who helped you carve a unique career for yourself?
NP: My favorite philosophers have been Plato, Spinoza, Kant. In the Social Sciences, my main reference is Max Weber, both for his methodology and for his idea of that modernity brings about a certain “disenchantment of the world.” Besides my parents and broader family, with whom I have had the chance to have in depth intellectual discussions from a young age, some of the people who have helped me the most in my career have been Liah Greenfeld, with whom I worked and studied at Boston University from 2001 to 2006; and at Harvard, Richard Tuck, Gregory Nagy, and Anya Bassett, who have been very important sources of inspiration, both intellectually and professionally.
TNH: Could you describe a few of your teaching experiences at Harvard?
NP: I have had the unique chance to work at Harvard’s Social Studies, an interdisciplinary honors program which attracts extremely gifted and interesting students. The fact that it is interdisciplinary allows me to focus on “big questions” and to combine multiple approaches and perspectives, without feeling constrained by the boundaries of a particular discipline. I am currently teaching political theory, nationalism, and globalization. Most of our classes are small seminars of eight to ten students; this allows me to get to know the students in depth and have real conversations with them. It is very impressive how much though and ideas can emerge from these discussions.
TNH. Is there any special project you are working on right now?
NP: I am currently working on two projects. The first is a comparative study of the historical connection between religion and nationalism. This is a collaborative project, the goal of which is to understand the different ways in which nationalism has coexisted, transformed, or challenged religion in the last couple of centuries. The second is a monograph on religion and national identity in modern Greece, which develops some of these questions in more depth. This book is currently under contract at the Editions du CNRS in France, and should appear in French.
TNH: How does your Greek culture and a Greek way of thinking benefit your academic career?
NP: It is impossible to think without words. One’s native language shapes the way one maps and makes sense of the world. Greek language has been extremely important in the history of philosophy, and being familiar with, and knowing the etymology of, words like economia or theoria is extremely valuable. On a professional level, I have had the chance to work, since 2010, at Harvard’s Center for Hellenic Studies, and to participate in the development of summer programs in Greece. This has allowed me to pursue my academic interests while remaining connected to Greece, and given me the opportunity to work with Greek colleagues, both in the United States and in Greece.
TNH: What do you think about the escalating political and economic turmoil in Greece? Have you ever considered to becoming politically engaged in order to utilize your expertise to help the situation?
NP: It has been a sad story, especially, of course, for those who live in Greece. Like many of us Greeks in the United States, I often see myself anxiously checking the latest news, in an effort to stay connected. I try to remain politically engaged by being informed, discussing politics, and making every effort to be in Greece during elections. In my classes, I always address the Greek economic crisis and try to help students make sense of it and avoid stereotypes. With the help of my colleagues at the Center for Hellenic Studies, I have also tried to develop a program on political theory in Nafplion. This program is addressed to high school students of the Argolid and is now in its fifth year. While not a direct engagement with contemporary Greek politics, I see this as an investment in what is important in the long run: the engagement of the younger generation with big political and social questions. This is not a way to get easy answers, but an encouragement to think critically, question what is taken for granted, and engage in dialogue. I believe these are the most important things in democratic politics.
TNH: Since 1989 you have been a Dumbarton Oaks Professor of Byzantine Art History, a Senior Research Associate, Dumbarton Oaks Center for Byzantine Studies since 1989 and from 1996 to 2001, the Chair of the Department of History of Art and Architecture at Harvard University. Can you talk about your experience and your long association with the Institution?
IK: Dumbarton Oaks began as a center for Byzantine (not business) studies. The Byzantine center was founded 75 years ago by the diplomat Robert Bliss and his wife Mildred Barnes Bliss. They had traveled often in the Mediterranean and began to develop an interest for the history and culture of the medieval world of the Mediterranean and in the 1930’s they started to build a collection of most precious art works of Byzantium. Their collection was excellent consisting of Byzantine gold jewelry, ivory carvings and other works of art of high craftsmanship such as enamels and miniature mosaic icons. They built up also a fantastic library to accompany their collection inviting also scholars and specialists to come to Dumbarton Oaks to spend time and do research and to study the collection and write about the objects they had collected. In 1940 with the Second World War, however they decided to offer the Dumbarton Oaks research Center and its property to Harvard to be administered by it. Today Dumbarton Oaks supports through fellowships and internships, meetings, and exhibitions, research and learning internationally in tow additional fields beyond Byzantine, in Pre-Columbian, and Garden and Landscape studies both areas in which the Blisses had special interests. In the late 80’s the idea to establish chairs in the Byzantine field at Harvard University was realized and three Dumbarton Oaks chairs were created: one in History, one in History and Art, and one in the Classics for Byzantine Literature. It was then that I came from UCLA to Harvard.
The field of Byzantine Art was for some decades already taught at Harvard. Art history had become a popular field in American universities including Byzantine. After the 2nd World War numerous refugee scholars, especially from Germany, came to the US at various universities and among them were many art historians. The study of art history was then introduced in many universities and became a popular field so that a number of art history departments were created. Harvard has a long tradition in this field including Byzantine and Medieval Art.
