Dr. Giota Tourgeli is a historian of migration. She works as an upper secondary school teacher and, since 2023, as a teaching associate for postgraduate programs at the School of Social and Political Sciences, University of the Peloponnese. She also collaborates with the Research Centre for Modern History (KENI) of the Political Science and History Department, Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences in Athens, where she has just accomplished a postdoctoral research project on the role of the Asia Minor refugee associations in the resettlement program during the first inter-war decade. Her research interests include ethnic and labor migrations, refugee movements, diaspora politics, and international organizations.
Research Keywords: Transnationalism; Greek Americans; Remittances; Migration economy.
I received my PhD in 2019 from the University of the Peloponnese. My dissertation, which was supervised by Professor Lina Venturas, deals with the impact of Greek immigration to the USA on the sending rural communities in the period 1890-1940. By drawing on the literature of transnationalism and mobility theories, my research approaches transatlantic migration at the turn of the 20th century as an intense circulation of persons, money, goods, ideas, symbols, and information. It puts special emphasis on the ways technology (steamships), the services of this period (post, press and banks), as well as migrants’ networks and self-organization facilitated the communication and connections of the Greek countryside with the American world. In doing so, the analysis seeks to highlight the extent to which the economic, social, and cultural remittances of migrants transformed their communities, families, and local economies in “Old Greece,” especially in the Peloponnese.
I am the author of two books (in Greek) on the social history of Greek emigration to the USA, both of which are based on my dissertation. The first, The “Brooklides”: Greek Immigrants in the United States and the Transformations of Origin Communities, 1890-1940, was published in 2020 as an e-book by the National Centre for Social Research (EKKE) after having been submitted to blind review. The term Οι Μπρούκληδες in the title is inspired by the well-known nickname given to migrants returning from America. It highlights the migration experience as an economic, social, cultural, and symbolic asset capitalized upon by migrants themselves, their families, and communities of origin. At the same time, it hints that the reception and reintegration of the returning “Americans” to their homelands was a process of negotiations.
The reception of “Brooklides” by the academic world, Greeks of the diaspora, and those interested in migration has encouraged me to explore options for its translation into an English-language edition. The originality of the research and the growing interest among the international scholarly community for similar studies investigating the transnational fields created through migration and the multiple influences on “stay-behinds” have convinced me of the need for its dissemination to an Anglophone and international audience.
My second book,Gateways to America: The Migration Economy in the Greek Port Cities, published by Crete University Press, will be available in the spring of 2024.
Gateways offers an analysis of the emigration business that blossomed in the port city of Patras from 1905, when the Austrian shipping company Austro-Americana established a direct maritime connection with New York, serving both the mass exodus from the Greek state and the transit emigration from the Eastern Mediterranean. Until the interwar period, this Peloponnesian port experienced an economic boom as the main “emigration port” to the Americas and provided strong competition to Piraeus. The book addresses unexplored topics of the history of Greek emigration, such as the migration economy, which was sustained by a broad network of ticket agents and various middlemen, among them the famous firm Morphy & Sons, Crowe & Stevens; the consumer behavior of emigrants, travelers, and returnees from the United States in transport hubs; and the clandestine networks transferring and smuggling Greek migrants across the American borders. Finally, the book considers a hybrid form of mobility in the interwar period, the ethnic tourism of Greek Americans (see, for example, the AHEPA’s annual excursions).
My engagement with Greek-American migration was not motivated by my Peloponnesian origin or some distant family links with migrants. It was a combination of reasons that made me choose this topic of research, such as the new readings of Greek migration history that were already being introduced by young Greek scholars at the beginning of the new millennium, the challenge of studying un unexplored historical subject, the opportunity to have access to rich archival material, and the serendipity of collaborating with and learning from a great Greek historian of migration.
Embracing Yiorgos Anagnostou’s proposal in the context of the Greek American Letters team project regarding the creation of a Greek-American archive of letters, I am currently analyzing aspects of Greek-American migrant correspondence. I seek the contribution of autobiographical documents to issues such as the analysis of migration culture, intergenerational relations, the development of a working-class narrative, and the circulation of images of America in the Greek countryside. Along with several colleagues (Lina Venturas. Nikos Poulopoulos, Kostis Kourelis, Fevronia Soumakis), I share the same concern for the collection and preservation of this precious and underrepresented historical archive of both US and Greek migration history. For this purpose I participated in an initial meeting held in Athens (Panteion University) in June 2023 with the aim of exchanging ideas about the prospects for a project collecting and digitizing migrant correspondence. All the participants agreed that the difficulty in accessing family letters and the lack of funding are the most challenging aspects of such an endeavor. It was also acknowledged that the building of collaborations and exchanges between scholars from both sides of the Atlantic can contribute to overcoming difficulties and promoting research on Greek American studies.
My future research plans also include an analysis of gendered/family aspects of post-World War II migration movements from Greece. This is a historical era that I had already started to examine as a participant in the research project “‘Migration Management’ and International Organizations: A History of the Establishment of the International Organization for Migration (IOM),” which was funded by the European Social Fund and National Resources and took place from 2012 to 2015. The program offered me the opportunity to examine the ICEM Liaison Mission in Athens, (Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration), which was the predecessor of the IOM, and its efforts to establish a National Migration Service in Greece. Moreover, I explored a female migration program launched by ICEM that of the Greek domestic workers who moved to Australia, New Zealand, and Canada after having been trained through an accelerated vocational program.
As someone with an optimistic outlook, I believe in the collaboration of young researchers who, despite the harsh economic reality, archival barriers, and bureaucratic obstacles affecting our work in Greece, are creating synergies, sharing information, and designing projects, satisfying our passion for research and our commitment for doing history.
January 25, 2024