Monday, June 7, 2010

2010.06.13

Version at BMCR home site
Kostis Kourelis (ed.), The Archaeology of Xenitia: Greek Immigration and Material Culture. The New Griffon 10. Princeton, N.J.: The American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 2008. Pp. 75. ISBN 9789608696068. $15.00 (pb).
Reviewed by Amy Papalexandrou, The University of Texas at Austin

Table of Contents

In this small book, Kostis Kourelis has made an important contribution to the field of material culture studies with a refreshingly experimental and inclusive collection of essays, by various authors, devoted to post-classical archaeology. Under the broadly-conceived umbrella of twentieth-century Greek migration and back-migration, the book explores this intensive, transnational movement of humanity in the early twentieth century through its material residue both in Greece and in the host countries (here limited to the United States and Australia). Six case studies offer a variegated selection of objects, buildings, and institutions for dissection, each ostensibly providing fresh insight into the migration phenomenon as direct, critical evidence rather than mere illustration of its profound consequences. It should be understood from the outset that the book is in fact not about 'xenitia,' the condition of self-imposed exile and intense longing for home or absent loved ones, which is a central theme of Modern Greek culture and Greek diaspora communities. Indeed, the notion of xenitia receives only passing mention in the book's brief introduction (p.5) and then is quickly and completely abandoned. While the term as used in the title may be understood as synecdoche -- of all that is implied through the very act of migration -- it operates mostly as an evocative hook with which to attract readers to a somewhat different topic.

The book has its genesis in a thematic session of the 2008 Annual Meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) held in Chicago and organized by the editor together with Lita Tzortzopoulou-Gregory. (Podcasts of most of the papers are conveniently collected and available online.) Its sponsorship by the Medieval and Post-Medieval Archaeology in Greece AIA Interest Group, together with its final publication as volume 10 of the Gennadius Library's annual journal The New Griffon add additional layers of significance: We are alerted to the recent interest and involvement in post-antique studies of a growing archaeological community in the U.S. but also in Greece at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens (ASCSA), to which the Gennadius belongs. Indeed, the ASCSA's flagship journal Hesperia has led the way toward new collaborative opportunities through its dedication to publishing articles in areas formerly considered outside the purview of the classical archaeologist. Kourelis's book germinated and came to fruition within this environment which, in recent years, has begun to support and even elicit new conversations about material culture that have cut across the fields of Classical, Medieval and Ottoman archaeology, anthropology, and now Modern Greek studies. That such dialogues still need to jump linguistic hurdles is addressed in Kourelis's book, as in other volumes of the New Griffon, with an abundance of summaries in both English and Greek.

It is appropriate that the reader of The Archaeology of Xenitia is guided into the topic of intensive migration by an anthropologist. Susan Buck Sutton's involvement with landscape archaeology in Greece enables her to speak with authority about its rural landscapes and their alleged depopulation following the so-called 'New Immigration' wave of 1880-1920. In "The Ruins of Engagement: Rural Landscapes and Greek American Immigration" she focuses on three sites (Kea, the southern Argolid and the Nemea Valley) that have been the subject of intensive survey, using them as a backdrop against which to re-evaluate older interpretations of abandonment and rural poverty. In fact she finds that local populations were dynamic, even prosperous in some cases, but certainly showing entrepreneurial acumen prior to the great wave of migration. She juxtaposes these observations against traditional immigrant narratives as they have evolved in the U.S. (destitute villages and lack of mobility in Greece, ethnic triumph and prosperity in America) and calls for a more complex Greek-American history. It is an important essay that turns the older interpretive model of immigration on its head and will contribute to future thinking about networks of exchange, assimilation, and how we read economic prosperity in the home country. In this regard Philip Duke's essay, "The Ludlow, Colorado, Coal Miners' Massacre of 1914: The Greek Connection," lags behind as the earlier paradigm remains firmly in place. His handling of the oppression experienced by thousands of Greeks (especially Cretans) in the dangerous mines of the American west is topical especially in light of current events in the U.S., but it stops short of advancing our understanding of the migration experience beyond that of the stereotyped male 'palikari.' One assumes that eventual publication of the material evidence from the site, unfortunately not discussed in the article, will produce a different version of assimilation than the one we are currently told through official as well as unofficial (folk ballad) narratives of the tragic events at Ludlow.

Two essays get to the heart of material culture in the Greek diaspora. Kourelis's essay "From Greek Revival to Greek America: Archaeology and Transformation in Saint George Orthodox Cathedral of Philadelphia" tackles the monumental and public display of ethnic identity. Undertaken in the form of a well-documented case study, it works well as a means to explain the complexity of re-use and conversion of existing structures by an ethnic group eager to assimilate. This is negotiated, of course, by donning (and re-inventing) the mantle of classical purity. The iconographic underpinnings of style, already embedded from home but also freshly encountered in a new context, are coherently discussed and set against the generational and topographical shifts that have propelled Greek Orthodox churches not only into the suburbs but into modernism as well. In contrast to this, "Household Archaeology in Australia and Kythera: Examples of Two-Way Exchange" by Timothy Gregory and Lita Tzortzopoulou-Gregory is devoted to the minutiae of immigrant experience, mostly inside and around the house. What is perhaps of greatest interest is the authors' archaeological approach and systematic methods employed to record their subject matter. They have treated it not as the humorous or degenerate residue of a less sophisticated society but as material worthy of study in and of itself. This is anticipatory of future work. We would like, however, to know precisely what the theoretical framework and methods are and to see them applied in sufficient depth, preferably in a specific case study. As it is we understand only the most generalized reading of artifacts, houses, cemeteries, etc. which are trivialized despite best intentions to accomplish the opposite.

Eleni N. Gage's memoir "Home Again: The Recreation of a House, and a History, in Epeiros," records a personal odyssey and so is perhaps the most evocative essay of the book. This is a re-telling of events that were fully elaborated in the author's North of Ithaka (2005). As with Gregory and Tzortzopoulou's essay, archaeological minutiae here do the work of providing substance and meaning in the context of modern immigrant experience, although in this case it is personal and emotional rather than factual or historical. Here, more than anywhere else in the book, one longs for some connection to the elusive notion of xenitia as per the book's title, especially since Gage is invested in the psychological effects of longing, memory, and re-connecting with the ancestral home.

Finally, the essays of Natalia Vogeikoff-Brogan and Jack Davis (the latter a brief autobiographical note) convey the important and little-known historical ties between Modern Greece, the ASCSA and the Greek-American diaspora. In "Exploring the Relationship of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens with the Greek Omogeneia in the 1940s," Vogeikoff-Brogan, archivist at the ASCSA, has drawn from the School's holdings to analyze the 1947 film "Triumph Over Time," a surprising document created to raise financial support for Greece in the wake of the devastating post-war years. It contains footage not only of the famous temples and ancient sites but rare ethnographic material as well. As such it provides an early record of close ties, of the interconnectedness of Greece's political history with the institutional history of the American School. But it is equally a statement of diachronic awareness, one which suggested -- at a very early date -- the potentially bright future for interaction and collaboration between classical archaeologists and specialists in post-antique studies. Kourelis's book opens many inroads for future work that will only solidify that relationship.

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