Public History in Greece
|Author: Manolis Peponas,MA student at the University of Ioannina (Greece)|
For Wikipedia – a not always reliable but undoubtedly popular source -, “Public history is a broad range of activities undertaken by people with some training in the discipline of history who are generally working outside of specialized academic settings. (…) Some of the most common settings for the practice of public history are museums, historic homes and historic sites, parks, battlefields, archives, film and television companies, and all levels of government.” In fact, it is something more: a sector which is developing rapidly in our global society, in order to bring history back to the people who are not members of academia. In this way, public history’s social dimension serves as a vital piece of social structure.
In Greece, public history is called “δημόσια ιστορία” (dimosia istoria). Professor Hagen Fleischer, a respected German historian who lives and teaches in Greece, was clear when he wrote/said: “Public history is whatever is not an academic history.” For him, it is the right time to give voice to the war victims, by changing the way that we write history. Another historian, Professor Harris Athanasiades, illuminates the connection between public history and the books used for primary and secondary education. Specifically, he examines the circumstances under which a schoolbook can become an issue of public controversy. His work, “Τα Αποσυρθέντα Βιβλία” (Ta aposirthenta vivlia), is one of the very few books concerned with the research of “dimosia istoria.”
Also in Greece, there is only one 2-year Public History Masters Program, offered by the Hellenic Open University. It was founded in 2017, and many great historians are teaching there. However, the Hellenic Open University is a low-ranked academic institution (1726 World Rank) and its fees are really high. Certainly, this effort is significant. At the same time, however, it is noteworthy that the country’s top universities do not include public history in their programs.
On the other hand, there are some interesting projects being organized outside academic institutions. Maybe the most remarkable of them is “Αθήνα Ελεύθερη” (Athina Eleftheri), coordinated by a group of historians and journalists. This group is led by Dr. Menelaos Haralampidis and supported by the Hellenic Parliament Foundation, Municipality of Athens and ERT. Haralampidis and his team organize tours, exhibitions, and other events that attract huge crowds. They succeed in informing the public about the occupation of Athens by Nazis, the city’s liberation, and the subsequent conflict between communist guerrillas and the supporters of the government in December of 1944.
Greece’s oral history groups are also strongly related to public history. Their power has increased in the last decade and a lot of people are trying to create a history “from below” using these oral sources. Professional historians, like Professor Riki van Boeschoten and Tasoula Vervenioti, educate amateurs who love history and, in this way, small teams of enthusiasts are being created all over the country. School teachers, students, housewives, labourers, etc., research their local communities, bringing great narratives to the surface. Their work is usually presented to the public with great success. For example, the “Γιορτές Προφορικής Ιστορίας” (Oral History Fests) are very popular events where oral history groups present their projects.
In conclusion, public history has not developed sufficiently in Greece. The country’s universities are not concerned with it and there are only few related projects organized by professional historians. Perhaps the lack of funding is the key reason for the slow evolution of the sector, though it can’t be ignored that some academic historians have faced public history with reluctance. Of course, there are a lot of things to do moving forward. However, the development of public history in Greece is something vital: the knowledge of the past is a right that must be offered to everyone.
Manolis Peponas is an MA student at the University of Ioannina (Greece). He contributed articles to a lot of websites and magazines (“Στρατιωτική Ιστορία”, “apopseis.gr”, “Huffington Post Greece”, “War History Online, etc). His last book is entitled “Η Μάχη της Μάλτας 1940-42”, (Gnomon Publications, Athens 2018).