Steve Frangos: Achieving an Archive
by Yiorgos Anagnostou
Paradoxically, Modern Greek history seems to be repeating itself on American shores. In Penelope Papailias new book, Genres of Recollection: Archival Poetics and Modern Greece …, we hear about how and who first began to collect and compile Modern Greek history: “... the first efforts to gather documents relating to the country’s modern history were undertaken not by the state, but by private individuals and groups, galvanized [sic] into action by the state’s failure to act as responsible guardian to national memory.”
Steve Frangos has been a steadfast advocate for and an avid maker of the Greek American archive. Through a commitment spanning over thirty years, he has been tirelessly gathering, assembling, producing, studying, and disseminating primary sources such as oral histories, eye-witness testimonies, letters, songs, photographs, and other historical documents. Encouraging Greek Americans to collect and preserve these resources has been integral to his archival activism. Frangos commands a robust presence in the ethnic public sphere as a museum exhibit curator, an interviewer, a researcher, a chronicler, and a collector of material that he has donated to public institutions across the country, including The National Hellenic Museum (Chicago), the Marriot Library (Utah), the Indiana University Archives of Traditional Music (Bloomington), and the Grand Rapids Public Museum (Michigan). Building, protecting, and putting into circulation an archive has been at the core of his professional life as a historian.
Describing himself as a “Greek-American writer,” Frangos is certainly more than an archivist. He “regularly write[s] and publish[es]” “on the history and culture of Greeks in North America,” and the bulk of his writings, including book reviews, are featured in the ethnic media, aiming for a nonacademic readership. Though he makes his living as a full-time popular historian, outside the academy, he has published in scholarly journals and periodicals, contributed entries to encyclopedias and chapters to edited volumes, and authored a book with a university press. This is a rarity in the world of writers, let alone the world of Greek American writers in the context of a relatively small-scale demographic niche. “I am truly among the last of my kind,” he states, matter of fact, placing himself within a line of a dying Greek American profession.2
To bring Frangos’s work closer to an academic and nonacademic public audience, I collaborated with the Modern Greek Studies Association (MGSA) to make available, in a single place, a significant corpus of his popular writings, entitled “Steve Frangos: An Archive of Popular Writings in Greek American History and Music” (hyperlink). A researcher who devoted his life’s work to the building of an archive, after all, certainly deserves his own.
Archives invite discussion about the making of historical knowledge, raising questions about who produces history and how. The question of the context in which certain statements enter the record and in which others are kept hidden from it is paramount too. In this essay, I pay attention to Frangos’s narration of the specific challenges associated with the making of a Greek American archive and offer some preliminary thoughts on how this historian understands the preservation of this archive and its functions, particularly its role in the making of Greek America’s social memory.
As a public historian, Frangos brings to the center of attention what official history relegates to the margins: the “minor,” the neglected, the forgotten, the discarded, the devalued, the ordinary, the “lost;” the historical footnote, a work deemed unworthy. The recovery of facts omitted by those in power, including community gatekeepers, is at the core of his historiographical practice. This historical recuperation works in tandem with the creation of archives. The historian delves into local, community, municipal, regional, and national archives as he locates private ones, to enrich in turn the Greek American archive. Inevitably, texts such as the self-published or unpublished book, community histories, and the coffee table picture album are valued as sources for new knowledge. Frangos utilizes his impressive command of Greek American history to correct factual flaws in popular accounts and fill-in in their omissions.
The commitment to salvage previously excluded “voices” and to consequently confer public visibility to this popular memory represents an ethic and politics of inclusion that places Frangos at the forefront of the democratizing turn in history. Since the 1980s he has been committed to challenging, revising, and expanding canonical versions of history. He passionately brings the core principles of “people’s history”—granting visibility to the “memories, voices and experiences”3 of the people themselves—into the historical and archival practice of representing Greek America.
Frangos’s fascination with facts fruitfully invites discussion about his understanding and use of historical method: how a historian produces knowledge about the past and the range of knowledge a historian aspires to produce. He envisions, for instance, “the complete story of the Greek Diaspora,”4 a vision that views history as an all-inclusive compilation of facts that historians are capable of capturing as a totality. He advocates objective history, a true account of the past based on observable and verifiable reported facts. I’m not interested in reflecting on this epistemology5 but rather to draw attention to the ways in which he posits the value of objective history and the function of assembling an inclusive Greek American archive. For Frangos, the historical imperative to objectively document all facts, including traumatic experiences such as racism, xenophobia, socioeconomic failures, intra-family conflicts, and fragmentation counters what he sees as the community’s disturbing proclivity to idealize family and ethnic history.
