Speech to the HCAAO on March 17, 2001 by Sheila Embleton -VP Academic, York University

Ladies and gentlemen, consuls, and fellow academics:

It is a great pleasure to be with you tonight. I know that my predecessor, Dr. Michael Stevenson, has spoken with you on similar occasions about how much we at York appreciate our relationship with the Toronto Greek community and the Hellenic-Canadian Academic Association of Ontario, and of the importance of the study of Greece, both ancient and modern, in any university. York’s involvement with the Greek community and the study of Greece is of course particularly appropriate and significant for us, given our own mission and values.

First, central to York’s mission is accessibility to university education for the communities in our local area. Many of our students are new Canadians and/or the first in their families to be able to take advantage of the opportunities offered by a university education. York now enrols more than 1000 students of Greek origin each year, and we have an active Hellenic Students Association, which just this past week in fact sponsored an address by the Greek Deputy Foreign Minister, Mr. Grigoris Niotis, on the topic “World Hellenism in the Dawn of the 21st Century” as part of Hellenic Week at York. These students of Greek origin of course go on to graduate, and we also value our continuing relationship with thousands of alumni in the Greek community, both in Canada and in Greece.

Dr. Sheila Embleton, Vice-President Academic of York University, giving a speech to the participants of the HCAAO dinner, March 17, 2001.

Another important component of York’s mission is internationalization, which includes academic programming and opportunities for study and research abroad. We are happy to have developed strong partnerships with the Aristotelio University of Thessalonica and the Athens School of Business and Economics. In addition, a number of individual faculty members have established research programs involving colleagues at Greek institutions.

We greatly appreciate the generosity of our friends in the Hellenic Heritage Foundation and the Greek Community of Metropolitan Toronto in providing funding support for the establishment of a Chair and program in Hellenic Studies at York. The objective of the Foundation in supporting this Chair is “to promote the scholarly study of Hellenic heritage and culture from antiquity till today”, and the program is intended to encompass Greek language, literature, culture, history, and society with a particular focus on modern Greek and modern Greece. This broadly based approach to the study of Greece fits very well with York’s tradition of inter-disciplinarity – a tradition which has fostered other successful programs at York with a focus on a particular region and its history and culture, for example, Africa, East Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean.

The presence at York of this Chair, and the opportunities for academic and cultural programming which come with it, will be of enormous benefit to us at York. It will advance our objective of expanding curriculum and research initiatives in the international realm, particularly in the already strong area of European studies; it will highlight and further stimulate activities which already exist in relation to modern Greek studies; it will provide a focus for faculty and students, now located in disparate departments and programs, with an interest in this field; it will enrich the cultural diversity of the York campus; and it will enhance York’s profile in our local community and internationally. We trust that it will be equally effective in meeting the objectives of the Greek community of Toronto and Ontario.

I am delighted to report to you that our Senate Academic Policy and Planning Committee has just given its final formal approval to the establishment of the Chair in Hellenic Studies which the generosity of the local Greek community has made possible. We look forward to beginning a search for a permanent chair holder in the not-too-distant future. In the interim, in order to make a swift start towards meeting our shared objectives, we plan to seek a visiting professorship in some aspect of Modern Greek studies, commencing in July of 2002. For the academic year 2001-02, beginning in only a few short months, we intend to invite a short-term visitor (or several such visitors) and to host cultural events at York which will be of interest to the Greek community and others.

In addition, last spring our Senate approved a new interdisciplinary program in European Studies in the Faculty of Arts, which will provide a home for coordination and development of the undergraduate curriculum in European and Hellenic studies. For many years, York has offered a successful Classical Studies program, including both Greek and Latin aspects, through the Faculty of Arts and the Atkinson Faculty of Liberal and Professional Studies, as well as courses on Greek history, language and culture in a number of departments in several Faculties. In addition, we have – also through the generosity of the Greek community – offered several courses in Modern Greek through Atkinson. The creation of a European Studies program provides a firm base from which to expand and enrich our offerings and programming in this area.

European Studies is a well-established field of study and research in North American universities, and there are a number of centers for research on Europe, as well as several important professional associations, including the worldwide European Community Studies Association headquartered in Brussels. At York, the prestigious Canadian Centre for German and European Studies, a joint centre with the Université de Montréal, was established in 1997 after a nation-wide competition, in cooperation with the German Academic Exchange Service (Deutscher Akademische Austauschdienst, DAAD). That Centre provides a Canada-wide teaching and research resource focusing on contemporary Germany and Europe. In addition to coordinating research efforts of faculty and graduate students in relation to European Studies, the Centre also frequently sponsors visits by leading authorities on aspects of this field. In 2001-02, for example, the Greek Ambassador to Canada, Leonidas Chrysanthopoulos, will visit the Centre to speak, and his topic will be “The Enlargement of the European Union”.

