Angeliki Tsiotinou obtained her PhD in Museology from Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece, School of Architecture in 2023. She conducted her doctoral research in the United States as a Fulbright Scholar and completed her dissertation in Greece under a State Scholarships Foundation grant. Her research interests focus on the politics and poetics of cultural representations, including the relationship between museums, memory, and power. Her PhD thesis, titled “Museums, Immigration, Identity: The Poeticsand the Politicsof Exhibiting the Greek American Experience in the USA,” brings together the fields of Museum and Greek American Studies to discuss identity-making in museums of American ethnic communities through a case study of Greek America. Angeliki also works as a consultant in various museum planning projects in Greece which entail research, concept-content development, and design. She has presented her work in many forums such as graduate seminars and international conferences, such as the Fifteenth International Graduate Conference in Modern Greek Studies, at the Seeger Center of Hellenic Studies, Princeton University (2023). She has also received grants and awards for her PhD studies such as the 2021 & 2020 Emerging Scholar Award by the Inclusive Museum Research Network. One of her recent publications is an exhibition review of MEI – National Museum of Italian Emigration (2023), Italian American Review 13 (1): 138–142 https://doi.org/10.5406/269024184.108.40.206.
Research keywords: Museum representations; Uses of the past; Identity politics; American White Ethnic Groups; Multiculturalism; Transnationalism.
Websites connected to my work: Angeliki Tsiotinou - Academia.edu
Six years ago, I visited the United States for the first time to conduct fieldwork for my doctoral dissertation. As a doctoral student at the time, I was trying to understand the representations of the immigrant past produced by different ethnic communities in the United States including Greek Americans. My research led me to many places throughout the country, where I visited numerous museums and met several community members. Intense, and sometimes overwhelming, my field trips have been a once-in-a-lifetime experience both professionally and personally.
My project entailed the investigation of US museum representations dedicated to the Greek immigrant and ethnic past. Through my visits to a wide range of Greek American museums, as well as many others, including Italian, Polish, and Mexican Americans, I wanted to understand how museums shape narratives about the past which are linked with national belonging, racial positioning, ethnic identity, and socioeconomic difference. Although I initially visited several Greek American museums, produced by different communities throughout the country, including Chicago, Salt Lake City, Tarpon Springs, Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, I ended up focusing on three distinct case studies to provide an in-depth understanding of the differences in their narratives and scopes.
In my thesis I juxtapose a national, and two regional/local Greek American museum narratives to illustrate the relative, situated position from which museum exhibitions are created. This approach can help us grasp that the telling of the past in museum exhibitions occurs through a selective process, through which certain testimonies are chosen for public display, whereas others are rejected. The selection and display of certain objects and records over others creates museum narratives which tell a particular story about the past depending on the interests and intentions of curators, community members and the institution (museum). In this framework, museum representations are not neutral; instead, they are inevitably ideological as they are the product of subjective, and intentional acts of cultural production.
The juxtaposition of national and regional museums can illustrate the dynamics and tensions between nationally dominant and regionally specific understandings of the past. By comparing national and regional museum representations, I discuss whose immigration experiences these museums represent, how, and to what end, raising questions of inclusion and exclusion in the museological production of the past. In this manner I show how regional narratives shed light into the complex identities of communities which are usually omitted or whitewashed in national representations of the past. At the same time, I discuss how national narratives attempt to link Greek Americans with hegemonic identity narratives, such as the notion of Hellenism that draws from classical Greece. In this way, I discuss Greek American museums as spaces that blend hegemonic and grassroots narratives of the past in various ways, depending on the interests—ethnic, national, or transnational—of the communities producing them.
The study of Greek American museums, as well as museums in general, tells us that communities are neither uniform, nor homogeneous. Community members share many identity narratives but also exhibit diverse lived experiences depending on their age, generational cohort, gender, and class, among other social variables. All such narratives are important to understand if we are to avoid stereotypical representations and understandings of Greek America. Yet, Greek American museums, just like most US ethnic and community museums, depend largely on community members for funding, donation of artifacts, and testimonies. That being said, the purpose of museums is to serve the interests of their donors, and patrons from within each respective community, while striving to remain relevant for the broader US and Greek American audiences. This practice could privilege the experiences of some community members over others, and thus homogenize a collectivity comprised of diverse experiences.
Although my thesis is inevitably addressed to a scholarly audience, my engagement with the topic aims to attract the broader public in both the United States and Greece. A major driving force for my research has been the limited knowledge, particularly in Greece, when it comes to the Greek American experience, let alone Greek American museums. If we also consider that Greece, unlike most European countries, does not have a museum dedicated to the representation of migration and diaspora histories, the presentation of Greek American museums to the Greek public acquires added value. The circulation of my work in the public sphere can highlight the significance of these community-run institutions, but it can also raise awareness towards the establishment of a migration and diaspora museum in Greece.1 In the best-case scenario, the creation of the latter could be supported by a transnational framework of collaboration among Greek American and Greek researchers, community members, and institutions.
The establishment of such a museum in Greece could perhaps sound more realistic, if a research center or/and an endowed chair dedicated to diaspora studies existed in the country. Because of the lack of both a museum and an academic center in the country, the transnational public dialogue of Greeks with diasporic communities cannot be informed and systematic, and therefore cannot be mutually productive.
In this cultural landscape, the operation of scholars who work on transnational Greek topics including myself is precarious. At a personal level, one of the greatest challenges I faced upon my return to Greece, and throughout the completion of my PhD thesis, had to do with the lack of a scholarly community working on Greek Americans in Greece with which I could interact, contribute to, and receive feedback.
This lack has been counterbalanced due to the interdisciplinary methodology of my work. From a museological perspective, Aristotle University has provided the necessary resources and support for the implementation of my project. My engagement with graduate students at the Master’s program of Museology-Cultural Management at the Department of Architecture, as well as PhD candidates from the Department, has been pivotal. At the same time, my personal communication with members of the academic community in the United States, including Greek American professors and public scholars has helped me immensely. Such interactions have been a valuable source of intellectual and emotional support, which has been crucial for the completion of my thesis, and the continuation of my project.
At this stage, I am planning for my next scholarly steps, which include the completion of a book manuscript on Greek American museums. Being based in Greece for the time being, as a young scholar who works on the transnational Greek topic of Greek American museums, I often feel torn between my emotional and my scholarly homelands, Greece and the United States. I can, thus, dare say that I have only just begun scratching the surface of the complicated and contested terrain on which transnational individuals and communities are represented and created.
January 14, 2024
1. For a discussion of some on-going and past initiatives aimed at the establishment of a Diaspora and Migration Museum in Greece, see here.