Achieving an archive, Frangos advocates, entails collective, grassroots activism. He calls on Greek Americans to share expertise, experiences, and resources in a joint mobilization to develop the necessary historical skills for the purpose of documenting their own pasts. Community activism is vital for salvaging immigrant experiences from oblivion, a major tenet of people’s history: “You are history and if we don’t do something about it,” Marcia Brahim Barry, a founder of an oral history project in the Cardiff docklands, urges locals, “it will be lost.”6 Grassroots preservation relies on initiatives from within a collective, commonly guided by local “organic intellectuals” who are committed to producing one’s own representations from the inside. It is commonly practiced within working-class communities and stigmatized communities whose histories have been told, and often misrepresented, from the outside. It is this turn in historiography, heralded as an empowering practice of cultural democracy, that Frangos has been bringing into practice. He promotes people’s history as a key route to preserving Greek American family and immigrant history, justifying it in ethical terms: as an obligation that the children and grandchildren of the immigrants owe to their family and community as a tribute to the pioneers.
Preservation carries a pedagogical function too. The materiality of the archive in the displays of artifacts, archival resources in a “History Room,”7 and a library in each parish function as an immediate, tangible learning resource across generations. The importance of producing, documenting, and organizing primary sources is stressed, but also the importance, significantly, for a readily accessible public archive. Frangos’s advocacy for archival activism appoints local Greek Orthodox parishes as custodians of ethnic memory.
Archives are not, of course, inert storehouses of data that one simply gathers, discovers, or retrieves. They represent a social product shaped by a multitude of factors: the collective interests of those involved, and therefore the collectors’ questions, ideas, and assumptions regarding what constitutes worth preserving; limitations of what can or cannot be said at any given historical context; and cultural beliefs about what is allowed to cross over from the storehouse into the public realm. In other words, an archive cannot be seen as a reflection of a transparent truth, but rather a product that is mediated by human action or inaction and by individual and community interests.
The Greek American archive is not an exception. Frangos goes into great length to disclose that Greek Americans exercise archival self-censorship. He alerts the public that community and family histories, two important genres of local memory-making, are purposefully sanitized. The concealment takes place at two levels, one informally, in the rhetorical presentation of the Self in ordinary social interaction, and the other formally, in community history albums and other self-representations. The screening at the individual level informs the veiling at the collective level, as both follow the same cultural logic: the staging of the Self in a manner that establishes a family and a community’s positive reputation. Individuals are prone to display what conforms to dominant community values—socioeconomic success and family harmony, for instance—which contribute to a family’s honor (timi), and, in turn, hide what diverges from these normative values. Frangos pleads with Greek Americans to acknowledge this “self-serving stereotype”:
As a living member of the Greek-American community you have seen, experienced and heard about Greeks with mental illness, Greeks cheating Greeks, involvement of ancestors in the labor movement, sharp restrictions on the lives and actions of women (inclusive of regular beatings), outright murder, and failure of any-and-all-sorts that are all ignored as topics of politic [sic] discussion.8
Frangos aptly labels this self-censoring practice “coffee-hour history,”9 a term that captures the context in which this social play is enacted. “Coffee hour,” of course, refers to the social hour within the church premises when parishioners mingle after Sunday’s liturgy. The informal, oral mode of self-representation is replicated formally in print, in the writing of community histories. Public knowledge is no more than an extension of the scripted staging of the private: what passes as a fact represents, in fact, a fiction, or a well curated, particular set of facts that tells a single story.
It is not at all surprising that Frangos published these findings in a most visible community venue, the English-language newspaper The National Herald. This public gesture aligns with his fact finding and fact reporting ethos. A fact documented is data contributing to the archive. It is also consistent with this historian’s role as someone who not only guides the group but also intervenes to correct misguided archival practices that falsify ethnic memory.
Frangos vocally interrogates the community’s falsifications. He castigates the self-imposed silence as unacceptable complacency and maintains that self-censorship represents not only subjugation, but in fact, mental colonization, a case in which an ethnic group acquiesces to the dominant group’s prescription: “stay in your place and accept the history we assign to you.”10 This represents consent to the regulation of public memory and is enforced through the following problematic exchange: Greek Americans compromise their self-autonomy and right to tell their own truths—thus straying away from their extolled principles of democracy—for pleasing and appeasing the nation. They seek to gain national approval via the narrative of the ever-grateful, praising-the-nation American ethnic. But this social contract is no longer operative, according to the public historian. Instead of harming or alienating the nation, dark truths about immigrant mistreatment promote national historical consciousness, benefitting the nation: “It is also against the best interests of the dominant culture to have anything but the struggle and success (e.g., you owe everything to America) model.”11 Frangos articulates the refreshing proposition that the community break free from a subservient position that scripts self-representation with the sole aims of pleasing those in power, a grave historical compromise. Greek Americans are called to reimagine themselves as active and independent makers of memory, as those who dare acknowledge difficult truths.