The establishment of the interdisciplinary program in European Studies is timely in several ways. It will provide an undergraduate teaching complement to the now well-established research centre. The existence at York of the Canadian Centre for German and European Studies provides immediate credibility for the academic program and an institutional base for further initiatives. In addition, a number of events in Europe over the last decade – ongoing unification of Europe in an expanding European Union, the collapse of Communism and the subsequent transition issues in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, the crisis in the Balkans, and even – if I dare to mention it – the recent health concerns relating to European livestock – have brought the region into the public eye and established its importance for Canada. The study of “things European” has of course been at the heart of university curricula for many years, but the study of Europe itself has not developed here in North America in a coherent and coordinated way in order to highlight strengths and make full use of the potential of this field as an interdisciplinary area of study.

In order to earn a degree in European Studies at York, students will take the equivalent of six full courses in European Studies; they will combine this study with a major in a disciplinary unit – there are of course many possibilities, a long list, so I’ll just give a few examples here – disciplinary majors such as history, political science, economics, communication studies, or philosophy. They must demonstrate competence in a European language, either by completing a course in that language or passing a language test. An interdisciplinary core course – which will also be taken by many students not majoring in European Studies – will introduce them to the study of Europe from the Medieval period to the present, incorporating literature, art, film, history, political science, and anthropology, and will prepare them for more focused study as they proceed in the program. The program allows, and indeed encourages, students to focus their study on a particular region or country within the European context and to have this focus noted on their transcripts, for example European Studies (Focus: Greece), European Studies (Focus: France), European Studies (Focus: Spain), etc. In addition, they will have the opportunity to spend a term or more studying at a European university.

I have reviewed the structure of the European Studies program in some detail here with you to indicate to you that it means students will have the opportunity to gain a broad understanding of Greece in its European context, recognizing that the study of Greece is closely intertwined with the study of Europe and that it is not possible to study a single country – and country – in isolation from the broader context in which it functions. The program will also give students a great deal of flexibility in terms of the level and kind of concentration they pursue. For example, they may choose to have a focus on Greece within Europe acknowledged on their transcripts by completing three courses on Greece [European Studies (Focus: Greece)]; they might choose to make the study of Greece even more of a primary concentration of their study at York by taking European Studies (Focus: Greece) along with a disciplinary major which itself includes a number of courses on Greece; or they might choose to study modern Greece in the context of its ancient roots by combining European Studies (Focus: Greece) with Classical Studies. We believe this flexibility will make the program very attractive not just to students of Greek heritage, but also to those who wish to acquire an understanding of Greek history and culture for personal interest or for career reasons – for example to provide a strong basis for a career in international business or a career in diplomacy. We also expect this program to serve as a catalyst for the inclusion of an awareness of Greece in other courses throughout the University and for the development of further new courses on Greece.

For, if it is the case that European Studies is widely acknowledged as an established and burgeoning field of teaching and research activity in North America, this may not yet be the case for modern Greek or Hellenic studies. While the Modern Greek Studies Association reports that there are now over 25 colleges and universities in North America with programs in modern Greek studies, this field appears not to have received the attention it would deserve based on the fundamental contributions of the Greeks throughout the ages to our intellectual development. A special issue of the Journal of Modern Greek Studies in October 1997 was devoted to papers from a conference held at Ohio State University on the state of modern Greek scholarship and teaching, entitled “Whither the Neohellenic?”. I think this journal issue raises important issues for the development of modern Greek studies at York. The introductory paper by Dr. Gregory Jusdanis of Ohio State University laments the decline in interest in Greek literature and culture, and raises questions which framed the conference agenda: whether modern Greek culture has been superseded by other cultures as an object of critical interest, whether earlier images of Greece remain valid, whether new interpretations of the neo-Hellenic are being developed which are more attuned to current philosophical and cultural fashions, and what the role of those studying Greek culture abroad should be. Jusdanis argues that the field of Modern Greek studies has suffered from a loss of interest in and appreciation of the relevance of antiquity: “classical civilization has been losing its luster; it no longer inspires the moderns as it once did”. In more practical terms, “Classical Greece’s displaced position in the West has adversely affected neo-Hellenic culture’s claim for recognition”. Furthermore, Greece is no longer regarded as “exotic” and therefore is less interesting. This changing world, he argues, challenges us to rethink our assumptions about the Hellenic. Another contributor to the journal, Dr. Smaro Kamboureli of the University of Victoria, a renowned literary theorist, refers to the topic of the conference as reflecting a “crisis” which affects many academic fields and modern Greek studies in particular – new approaches such as “globalization, the fight against imperialism, the manifestation of otherness or hybridity … are qualities or configurations which are not felt to apply to Greece”.

In his paper, Dr. Vassilis Lambropoulos (Ohio State University) also argues that the Modern Greek studies field has been a victim of changing scholarly approaches: the “aesthetic” era has been superseded by what he calls the “ethnographic” era. He defines ethnography as “the close, immanent study of a local community and its explicit or implicit struggle with modernity”, which results in an “egalitarian approach to human lives and cultures”, “a fundamental neutrality and disengagement”, which has no place for the values, ethics, aesthetics, great figures or famous achievements which are so important to Greek culture.

