Keeping the Dream Alive, The DRIMMI Initiative: Narrativizing a Museum of Greek American Immigration and Diaspora
In the summer of 2017, I joined an interdisciplinary team associated with the MA Program in Museology–Cultural Management at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece. My assignment was to contribute toward a project entitled “Greek Diaspora and Immigration: From History to Representation,” in the context of The Greek Diaspora Fellowship Program (GDFP), which awarded me a fellowship for this purpose.
The project was part of a pioneering initiative—The Diaspora Research and Immigration Initiative (DRIMMI)—established with the aim of fostering thinking and creating archival resources and research material for the purpose of designing exhibits for a future museum of Greek immigration and diaspora in Greece.1
DRIMMI was conceived by professor Matoula Scaltsa, under the umbrella of the GDFP, a program designed to “develop long-term, mutually-beneficial collaborations between universities in Greece and the United States and Canada.” It was funded by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and administered by the Institute of International Education (IIE) in collaboration with the Fulbright Foundation in Greece.” It involved two GDPF Fellows, Dr. Nikos Poulopoulos and myself.
A major component of DRIMMI has been the foregrounding of the significance of the Greek diaspora for contemporary Greek society and fostering the systematic understanding of its history and contemporary expressions (including diaspora youth).
DRIMMI continues to incorporate the topic of immigration and diaspora in its annual cycle of graduate seminars.2
The Project: “Greek Diaspora and Immigration: From History to Representation”
“Greek Diaspora and Immigration: From History to Representation” involved collaborative research across the fields of cultural‚ museum, and literary studies‚ history and social anthropology. The team consisted of professors Matoula Scaltsa, Yiorgos Kalogeras, and Panos Tzonos, the two GDPF Fellows, graduate students, and professionals who worked toward theorizing and conceptualizing ways to present the history and culture of Greek immigration and diaspora in a museum setting.
The goals of the project were as follows:
Identify the pertinent bibliography.
Establish communication with Greek immigration and diaspora archives and Oral history Projects globally.
Create a new archive by collecting oral testimonies and cataloguing/documenting future exhibits on the subject.
Create a narrative through the exhibits, based on the empirical and theoretical research outlined previously.
Theory, Oral History, Museum Narrative, Bibliographies
Theory: My theoretical contribution to the project was initially presented as a keynote address in the DRIMMI conference “Greek Diaspora: Tangible, Intangible Material and Identities” (Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art, May 18-20, 2017). Entitled «Η Ώρα της Διασποράς;» [Diaspora’s Moment?] it was published later that year in the online journal Chronos.
Subsequently, I presented my work on diaspora identity in graduate seminars as well the 2017 Archaeological Dialogues conference, in a panel organized by DRIMMI.
Oral History: Nikos Poulopoulos created a booklet for the seminar he offered, entitled “Oral Testimony and Greek Diaspora History” («Προφορική Μαρτυρία και Ελληνική Διασπορική Ιστορία»). In his words, it represents “an attempt to put together in the first 10 pages a tentative introduction [in Greek] to the Oral History of the Greek Diaspora.”
Museum Narrative and Bibliographies: The narrative for a future immigration and diaspora museum was designed by the team of the two GDPF Fellows (Yiorgos Anagnostou [YA] and Nikos Poulopoulos [NP]), in close collaboration with Professor Yiorgos Kalogeras, and input from the DRIMMI faculty team.
Its title is “Greek Immigration and Diaspora in the United States: Organizing its Museum Narrative via Tangible and Intangible Material” (Ελληνική Μετανάστευση και Διασπορά στην Αμερική: Οργανώνοντας το Αφήγημα προς Μουσειακή Αναπαράσταση μέσω Υλικών και Άυλων Τεκμηρίων).
We organized the narrative around two intersecting axes, namely (a) macrohistory and (b) Greek/American Expressive Domains
The first axis involves a macrohistory perspective: we designate five historical periods (some overlapping) covering the time span between the first wave of Greek mass migration in the United States, in the 1890s, and the present (2017). Each period is defined by several cultural and political events of major importance (social movements, governmental policies and Immigration Acts, national identity paradigms [Americanization; multiculturalism] in the United States and Greece, wars, global developments, etc.], which fundamentally (re)shaped Greek America.
The five historical periods3 are as follows:
Mass Immigration (1890s–WWI)4 (NP curator)
Nativism and Hundred Percent Americanism (post WWI–1920s) (YA curator)
Assimilation, Identity, World War II, Cold War (1920s-mid1960s) (NP curator)
Multiculturalism (1965–present) (YA curator)
Globalization and Diaspora (Collapse of the Soviet Union–present) (YA curator)4
(b) Greek American Expressive Domains
The second axis entailed eight Greek American (interrelated) domains of immigration and diaspora expressions, which all apply to each historical period. For each domain we created a bibliography as well as a list of audiovisual and archival resources.
The expressive domains are as follows:
1) Διασπορικές και Εθνοτικές Eκφράσεις (Diaspora and Ethnic Expressions) (YA curator)
2) Οργανώσεις, Θεσμοί (Organizations, Institutions) (YA curator)
3) Θρησκεία (Religion) (YA curator)
4) Εκπαίδευση (Education) (NP curator)
5) Δημόσιοι και Ιδιωτικοί Χώροι (Public and Private Spaces) (NP curator)
6) Αμερικανική Λαϊκή Κουλτούρα (U.S. Folk and Popular Culture) (NP curator)
7) Πολιτικές Ταυτότητες (Political Identities) (YA curator)
8) Ίχνη και Σιωπές (Traces and Silences) (YA curator)
The narratives linking each historical period with the domains above are available here.
Publishing the Project
There are several reasons that prompted our decision to make this work public.
Narrativizing the museum representation of Greek America is a product of immense work and institutional investment. We therefore wish to share it as a resource that contributes to the ongoing (and proliferating) academic and public interest in creating museums for Greek immigration and diaspora in Greece and elsewhere.
Additionally, it is our hope that existing museums in the diaspora will find in this work useful ideas for their curating and exhibiting practices.
Overall, the aim is to generate further reflection and research on a topic which is both underresearched and untheorized. Exchanging ideas and insights is the best practice, I believe, to advance the nascent field of Greek diaspora museum studies.
Yiorgos Anagnostou lives and works in Columbus, Ohio.
Acknowledgments: I thank The Greek Diaspora Fellowship Program for granting me the Fellowship, and the DRIMMI leaders for extending the invitation and offering a hospitable and intellectually engaging environment.
1. See also the pioneering Digital Museum of Greek Immigration to Canada, produced by the “ImmiGrec Project” team in 2019. For a narrative about its future second phase see here. (forthcoming)
2. See for example the latest graduate student webinar, entitled “Immigration and Diaspora Narratives: From History to Museological Practice” («Αφηγήσεις για τη μετανάστευση και την διασπορά: Από την ιστορία στη μουσειολογική εφαρμογή», June 15, 2022).
3. I have done some editing in the naming and description of the original periods.
4. We recognize the Greek presence in the United States and its importance during the eighteenth (New Smyrna Colony) and early and mid-nineteenth centuries (Greek merchants [New York City, New Orleans, Galveston], Greeks sponsored by Protestant missionaries), which deserve inclusion in a future museum. The interconnections between the latter and early immigrants associated with post-1890s immigration are of particular interest.
Cover Image Credits: DRIMMI's logo was designed by Post-Spectacular Office, a narrative-driven design office based in Thessaloniki, Greece.