An advocate of inclusive history, Frangos openly expresses displeasure about the reality of a fabricated archive; the irony in the title of his piece, “It’s Always A Wonderful Life in Greek-American Land,” speaks to this discontent. But if his tone in addressing amateur historians is didactic, and ultimately dialogic, he reserves only contempt toward those sociologists, but also by implication historians and archival gatekeepers, who reproduce the triumphalist version of Greek American history: “The struggle and success model as it is called is the sociological equivalent” of coffee-hour history. He writes:
This community-based self-serving stereotype has neatly slipped into academic reckoning, but naturally for its own purposes. The struggle and success model as it is called is the sociological equivalent of the Papou/my father/my mother came to America, worked like a dog, and now we have an upper class middle class lifestyle’ genre. There is a dark side to this tale-type. It implies don’t challenge a system that has been good to you with the implication always there that American society has elevated you (emphasis in the original).12
A fundamental problem, then, a contradiction, surfaces around the question of archive-making at the grassroots level of ethnic preservation. The community is appointed as the primary producer and main guardian of ethnic memory, while it is simultaneously held liable for committing a historical hubris—the violation of basic historical principles—in its own social production of the past. Committed to factual history and vested in grassroots preservation, the historian names the problem and seeks to correct it. What is it that justifies Frangos’s confidence that the community would drastically alter its deeply entrenched practice of selective display and concealment? Unfolding changes about public representation hold the following promise:
That some members of the family are divorced, have committed suicide, are in court for questionable business practices, have some STD, dropped out of school, or anything else perceived as negative are all ignored in the answers to ‘how is the family?’ Interestingly, aspects of everyday life once deemed equally negative such as marrying a non-Greek, working in a bad job, or not trying to be financially well-off have all, with modern times, now moved into acceptable topics of coffee-hour discussion.13
Inevitably, though, a pressing question remains: will the community follow this historian’s lead in a fact-finding, fact-reporting mission? Certain evidence points to caution and skepticism. Coffee-hour history is a public image that a sector of Greek America not only insists upon cultivating but in fact systematically circulates as the authoritative identity narrative to national audiences and censoring alternative images in highly publicized controversies.14 What are the guarantees that all community archivists and gatekeepers will embrace the all-inclusive ethos that Frangos espouses? The reigning narrative of ethnic pride and the branding of ethnicity as a source of cultural distinction counteract unguarded optimism. What if censorship of the archive takes place as we speak? And what about those individuals who are still stigmatized but invisible within Greek America, such as those of the LGBTQ community? Regardless of church dogma, there are members of the LGBTQ community who are also practitioners of Greek Orthodoxy. Will the church acknowledge their presence and move toward inclusion? Will the organic intellectuals of this community find a hospitable place in preservation projects within Greek Orthodox parishes? In addition, what about Greek Americans who are not part of parish life? The conversation about preservation, therefore, should be extended to include secular institutions.15
There has been considerable archival activism in Greek America, though a critical reflection about the archive largely, but not exclusively, takes place within circles of professional librarians, archivists, and archival activists.16 Frangos is in a position, therefore, to decisively shape public consciousness according to his own charting of the archival landscape. He claims, as the epigraph to this essay indicates, that contemporary practices of Greek American historiography take place within an institutional void. The following set of questions frames the contours of his archival politics: “Which details of everyday life need we carefully preserve for future generations? How do we write about our lives and experiences as accurate objective accounts of Greek American history during our times?” The answer names certain absences and identifies related failures to consequently draw a rigid boundary between popular and academic historiography:
These are all questions no one is asking Greek Americans. No academic researcher. No Greek Government official. No other clerk or elitist expert scribbling at their desk.”17
A reader will register here a cardinal concern of historians advocating “people’s history.” “[T]hose who represented” communities, “rarely bothered to ask them for their stories or points of view,” Glenn Jordan notes.18 In reference to the Greek American case, the Greek state, scholars in the academy, bureaucrats, and ivory tower intellectuals have all failed the mission of ethnic preservation from a people’s point of view. “It is a sad truth of our times that our academic class (but obviously not our true intellectual class) has totally abandoned us.”19 The task of filling up this vacuum falls upon popular historians and grassroots community activists. From his point of view, Greek American historiography lacks the support of two institutions vital to the making of ethnic memory, the state and the academy, and relies therefore on popular activism, a wide-scale phenomenon whose emergence Frangos recognized early on, coining it the “New Preservation Movement.”20 As he states in the epigraph, this historiographical reality finds itself in an embryonic stage, reminiscent of nineteenth-century Greece. Given the scarcity of professional historiography, historical memory firmly relies on the labor of amateur historians. In this respect, any reported visual or written document only stands to enrich what is seen as a dismayingly impoverished terrain:
I have heard the criticism that the stories told of Greeks around the nation as well as the vintage photographs seen in the Images of America series are no more than simple picture-books of little lasting historical worth. Were there a vibrant field of Greek-American Studies producing one historical account after another, I would agree. … Yes, both the Arcadia volumes and the parish produced histories may not be the work of university-trained academics. But in 10 years, 50 years or 100 years what else will those Greeks who follow us have to look back at? If you have never thought about this most basic of questions, my question is, why not?21
Frangos’s narrative charges scholars for what is seen as an indifference to Greek American people’s history and holds scholars responsible for the underdevelopment of Greek American historiography. Given the grave implications of this claim, I pause to reflect on three of his key positions. First, who is “us” that academics have totally abandoned? Second, who represents the “true intellectual class?” And third, what constitutes Greek American archival activism and historiography in the academy?
