Hellenic Studies: Leaving Behind
a Legacy

by Chrysoula Economopoulos

In recent years, American higher education has witnessed an increas in Hellenic Studies programs and chairs at a number of highly rated universities throughout the United States. An October 1, 2005 conference on Hellenic Studies in North, Central and South America, hosted by the Onassis Cultural Center on October 1, 2005, supported this assertion.

"In the last few years programs in Hellenic Studies have grown and multiplied in the United States," noted Professor Vangelis Calotychos in an interview with Greek News. Calotychos is Acting Director of Columbia University's Program in Hellenic Studies, Department of Classics and presented a session at the Onassis conference titled "The Teaching of the Greek Language."

Conference chair Professor George Babiniotis, Rector of the University of Athens, further affirmed that "Things look optimistic. . .[I]t appears that there is still very significant interest in Hellenic studies, not only from the Greeks of the Diaspora, but Americans, Canadians, and Latin Americans also want to learn Greek . . . not only Ancient Greek but Modern Greek."

What Is "Greek Studies"?

The field of Hellenic Studies covers the Classical, Byzantine and modern periods of Greece. According to MediaInfo2004.gr, whose compiled definition stems from the Modern Greek Studies Association and the University of Michigan's C. P. Cavafy Professorship in Modern Greek Studies websites, Hellenic Studies is an "interdisciplinary examination of Greek literature, history, thought and culture, as well as the influences of that civilization on other histories and cutlures through the centuries. Thus the study of Greece is not limited to the Eastern Mediterranean but covers the continuous movements, appropriations, and transformations of Hellenism on a global scale." The field, in other words, covers a lot of territory.

AHEPA's Contribution

Local Order of AHEPA chapters have helped to pave the way forward for at least two of these types of programs through crucial roles played in fundraising efforts at major universities. Examples include the University of Washington and the University of California, San Diego (UCSD).

At the University of Washington (UW), the Seattle-area Grek American community has created a Hellenic Studies endowment, with the goal of raising $1 million in three years to establish a Chair in Hellenic Studies and to hire a qualified individual to fill in. AHEPA member THeodore Kaltsounis has tapped the local AHEPA chapter in Seattle in this fundraising drive, calling on the organization's educational legacy.

Kaltsounis, who is Professor Emeritus of Education and Chair of Hellenic Studies at UW, emphasizes that "[As Ahepans], our attention should shift from scholarships to the establishment of Hellenic Studies chairs in major universities throughout the country." By doing so, "The result of each new Hellenic Studies Chair can be a far-reaching development, because one good professor in Hellenic Studies will generate at least ten individuals with a Ph.D. degree in that field. These ten new Hellenic Studies experts will seek positions in other universities. . . Eventually, Hellenic Studies will be the major field of study it deserves to be."

This notion of leaving behind a legacy for future generations was also a motivating factor in the fundraising efforts at UCSD. UCSD recently created the Gerry and Jeannie Ranglas Chair in Ancient Greek History and the Akliviadis Vasiliadis Chair in Byzantine Greek History with donations totaling more than $1 million. With funding nearly complete, UCSD also expects to establish an endowed chair in Modern Greek History. When the $500,000 goal for the chair is met, UCSD will become the only university in the U.S. to have dnowed faculty chairs for all three major areas of Greek history.

San Diego's Greek American community wsa instrumental in making this achievement possible through its generosity. More specifically, AHEPA Chapter 505 member George Karetas was a central figure in the fundraising efforts, while the local chapter itself sparked the rapid fundraising efforts, which took only one and a half years to fully endow two of the three chairs.

In December 2003, George Anagnostopoulos, interim dean of UCSD's Division of Arts and Humanities, approached Karetas to discuss the possibility of launching fundraising efforts for Greek studies chairs within San Diego's Greek American community.

Karetas agreed, and the two made their first fundraising presentation to a general meeting of Chapter 505. "We were successful in persuaidng the chapter to make the first contribution [of $75,000], a significant contribution, to this fundraising effort,' notes Karetas. "And that first positive step is what really, I feel, gave fire to the movement." A significant contribution was then made by the San Diego Hellenic Cultural Society, followed by additional contributions that were granted in rapid succession.

Thus within a year and a half, commitments of pledges were received to fully fund the first two chairs in this project. As of August 2005, the fundraising drive was within $150,000 of fulfilling the required funding for the third chair in Modern Greek History, with the goal of raising the final pledges within the next several months.

In his appeals to fellow Ahepans and the local Greek American community, Karetas--like Kaltsounis--stressed the importance of leaving behind a legacy and giving voice to our heritage. Karetas syas it is significant to "[n]ot only give voice to fall on the ears of the Greek American community, but serious students of any heritage who wanted to learn more about Greek history. By having also so many chairs, three chairs, it creates one of the strongest centers for Hellenic studies in North America."

No doubt there are other areas and programs for Hellenic Studies in which AHEPA chapters and Ahepans have made significant contributions. And much work remains to be done in promoting the Hellenic legacy thorugh such institutions. However, with a growing number of models in place, the path forward should become smoother, the approach more refined, and the momentum of the movement stronger in years to come.

(The Ahepan, Winter 2005-06, pp19-20)

Ms. Economopoulos is a freelance writer based in Washington. Shes can be reached at ChrysoulaE@hotmail.com.

The American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA) is the largest and oldest American-based, Greek heritage grassroots membership organization. Its scope is international with chapters in the United States, Canada, Greece, and Cyprus, and "sister" chapters in Australia and New Zealand under the auspices of AHEPA Australasia. AHEPA was founded on July 26, 1922 in response to the evils of bigotry and racism that emerged in early 20th century American society. It also helped Greek immigrants assimilate into society. Today, AHEPA brings the ideals of ancient Greece, which includes philanthropy, education, civic responsibility, and family and individual excellence to the community. The AHEPA family consists of four organizations: AHEPA, Daughters of Penelope, Sons of Pericles and Maids of Athena. For more information about the organization or how to join, contact AHEPA Headquarters (202-232-6300) or visit the organization's newly redesigned website at http://www.ahepa.org.

HCS maintains an extensive archives of AHEPA articles and press releases which readers are invited to browse under the AHEPA Family Releases section of the site archives at http://www.helleniccomserve.com/archiveahepa.html.

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