Finally at that conference, Dr. Thomas Gallant of the University of Florida has documented the apparent decline in interest in modern Greece in his own field, social history. He reviewed papers relating to Europe given at the annual meetings of the Social Science History Association, the most important organization in the field, in 1991 and 1994. He reports that while there were, for example, 38 papers on Great Britain, 29 on France, 24 on Germany, 3 on Finland, and 2 on Slovenia, there were no papers on Greece; the only paper on Greece in the decade in fact was one he himself had presented. The same absence of attention to Greece was evident in papers presented at the American Historical Association (where there was similarly only one paper on Greece in a span of ten years); there was a similar absence in major, thematically oriented journals, as well as in several edited collections of essays and case studies he reviewed. (Interestingly, though, when one looks at conference papers and collections in a different field, anthropology, the result is quite different: papers and panels are a regular conference occurrence and Greece is well represented in collections and journals devoted to major themes in anthropology of Europe.) Gallant goes on to say that “In spite of the rather gloomy picture painted so far, I wish to argue that we are at a critical moment in the discipline of Modern Greek history. There are a number of young scholars who are beginning to turn away from the insular confines of the past and are publishing their work in mainstream journals”. Gallant contends that the study of Greek history, and perhaps by extension other disciplines, risks falling victim to “Greek exceptionalism” – the argument that the Greek case is so different that no attempt should be made to compare it to other histories or cultures.

What is to be done to seize the opportunities and meet the challenges we now face and to move forward the field of Modern Greek studies? Lambropoulos suggests there is need for a “new paradigm” which he refers to as “constructive history, a history of positive and successful constructions in all disciplines”, “a fair, public account of Greek creations, orderings, criticisms, and exchanges that worked successfully to advance the causes of independence, self-reliance, self-governance, and human artistry”. The benefits of this new paradigm, Lambropoulos says, would be improved morale, the provision of solutions for today’s problems from models from the past, a re-invigoration of Greek studies as a more inspiring and attractive field, and with it the re-invigoration of Greek scholarship and institutional support. Several of the conference participants argue for the importance of ongoing dialogue and for the adoption of a comparative approach. Kamboureli suggests that a comparative methodology “involves examining the modernity of Greek culture across different historical experiences and ethnic groups within the social imaginary of Greece. An alternative understanding of reading comparatively would involve the equally important discussion of Greek modernity in the context of larger debates about culture in European as well as non-European realms”. She also suggests that the field of Greek studies should be opened up to include the study of Greek diasporic culture, including the relationship between Greece and the Greek Diaspora. Louis A. Ruprecht Jr. of Emory University in Atlanta argues for a return to the breadth and interdisciplinarity that has always characterized classical studies. Rather than isolating bodies of knowledge, Ruprecht says, modern Greek studies – or any other “area studies” it is to be successful – must learn from classical studies, which “embodies the possibility of taking literature, art, history, and language all with equal seriousness and of weaving these disparate interests together into a single, coherent tapestry”. He suggests further that “ancient and modern Hellenisms are so strongly linked that one cannot talk about either without invoking the other”. Gallant also argues that, at this critical juncture in the development of Modern Greek studies, the adoption of a comparative and interdisciplinary approach, which places the Greek case in a broader context, is the key to the re-emergence of the study of Greece. This means, he says, broader contextualization of scholarly work on Greece, closer links among scholars in the various disciplines, aggressively and assertively presenting scholarship to wider audiences (which means addressing them also with themes which are of wide interest), publishing in mainstream thematic journals, translation and dissemination of the best work published in Greece, and restructuring of graduate programs to meet these needs. This latter initiative would mean providing students of modern Greece with thorough training about the Mediterranean region and modern Europe generally, and expecting their research to be broad, engaged with current theoretical trends and comparative in approach.

If these experts on modern Greek studies are correct in their assessments of the situation in modern Greek studies and of the way forward, how does this relate to the direction of modern Greek programming and scholarship at York University? We are indeed at a critical juncture, which presents exciting opportunities. The establishment of the Chair in Hellenic Studies at York by the Hellenic Heritage Foundation and the Greek community of Toronto will provide the impetus for York to be at the forefront of development in research and teaching in the field of Modern Greek studies, not just locally, but in North America. The structure of the program in Hellenic studies, within the European Studies program, is such that it coincides exactly with what these experts recommend: it is broadly interdisciplinary; it situates the study of modern Greece on the one hand against the backdrop of Europe and the world, and on the other hand of ancient Greece; it allows opportunities to compare various aspects of Greek history, politics, and culture with those of other countries and regions of Europe and internationally; and the presence of a lively Greek community in Toronto provides opportunities for local diasporic involvement in our teaching and research. The appointment of the Chair, who will be situated in a unit appropriate to her or his interests and background, will initiate the enrichment of our course offerings in Greek history, culture and society, and international relations, and an expansion of related extra-curricular activities through public lectures and other cultural activities. In addition, the Chair will work with colleagues in other units to stimulate further development of teaching and research in modern Greek studies at York University. We look forward to working with you in the coming years to pursue these endeavors.

Sheila Embleton
Vice-President Academic
York University