Frangos assigns major importance to ethnic identity as a constitutive force in building an archive. It is an individual’s Greek American identity that bears the commitment of documenting a family’s past. Creating and preserving truthful accounts is a moral obligation that every member of the community owes to family ancestors and future generations: “Your memories of persons and places your descendants will never know or are likely to see are the real treasures to bequeath.”22 Pleading with Greek Americans to document and make public their factual historical experience, he renders this project a duty; only Greek Americans, and “no one else can or will ever be able” to produce “full and true family history, hardships, hateful experiences, and all!”23 “Look” he urges, “no one is going to be Greek for you. No one else really cares.”24
The true intellectual in this narrative establishes dense and intense contacts with the community to guide its preservation projects and cultivate appreciation of its literary and artistic heritage. Frangos commonly offers concrete instructions on how to document family and community history or how to publish a book; he ventures to explain the value of artists and researchers who have been forgotten or shunned by the community.25 In this rendering, the intellectual is an organic participant in the cultural life of the community, one who advocates the telling of history from the community’s standpoint.
It is in this context that Frangos pays tribute, appropriately so, to Greek American historians and authors—Thomas Doulis, Dan Georgakas, and Helen Papanikolas, among others—who have worked together with the community, advocated and practiced historical preservation, delved into the archive, conducted oral interviews, established community museums, exhibited Greek American material within communities but also in municipal libraries and museums, produced local, regional, and ethnic history, written for the ethnic media, edited popular books, and deposited their personal archives to public institutions. Interfacing with Greek Americans to foreground their self-representations in image, text, and sound represents the kind of public scholarship that every true intellectual not merely aspires to, but is obligated to contribute to the community and the wider public alike.
It is the “ethnic community” then that the “academic class” has abandoned. The major culprit in this failure is scholars who practice Modern Greek studies in the United States. This is a critique that Frangos repeatedly circulates, of which I offer two samples for illustration:
Modern Greek studies never knew what to do with George Giannaris. Yet through his publications and lectures it was clear for decades that Giannaris was an ardent champion for a host of social and educational issues, focusing always on the rights of the Greek people and of Hellenes abroad.”26
“Having said that none of the 38 chairs in Modern Greek Studies is investigating anything related to Greek-American history. Or is doing so where there is no contact with the community.”27
I grant that Frangos’s tone is intentionally aphoristic and hyperbolic, but his dual claim is clear: U.S. Modern Greek scholars are generally disengaged from Greek American historiography, and when they are not, they practice at a distance, in a manner disassociated from people’s perspectives and interests. Does this rendering do justice to the factual landscape of academic Greek American historiography? Frangos respects facts, in fact, he considers facts foundational to any truth claim. Citing the relevant facts, therefore, offers a way to enter into a meaningful conversation.
Readily available facts such as those accessible through the Greek American Studies Resource Portal (http://www.mgsa.org/Resources/port.html) (hyperlink) illustrate that researchers who practice U.S. Modern Greek studies have been studying Greek American history in various forms and fronts. Scholars affiliated with at least six endowed U.S. Modern Greek chairs, and one soon to be endowed, as well as various centers for Hellenic studies, for instance, have notably been advancing Greek American historical scholarship, including people’s history and cultural history. They do so via regular academic activities such as the publication of books, reviews, articles, essays, and public lectures. Studies may incorporate ethnohistoric perspectives, producing knowledge through the interface between scholars and the Greek American public. Or they may engage with questions that certain sectors within a community are either not likely or reticent to ask or acknowledge. In this context, the value of academic historiography is to pose questions that the community may not be interested in asking. While the “people’s history” approach is undoubtedly valuable, one must also recognize its limits. Scholarship that raises questions independently from a community’s popular discourse contributes too to the community’s historical consciousness.