My association with Dumbarton Oaks began much earlier when, with a Junior fellowship, I came there to research and write my dissertation. Dumbarton Oaks offers fellowships to scholars who want to spend six months or a year to do research there. As the best library in Byzantine studies it is a much-desired place to do research. There are nine to ten fellowships each year for Byzantine studies, some to young scholars still working on a dissertation and others to advanced scholars in all the fields of Byzantine culture and civilization.
TNH: You are an art historian, but you started as classicist/archeologist. Why did you decide to focus on art history?
IK: Yes, I did start as a classicist/archaeologist. My first years of study were in Germany. I studied archaeology because I was born and raised in Greece and as a child I observed a number of excavations. I was going everyday watching what they were doing. While studying archaeology I was also following at the same time courses in art history, as a secondary field. I was very inspired by this field because at that time I realized that art history, and that is several decades ago, had moved into contextual studies, which made the field interdisciplinary. Archaeology at that point required a more “dryer” approach, much more focused on measurements, descriptions, categorizations, etc. It was not as interpretive as it has become nowadays. In the meantime things have changed also in archaeology and other historical studies, but I am speaking of the late sixties early seventies. After my BA in Classics I moved to the department of Art History in Berkeley to work with David Wright, who taught Byzantine art there at that time. Byzantine art history still then focused on iconography and style. Reading what the Byzantines themselves wrote was not encouraged very much since it was thought that they did not directly discuss art as such. Much has changed and since the 1980s Byzantine studies have caught up with the field of art history more broadly. In my teaching I realized that context was essential to an understanding of the art of a period. Of course we began increasingly to ask different questions, to look at types of objects that had not been given much attention before (my dissertation and later book was on Steatite icons, another material carved like ivories). Objects, which had never been exhibited, became part of studies and exhibitions. For example, in the exhibition I organized at Harvard on the world of Byzantine women many artifacts were brought together never seen before. Art history is a challenging field of research and that is what intrigues me. It is a kind of puzzle that forces one to find even from small details from which to try to derive some information. The study of seeing is important and to be an art historian you really have to be an observer, to know how to look.
TNH: What does teaching mean to you?
IK: Teaching is an experience. You are not alone in a classroom to just present information. The task one has is to open up a world for other people that they are not aware of. When you teach the information is in your head and according to the knowledge of your students you have to know how to formulate it, often you have to condense it and present it clearly and with enthusiasm. This process often leads you to find new interpretations and answers in your own work. I enjoy having graduate students around me, I like their enthusiasm and dedication and I enjoy working with them as we did, for example, for the Byzantine Women exhibition where we had a great collaboration. Undergraduates come with very little grasp of the history and culture of Byzantium, they do not know much about the period or the art, and my aim is to present fresh challenges, introduce them to an older but also rather “modern” society for its time, to capture their interest by discussing intriguing and impressive images almost like puzzles to be solved, and we do it together. Graduate students are another matter, and there I need to make sure that they have a broad education and that they have all the languages they need, especially Greek. I encourage them to read the texts (and there are great texts!) and learn from other disciplines, which can be brought to bear on Byzantium.
TNH: You have published articles about the images of Byzantine Women and “Irregular Marriages in the eleventh century” and the “Zoe and Constantine Mosaic in Hagia Sophia”. Which is your scientific field of interest?
IK: I became interested in the women of Byzantium when I was studying the society in general, relation between church and state and other such topics which are based on issues and not on stylistic or iconographic developments. Specifically I wanted to find out how did women figure in that society. I decided to teach a seminar on Byzantine women, which meant collecting all possible historical information and objects that related to all women and not just the well-known imperial women and to see what we would learn from this. My students with great enthusiasm participated in it and we then decided to show our finds in an exhibition, which would also provide a catalogue of the art objects to a general audience. We had over two hundred pieces collected from various museums in the US and in Canada, which were displayed in such a way to represent the daily life of women as much as was possible to reveal. The exhibition was organized according to the different realms of their life: their marriage, their work or other activities done by women, the public spaces of women, their households, child bearing and so on. We tried to show all this through objects and works of art. The catalogue of this exhibition has in addition to the art objects accompanying nice essays on the themes of the exhibition. There are assays on birth, health, marriage, work and place in society of women and specific discussions on empresses and their influence sometimes even in politics. I am proud of this effort because it was done in 2003 and it is the first exhibition of Byzantine art, which is not about the splendor or glory of Byzantium or the power or faith of Byzantium, where all kind of objects are represented for their beautiful appearance. This was an exhibition organized with a thematic focus. Women in Byzantium had much more legal rights than the women had in the West for example and this needed to be made known to a wider public than just the specialists. They could file for a divorce for example, they worked, they were producers and they could go to the market and sell their products as for example textiles they produced. For those times we can say that they had a kind of independence. They were very powerful women. Another topic that relates to women which has interested me for some time now is the role and place of the Virgin Mary in Byzantine society. But I am interested also in the self-presentation of emperors and other “political” topics that can be detected in the art of Byzantium in manuscripts, mosaics, silver objects and all kinds of other representations.
