Dr. Yiorgo Topalidis is a Visiting Lecturer in the Department of Behavioral Sciences at Flagler College. He received a doctorate in Sociology from the University of Florida in 2022. Dr. Topalidis holds the Modern Greek Studies Association’s John O. Iatrides Prize for Best Dissertation in English (2022 – 2025). Yiorgo’s research interests are migration from the Ottoman Empire to the United States and White identity construction, contestation, and transgenerational memory transfer. He is working on a manuscript exploring the social construction of Ottoman Greek migrant identity in an early-20th-century US context as a case study for decoupling Whiteness from White supremacist Whiteness. One of his most recent publications is “Forging an Anti-Racist Praxis: Housing Discrimination against Ottoman Greek Immigrants in Early-Twentieth-Century Portland and Seattle” (2022). Journal of Urban History (00961442221101042. doi:10.1177/00961442221101042).
Research Keywords: Ottoman Greeks; Whiteness; Anti-racism; White supremacist Whiteness; Migration
The Ottoman Greeks of the United States Digital History Project (OGUS) is an interdisciplinary, multifaceted research endeavor at the University of Florida’s Samuel Proctor Oral History Program. I founded the project in 2015 and have been coordinating its development since. OGUS consists of a geolocation map and a digital archive. The geolocation map traces the migration of Ottoman Greeks from the Ottoman Empire to the US. The archive contains oral history interviews with descendants of Ottoman Greek migrants and images of two-and-three-dimensional artifacts transferred by migrants to the US. The archive currently consists of over 250 interviews. They focus on the immigrants’ lives in the former Ottoman Empire, their transatlantic voyage, and their settlement experiences in the US. In addition, the archive holds over 50,000 two-dimensional and over 40 three-dimensional images. The curation and uploading of the interviews and artifacts are in progress.
Select oral history excerpts and images from the OGUS archive are part of an exhibition titled In the Name of Humanity: American Humanitarian Relief in Greece, 1918-1929. It is organized by the Archives and the Gennadius Library of the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, Greece. The exhibition is on display through February 18, 2024.
My current research uses excerpts from OGUS’s oral histories to explore two elements of Ottoman Greek migration and settlement experiences in a US context. First, how did Ottoman Greek migrants navigate the restrictive migration policies the US government established and developed during the first three decades of the 20th century? And second, how did Ottoman Greek migrants negotiate space for their identity within the Greek immigrant community and American society? I address the first question in an article I am preparing for publication with Wiley’s Sociology Lens this year. The article proposes that kinship networks were critical in the migrants circumventing restrictive policies such as deportation. I engage with the question of Ottoman Greek identity negotiation in both an article that is currently under review with the Journal of the Sociology of Race and Ethnicity and a forthcoming book chapter in the compilation titled Across the Aegean: A Century of Forced Migrations between Greece and Turkey, 1922-2022.
Finally, I am working on a book manuscript titled Whiteness, Not White Supremacy: Lessons Learned from the Whitening Process of Ottoman Greek Immigrants. The book argues for the existence of two forms of Whiteness. The first is an empathetic, social justice-oriented Whiteness, and the second is a White supremacist Whiteness that manifests itself through colonialist, racist, classist, sexist, homophobic, and ableist narratives and policies. The book employs the Whitening process of Ottoman Greek migrants in the US as a case study to show how migrants writ large negotiate the boundary of White Supremacist Whiteness and embody its privileges. In other words, the book provides readers with an in-depth understanding of the individual and social conflicts that Ottoman Greeks navigated for their descendants to arrive at the socioeconomic position they currently embody. In broader terms, the book argues that knowledge of this Whitening process by descendants of European migrants will lead them toward adopting a social-justice-oriented and intersectional Anti-Racist praxis today.
The OGUS project, my forthcoming book manuscript, book chapter, and journal articles are all products of my personal connection to Ottoman Greek identity and migration. I am a third-generation descendant of Ottoman Greek migrants to Greece and a first-generation Greek migrant to the US. During my formative years, family conversations often sparked debates about the politics surrounding the destruction of Smyrna, the death marches of Pontic Greeks, and a deep sense of pride for Pontic identity. Though my professional training has led me to think more deeply and critically about these personally impactful moments, it is in their spirit that I continue my scholarship.
Despite my commitment to academic scholarship and pedagogy, I, like many colleagues, face an uphill battle establishing myself as a professional in my field. The combination of chronic underfunding and the ever-increasing corporatization of institutions of higher learning leaves little to no resources for the necessary number of faculty positions. In Florida, this reality translates to me teaching in multiple Adjunct positions that pay $2,000 per semester, per section of 40 students (~$220 in eight pay periods after taxes). In other words, with a Ph.D., I get paid one-fifth of what I used to get paid as a graduate teaching assistant.
I also faced scholarly obstacles. My professional training began under the guidance of Drs. Nikolaos Chrissidis and Virginia Metaxas in the History Department at Southern Connecticut State University. I quickly learned that the resources needed to complete my research were sparsely available in archival collections throughout the United States or required travel to Greece. Moreover, resources in Greece did not specifically focus on Ottoman Greek migration to the US. I remember sitting in Dr. Chrissidis’s office and voicing frustration over this reality. “Well, one day, you should put these resources in one place,” he replied.
In 2013, I was privileged enough to present at the Modern Greek Studies Association Conference in Bloomington, Indiana. There, I met a community of scholars who shared my research interests. One of those scholars, Prof. Gonda Van Steen, introduced me to the University of Florida’s (UF) Center for Greek Studies, Dr. Alice Freifeld at UF’s Center for European Studies, and Dr. Paul Ortiz at UF’s Samuel Proctor Oral History Program. They all took me under their wing. With their support and guidance, I established OGUS.
When all the materials are available at the University of Florida Library’s Digital Collection, OGUS will provide academic researchers and the general public with information that can jumpstart or supplement existing research projects. Moreover, it can, and has, brought descendants of Ottoman Greek migrants together in an online community and helped the 4th and 5th generations learn more about their past. Finally, the information in OGUS offers a view of the Greek diaspora that complements and challenges ideas about Whiteness, the American meritocracy, the American dream, and notions of a homogeneous Greek American community or omogeneia.
January 3, 2024