Other work from within Modern Greek studies programs encourages researchers to re/collect the archive and reconfigure its historical narrative beyond “struggle and success,”28 or to identify the vital interconnection of literary criticism and fiction as a means of community building, including a community of Greek American readers.29 Both of these pieces endorse projects that Frangos would certainly recognize as examples of academic Greek American scholarship intersecting with community interests. What is more, at the institutional level, U.S. Modern Greek studies support a considerable network of Greek American archives and library collections, as well as oral history archival projects, which have been a staple of academic activities too.
But I also wish to render visible here a kind of Greek American scholarship that may escape public notice, as it takes place backstage. It entails labor that crosses the boundary between Modern Greek studies and professional Greek American historiography, and its recognition requires careful attention to a particular kind of archive, one that some readers may overlook: the acknowledgment section of a book, a book’s blurb, blogs, or the announcement of scholarship recipients. This archive documents Modern Greek studies activities that take place away from the public eye: supervising dissertations; making available graduate and postgraduate scholarships; supporting the writings of books; mentoring students; and peer-reviewing books with Greek American topics for university and popular presses. Graduate students who have received PhDs in historical anthropology and history, and who have built remarkable careers writing about Greek American historical topics outside the institutional space of U.S. Modern Greek programs, have enjoyed the intellectual and financial support of Modern Greek studies programs both at the graduate and postgraduate levels.
This indisputable reality refutes the projected image of U.S. Modern Greek scholars as mere onlookers to Greek American historical production. But have academic scholars indeed abandoned disseminating their scholarship to the Greek American community? And what do we mean by community? Where is the community located? If by community we mean the local Greek Orthodox parish, a record of activities among faculty in Modern Greek studies testifies active involvement: curating museum exhibits; producing oral histories; translating memoirs; documenting and circulating archival documents; reviewing popular documentaries for the community; and writing about history for local periodicals, as well as the national ethnic media.30
It is a sociological fact that the Greek American community is a heterogeneous one, consisting of a diverse public with varying cultural tastes, interests, orientations, predispositions and positions about identity, self-representation, and ethnic preservation. Within this landscape, one can identify a public that seeks out the work of professional Greek American studies for understanding Greek America. Individuals read academic work, and community organizations invite scholars for public lectures. There is also the public of heritage students who take language and culture courses in Modern Greek studies programs, and who are routinely assigned to interview family members and community cultural and civic leaders. In an advanced language course at The Ohio State University, for instance, students interview members of the community in radio broadcasts as part of the course requirement, contributing, in this manner, to the making and circulation of the archive. The classroom at the university is a major site where educators in the academy and a community of heritage learners interface, jointly creating archives from the perspective of immigrants as well as second-generation Greek Americans and beyond.
Some sectors of the public may display indifference to academic work. Granted, some academic work is admittedly dense for public consumption, as this writing adheres to conventions for academic legitimation. “Service to communities and survival in competitive academic markets,” indeed, “seem to require two different courses of action” for Modern Greek studies.31 Other sectors may even keep academic historiography at a distance given that the latter often raises unpopular questions, complicating cherished cultural mythologies. It is a fact that certain producers of ethnic history, and this includes both academic scholars and those outside the academy, have been excluding from their public versions of history both “the true intellectual class” who nuances ethnic clichés as well as authors and academics. In this respect, coffee-hour talk spills over nationally circulated narratives touting themselves as the authoritative rendering of Greek America. Certain public figures may play a gatekeeping role this process; they function as organic intellectuals who promote specific socioeconomic interests, and, in the process, exclude alternative people’s histories. Others, such as the working class and its intellectual advocates, offer counternarratives as a response, questioning canonical versions of ethnic history. In this view of community as a variety of demographics each with its own representational interests, there can be no single organic intellectual class. To speak about organic intellectuals in Greek America is to speak about a variety of strategic positionalities.32
In view of this landscape it is imperative to rethink the role of Modern Greek studies vis-à-vis Greek America in terms different than those of abandonment. The question has already been raised by Artemis Leontis, a scholar who fluently traverses the worlds of Modern Greek studies, Greek American studies, and community activism. “[H]ow we fill our role as intellectuals,” she addresses her Modern Greek studies colleagues, “depends in large part on how we understand Greek Americans and their institutions; conversely, the place we create for Greek studies depends largely on how we define our public role vis-a-vis this group.”33 It is necessary to keep advancing this discussion with an urgency that matches Frangos’s intensity of critique. Though their means may vary, academic and popular historiography share the same goals.