TNH: Recently you ran for the Greek elections as a candidate. What is your opinion about the escalating political and economic turmoil in Greece? How have you considered lending your political expertise to help?
IK: I never thought I was going to do this. I was never involved in politics, especially since most of my life I had lived outside of Greece. I was approached by the new movement Potami and first I was rather hesitant. But what I heard and discussed with them, especially with Stavros Theodorakis, the head of this movement, made me change my mind. I felt that what he said and observed about Greece, and the need this country had for finally big changes, was exactly what I had felt and thought all these last decades. I decided to run for the European Council because I know Europe quite well. I speak their languages and could represent Greece well. I lived in Germany for many years, I went to school there, then studied and later taught at the university of Munich. I know also France well, so I felt that I could speak for Greece in matters having to do with education and culture. It is essential for Greece, for example, to reorganize its educational system. Because of my expertise I felt I could contribute to an understanding of what politismos might mean in a nation that slowly seems to be forgetting its own past and its language. Time had come I thought when I could contribute and do something for Greece, not only from outside as all these years, but from within. Harvard would have given me if successful a leave of absence. It did not quite happen yet. I am patient let us see what this new year will bring.
TNH: You are teaching graduate and executive level courses in interdisciplinary design, project management and real estate development, and you are a Research Director for the Zofnass Program for Sustainable Infrastructure at the GSD. How difficult is it to combine so many and different fields of interest?
AG: I believe all these fields are connected and related to each other. If I could summarize my work, it’s on sustainable development. The issue is that in order to achieve true, lasting and meaningful development, one needs to combine many fields and professions of the past. We have been living in silos for most of our education and practice, but today’s problems require a different, integrated approach. For example, this is what we aimed to achieve at the Zofnass Program for Sustainable Infrastructure at Harvard. The Program was founded in 2008 by siblings Paul and Joan Zofnass, with the aim of developing and disseminating methods that assess and quantify sustainability of infrastructure. The program is supported by an industry consortium and works in collaboration with several professional societies, such as the American Society of Civil Engineers and the American Public Works Association. Our major contribution is the Envision rating system, used widely in the States and also in many other countries. With more than 4,000 professionals accredited to use it and over 600 project applications, it’s a testament of the potential of applied, interdisciplinary research.
TNH: It is really remarkable the fact that dozens of your case studies are used for teaching at Harvard University. Can you give us some more details about that?
AG: Harvard has been teaching through case studies for decades now, and for a faculty is a means of transmitting knowledge to students through a discussion based on facts. It’s not very different from the Socratic method, where one extracts lessons from deep inside of people’s own experiences. I have been fortunate enough to develop cases through my research, and I continue to do so as it’s a very effective means of inductive reasoning – moving from facts and observations to a grounded theory. It helps people derive better decisions, both in the class room and in the board room.
TNH: How is your relationship with your students?
AG: Very good. I’m trying to interact directly with most of them and the fact that we don’t have a big age gap is helpful. I am trying to be close to my students, to get to know their future plans, where they come from and their professional aspirations. I’ve been teaching at Harvard since 2008, and after some years I also started teaching at executive education, there it’s a bit different. People with a lot of experience come to learn but also share their knowledge and together we create a collective learning experience that benefits all.
TNH: You have been the consultant for the Greek government on the privatization of a 6,500-acre real estate asset in Athens. Can you provide some more information on this?
- I have worked with for Hellenicon S.A. on the privatization process of the former Athens airport site in Hellenicon. My contribution was on sustainable infrastructure planning and real estate valuation for the entire site, following the established process of the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund.
TNH: Your current research includes the development of the Gulf Encyclopedia for Sustainable Urbanism sponsored by the Qatar Foundation. Can you share some details about this project?
AG: At the Gulf Encyclopedia project, we studied all major seaside cities by the Persian Gulf with the ultimate goal of further understanding what made these cities sustainable before oil discovery. As part of a multi-disciplinary team of Harvard researchers, we visited all capital sea-side cities in Oman, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Iraq and Iran and studied architecture and urban planning, environment and public health, and socio-economic dimensions. Our forthcoming publication aims on defining sustainable urbanization for the region before the abundance of resources that came with oil discovery.
TNH: Have you ever thought about going back to Greece?
AG: Of course. I’ve been living in Boston for eleven years now, and in many instances I have been thinking about where the future may take me. My academic career started and is in the US, but I have been working on projects all over the world. Only time can show where the next step may be and, as we say here, “sometimes it’s good to leave the ivory tower, and go out there.” I am always open to new challenges and providing help where help is needed. On a personal level, yes it’s a challenge to balance work and family ties especially when these may span a couple of continents. But our times make for an interconnected and global approach, where one should be active in several geographies.