A Wind of Creativity Blows on the Other Side of the Atlantic

by Nicholas Alexiou 25/10/2011


From October 13-16 the 22nd Symposium of the Modern Greek Studies Association of North America was held at NYU. The Symposium, which began in the late 1960s, meets every two years in a different city of the United States or Canada and gathers a large number of speakers from America, Europe and Australia. Even though the participant’s registration fees, travel and accommodation expenses are not covered, this year’s symposium in New York near the protests of Wall Street, was attended by approximately 150 delegates, including about 40 graduate students.

The symposia of the American Modern Greek Studies Association (MGSA) are envied for their momentum, continuity, and exemplary organization. They are particularly useful for Modern Greek Studies because, in Greece, such conferences with a long tradition and intellectual depth do not exist, with the exception perhaps of some local venues. Although the programs of these symposia are currently not distributed (the last seven are available on the Association’s website: www.mgsa.org), they reflect the different trends and developments in the field of Modern Greek studies around the world.

For several years the conferences have had an open agenda, thus allowing researchers to engage with issues of their own interests, although all the abstract submissions along with the topics of proposed panels are reviewed anonymously and are evaluated by an academic committee. The organizational committees of the Association have given weight to efforts that highlight interdisciplinary symposia, attracting academics from different disciplines, such as linguists, historians, scholars of contemporary and classical literature, social and political scientists, experts in cinema or in cultural studies, and others.

This year’s presentations were focused on various subjects, from literature and national identity, language, and ideology, to political practices as resolutions to the situation of immigrants in Greece. Papers were also presented on issues that concern the Greek American community, the minority communities in Greece, the Greek Left’s relations with the sciences, translations of the Communist Manifesto, the Greek-Turkish friendship, even Greek cinema.

America, therefore, managed to accomplish in the field of Modern Greek Studies something that has thus far not been achieved elsewhere: the constructive cooperation of the Humanities and the Social Sciences. This is also evident in the journal published by the MGSA, the Journal of Modern Greek Studies, which hosts a variety of scholarly articles and whose editorial committee is comprised of representatives from both the Humanities and the Social Sciences. This does not imply a diluting of specialized skills or a lack of scholarly depth. On the contrary, contemporary needs and circumstances require an academic community that is creative and imaginative. No science can survive in closed confines; instead, sciences must feed into one another. Cultural studies now offer the common meeting ground of heterogeneous scientific trends and methods, especially as the study of modern Greece increasingly requires the synergy of different disciplines. With hard work and collective effort, the Modern Greek Studies Association has, in its basic structure, succeeded in operating on this epistemological basis.

As the Association’s President, Dr. Stathis Gourgouris (Columbia University), stated: “My goal from the beginning was the autonomy of the committees, reducing bureaucracy, and forging a closer relationship between the Association and Greek intellectuals, academics, and graduate students”--something quite visible throughout the symposium. The symposia of the Modern Greek Studies Association of North America offer an opportunity for many graduate students and young scholars to present their work and feel part of a wider academic community. Notably, many people make the special trip to present at these meetings, despite the difficult economic situation; they confirm that they have more opportunities to make presentations outside of Greece than they do within. Clearly, the Modern Greek Studies Association of North America is covering gaps that still exist in Greece.

On the other side of the Atlantic seems to blow a wind of creativity which, in spite of times of austerity, offers favorable opportunities for young scholars, women, and students.

Nicholas Alexiou is a poet, and Assistant Professor of Sociology in the Department of Sociology, Queens College, CUNY.

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