One conclusion is clear once we think of the community as a diverse network instead of a single entity. A community is neither homogeneous nor static; it is not a given. It is created, instead, through cultural work. The boundaries between the popular and the academic are fluid, not rigid. The model of a uniformly well-meaning public toiling for producing ethnic memory and an academic collective indifferent to this project is therefore misplaced. The question of who is abandoning whom must be asked anew in relation a broader view of Greek America as a terrain of multiple publics. There can be no clear-cut answer in this reframing.
All this is not to ignore a pressing issue in academic Greek American studies: the field is marginalized within the U.S. academy, particularly in certain disciplines, and is certainly underrepresented in Modern Greek studies. The gaps in scholarship, from anthropology to cultural studies, and ethnic studies to English are astonishing, telling of this neglect. Leontis speaks to this unfulfilled potential, making a point that remains as poignant as it was at the time of its publication, twenty years ago:
I am continually haunted by the blanks I draw whenever I ponder the following questions: how much space do Greek women occupy in the very rich area of women's studies? … does research on Greek immigrants make its way into America’s folk or immigrant museums? is Greek America represented in multicultural organizations and projects that are well-supported today?”34
Frangos’s vast archive forces academics to look in the mirror: Why is there no vibrant scholarship on the rich repertoire of Greek American food practices? Why are there so very few books on popular culture? Why is it that cultural anthropology largely routes itself away from Greek American ethnographic sites? As I have written elsewhere:
Greek America is neither exotic nor culturally thick enough for anthropology; it is too cultureless or anti-minority for ethnic studies; not multilayered enough for literary studies (unless a Pulitzer prize turns it into American literature); not textured enough for film studies; not adequately victimized for academic multiculturalism. For these reasons, it has only been allotted a narrow space within the University, endangered now in an environment of fiscal constraints.35
But the question of the place of Greek American studies in Modern Greek studies must be addressed as one of scale, not of outright neglect. This is to say, that the degree of the latter’s contributions to the former is disproportionately high given the historical gravitation of the field towards an area studies approach placing Greece at its center. But in absolute numbers, Greek America occupies a lesser position in the field of Modern Greek studies. Frangos’s critique of the field echoes the one expressed by Charles Moskos, thirty years ago or so, in what represents a key moment of divergence, and its associated antagonism, between a certain strand in Greek American studies and Modern Greek studies:
Almost all academics who write about Greek-Americans do so as secondary interest. This situation can be blamed partially on the small market for Greek-American studies, but the problem is more than a matter of demand. Greek-American studies, with their focus on immigrants, are déclassé among most scholars who deal with contemporary Greece. … Greek-American studies will remain undeveloped unless they are separated from modern Greek studies.36
Academic economy still remains one cause for the marginalization. The available positions are not only still dismayingly few but disappearing in the wake of severe budget cuts. At the same time, one witnesses a decentralizing turn in intellectual output, where scholars in archaeology, music, political science, education, sociology, diaspora studies, religious studies, film studies, media studies, and Latinx studies have been incorporating Greek America in their work even if not everyone is placing it as their research center. Pluralization replacing specialization has been benefitting Greek American studies. Yet another ongoing development, the transnational turn, holds promise. It invites the reorientation of Modern Greek studies from an area studies field to a transnational one, offering yet another institutional route for empowering Greek American studies.37
Perhaps what Frangos is critiquing is a more troubling aspect of Modern Greek studies: do scholars themselves find Greek American studies to be déclassé, an unsexy academic field best left behind? Do scholars feel that research in this field will be seen as subpar or not rigorous enough, a subject of study outside the boundaries of the academy? Historically, the neglect of the subject is visible. Greek American society has certainly not captured the academic imagination to a degree commensurable with its potential. Scholars negotiate certain academic economies where reputation and career are launched within hierarchical rankings of knowledge, in which, frankly, the topic “Greek Americans” certainly lacks cultural and material capital. The field Greek/American, on the other hand, a field that ventures beyond the ethnic community to explore cultural transnational flows between Greek worlds and the United States such as literary translations, travelogue, or cross-cultural fertilizations animated by distinguished artists and intellectuals, enjoys sophisticated attention. It seems that in certain prestigious academic settings, high culture is in, but aspects of low-brow culture may be out. How to go about redressing this imbalance? The compromised scholarly potential of Greek America calls for an open conversation.
