Introduction: Taking Testimony, Making Archives

Part of the Anthropology, History, and the Critical Imagination book series (ACHI)


This book explores the politics of historical representation in Greek society through an ethnography of documentation, archiving, and historical writing. Against the backdrop of the late 1990s, the first decade of the post-Cold War era, I take up central traumatic moments of twentieth-century Greek history—refugee crisis, labor migration, urbanization, and civil war—in order to trace the various historical and political contexts, archival constructs, and textual and technological formats in which accounts about them have been documented. My aim is twofold: to bring into relief the cultural mediation of historical knowledge and consider the way that “re-collecting” the past contributes to the production and reproduction of cultural difference, socioeconomic distinction, and political community.


Historical Narrative Historical Production Historical Knowledge Historical Scholarship Cultural Memory 
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  1. 1.
    K. Gavroglou, “Sweet Memories from Tzimbali.” To Vima, August 29, 1999.Google Scholar
  2. 18.
    Michael Herzfeldargued in Anthropology through the Looking-Glass (1987a) that the “charming but theoretically secondary field” of anthropology of Greece might by dint of its peculiar relationship to European colonial projects and ideologies and its location on the “margins of Europe” open up new kinds of questions for the field as a whole.Google Scholar
  3. 34.
    See I.M. Varvitsiotis, “The Odyssey of the State Archives,” To Vima, January 19, 2003. Varvitsiotis s distress at the materialization of documents as wrapping paper and garbage also echoes Vlahoyiannis: “In all the countries of the world the national archives gather, document and preserve all records that are necessary for the knowledge and documentation of the historical development of the nation. In Greece, however, the National Archives are stacked up in warehouses and basements, resulting in their often suffering destruction from rainstorms and fires and being in great danger of theft, which in fact recently occurred. I remind you that a few years ago it was discovered that in a grocery in the central market documents from the War of Independence were being used to wrap sardines!!!”Google Scholar
  4. 39.
    Rather than a boon for the Greek nation, Philhellenism, according to Gourgouris, should be considered a “punishment,” precisely because it consistently fails to be recognized as an “Orientalism of the most profound sense” that “engages in the like activity of representing the other culture, which in effect means replacing the other culture with those self-generated, projected images of otherness that Western culture needs to see itself in: mirrors of itself” (1996: 140). As Gourgouris also importantly notes, the enthusiastic Greek embrace of Enlightenment discourse resembles the Haitian case, in which, as famously described by C.L.R. James in The Black Jacobins (1963), the “wrong” subjects (i.e., slaves) took the universalist language of human rights literally (as really applicable to all humans). In Greece, the emancipatory project of the French Revolution seemed even more relevant given the metaphorical status of the “Hellenes” as Western subjects; after all, as Shelley once famously remarked, “We are all Greeks” (74).Google Scholar

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© Penelope Papailias 2005

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