The proliferation of archival projects in Greek America, including the ubiquitous oral history projects, is not equally matched with an interest in the archive as social production, including interest in the analysis of this archival content. Unlike the case of Modern Greece, Greek American historiography has not yet been fortunate to produce its own Genres of Recollection, a seminal work on the making of the archive. Its author, Penelope Papailias,38 discusses the archive as a fundamentally interpretive act, not a neutral collection of preexisting facts awaiting to be gathered. Her work would have been impossible to achieve without the simultaneous close attention to ethnographic facts and sophisticated application of theory. Her reading, in fact, performs the value of theory, a much-misunderstood tool among popular historians, in producing in-depth understanding of ethnographic facts and their place in the making of an archive.
Frangos’s investment in building an archive represents, no doubt, a remarkable achievement. It offers an indispensable resource to academics and the community alike, a contribution that scholars in history and popular cultural studies ignore at their own peril. He has indeed achieved an archive via a relentless ethic and politics of caring for ethnic memory. But if theoretically oriented scholars cannot afford to neglect, absolutely, the facts and how they are construed, empirically oriented historians cannot afford to neglect, absolutely, the interpretive process and how it enters into the making of any archive. But in addition to critical reflection, achieving an archive requires considerable human and material resources. Regardless of how hard popular and professional historians toil to advance the archive, and regardless of one’s vast personal investment and sacrifice as well as the passion to advance it, a critical mass of cultural workers and the required resources that could help materialize this enormous task is simply not available. In the absence of an endorsing state, and in the absence of endowed Chairs dedicated to Greek American studies, the funding of vibrant, democratic institutions such as professional research centers, accountable to historical principles and operating beyond the politics of concealment in self-representation, is crucial. The potential of the Greek American archive, its people’s history, and consequently the understanding of Greek America’s complexity deserves such an inclusive institution. No less.
1. Steve Frangos, “Book Tells Story about Greeks in Washington State,” The National Herald, January 4, 2006, 5.
2. Steve Frangos, “Advice on Getting Published,” The National Herald, June 23, 2007, 1.
3. Glenn Jordan, “Voices from Below: Doing People’s History in Cardiff Docklands,” in Writing History: Theory and Practice, eds. Stefan Berger, Heiko Feldner, and Kevin Passmore (London: Arnold, 2003), 299–320.
4. Steve Frangos, “Philip Tedro: A Greek Legend of the American West,” Hellenic Communication Services, L.L.C., November, 26, 2007, accessed November 17, 2017, http://www.helleniccomserve.com/philiptedro.html.
5. For an analysis of Helen Papanikolas’s claim of understanding and bringing into representation “the past as a whole,” for instance, see, Yiorgos Anagnostou, “Research Frontiers, Academic Margins: Helen Papanikolas and the Authority to Represent the Immigrant Past,” Journal of the Hellenic Diaspora 34, no. 1-2 (2008): 9–29.
6. Glenn Jordan, “Voices from Below: Doing People’s History in Cardiff Docklands,” in Writing History: Theory and Practice, eds. Stefan Berger, Heiko Feldner, and Kevin Passmore (London: Arnold, 2003), 305.
7. Steve Frangos, “A ‘History Room’ in Every Parish,” The National Herald, August 15, 2009, 1, 10.
8. Steve Frangos, “It’s Always A Wonderful Life in Greek-American Land,” The National Herald, October 9-15, 2010, 11.
9. Ibid., 11.
10. Ibid., 11.
11. Ibid., 11.
12. Ibid., 11.
13. Ibid., 11. For examples of Greek Americans sharing their difficult stories of discrimination see, James S. Scofield, “Forgotten History: The Klan vs. Americans of Hellenic Heritage in an Era of Hate,” Greek America 3 no7 (1997): 20–21.
14. See Yiorgos Anagnostou, “Model Americans, Quintessential Greeks: Ethnic Success and Assimilation in Diaspora,” Diaspora: A Journal of Transnational Studies 12, no. 3 (2003): 279–327. For a recent example of self-censorship see, Yiorgos Anagnostou, “Norms, Vulnerabilities, Paradoxes: Greeks and MTV,” Journal of Modern Greek Studies 35, no.1 (Spring 2017): 155–79.
15. Community archives are of course immensely valuable. Author Kallia Papadakis credits Philadelphia’s Greek Orthodox community for making available to her its local archive, an indispensable resource for her award-winning novel Dendrites. (hyperlink)
16. For an example of local archival initiative see the Greek American Documentary Project: A Survey of Archival Records of New York’s Hellenic Community 1994 – 1995, Antonia S. Matthew, Project Director, May 1996. About the modernization of the Archives at the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, see Christopher Tripoulas, “From Rev. James Coucouzes to Archbishop Iakovos,” Orthodox History: The Society for Orthodox Christian History in the Americas , November 3, 2011, accessed February 1, 2018, https://orthodoxhistory.org/2011/11/03/from-rev-james-coucouzes-to-archbishop-iakovos/.
17. Steve Frangos, “Book Tells Story about Greeks in Washington State,” The National Herald, January 4, 2006, 1.
18. Glenn Jordan, “Voices from Below: Doing People’s History in Cardiff Docklands,” in Writing History: Theory and Practice, eds. Stefan Berger, Heiko Feldner, and Kevin Passmore (London: Arnold, 2003), 306.
19. Steve Frangos, “Advice on Getting Published,” The National Herald, June 23, 2007, 5. (The emphasis in the citation is mine.)
20. Steve Frangos, “Support Collectivism in New Preservation Movement,” The National Herald, February 13, 2010, 1, 5.
21. Steve Frangos, “The Greeks of Tarpon Springs,” The National Herald, February 28, 2009, 1, 6.
22. Steve Frangos, “It’s Always A Wonderful Life in Greek-American Land,” The National Herald, October 9–15, 2010, 11.
23. Ibid., 11.
24. Steve Frangos, “A ‘History Room’ in Every Parish.” The National Herald, August 15, 2009, 1, 10.
25. For a piece on artists Peter and Helen Contis, for instance, see Steve Frangos, “The Greek Outsiders: Artists Lost to Hellenism – Chicago’s Peter and Helen Contis,” Part 3. The National Herald, June 13, 2009. For information on Theodore Gianakoulis (1886-1964), author of the unpublished manuscript Greeks in New York City, see Steve Frangos, “The Lost History of New York City,” The GreekAmerican, June 21, 1997, 14.
26. Steve Frangos, “George Giannaris: Lost Greek Bridge Between Worlds,” Greek Quest Services, September 28, 2015, accessed November 15, 2017, http://www.gqs.gr/george-giannaris-lost-greek-bridge-between-worlds/.
27. Steve Frangos, “Philip Tedro: A Greek Legend of the American West,” Hellenic Communication Services, L.L.C., 26 November, 2007, accessed November 17, 2017, http://www.helleniccomserve.com/philiptedro.html.
28. Yiorgos Anagnostou, “Re/collecting Greek America: Reflections on Ethnic Struggle, Success and Survival,” Journal of Modern Hellenism 31 (Fall 2015): 148–75. http://journals.sfu.ca/jmh/index.php/jmh/article/view/26 .
29. Artemis Leontis, “‘What Will I Have to Remember?’ Helen Papanikolas’s Art of Telling,” Journal of the Hellenic Diaspora 29, no. 2 (2003): 15–26.
30. See Yiorgos Anagnostou, “Academic Greek-American Studies: A Record of Accomplishments,” January 6, 2005, accessed January 6, 2005, https://classics.osu.edu/Undergraduate-Studies/modern-greek-program/modern-greek-faculty-postings .
31. Artemis Leontis, “The Intellectual in Greek America,” Journal of the Hellenic Diaspora 23, no. 2 (1997): 99.
32. Yiorgos Anagnostou, “Public Scholarship in Greek America: Personal Reflections, Intellectual Vocations,” Journal of Modern Greek Studies 33, no.1 (May 2015): 15–24.
33. Artemis Leontis, “The Intellectual in Greek America,” Journal of the Hellenic Diaspora 23, no. 2 (1997): 86.
34. Ibid., 104
35. Yiorgos Anagnostou, “Empowering Greek American Studies,” Immigrations–Ethnicities–Racial Situations, December 11, 2013, accessed December 11, 2013, http://immigrations-ethnicities-racial.blogspot.com/2013/12/empowering-greek-american-studies.html .
36. Charles C. Moskos, Greek Americans: Struggle and Success, 2 nd ed. (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction, 1990), 188. (Originally published in 1980 by Prentice-Hall, Inc.).
37. See Yiorgos Anagnostou, “Where Does ‘Diaspora’ Belong? The Point of View from Greek American Studies,” Journal of Modern Greek Studies 28, no.1 (2010): 73–119.
38. Penelope, Papailias, Genres of Recollection: Archival Poetics and Modern Greece (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2005).
Yiorgos Anagnostou is Professor in the Modern Greek Program, Department of Classics, at The Ohio State University.