The Harvard-Nafplio Connection

By Angelike Contis

The university's new Peloponnese outpost is
high-tech, academic hub for all

IT'S EARLY autumn in Nafplio. Outside, people are strolling and sitting at cafes, but within one of the harbour's nicest neoclassical buildings Professor Chris Blackwell, British Library conservator David Jacobs and Graz University Library expert Manfred Mayer are gathered around a contraption called "The Cradle".

Reminiscent of an old wooden loom but made of metal, The Cradle is designed to photograph old manuscripts. It was put to use last summer at Venice's Marciana Library for the digital imaging of two of the earliest versions of the Iliad in the world.

The Cradle's new home is the two-year-old branch of Harvard University's Centre for Hellenic Studies (CHS) in Nafplio.

Mayer designed the device after Graz University, in Austria, decided to create digital images of 2,000 treasured books. The contraption supports old books on a foam surface, their wizened pages held open by a soft vacuum. A red laser beam checks alignment before the mounted digital camera snaps an image.

He and his two colleagues were in the Argolid to discuss how The Cradle could be used to digitally back up Nafplio's archives, the modern Greek state's first.

No degrees, no fees

Such exchanges are becoming increasingly common at the centre, says Classics Professor and CHS Nafplio chairman of the board Ioannis Petropoulos.

Things were busy at the former town hall, dubbed the 'Eastern Campus' of Washington DC-based CHS by its director, Professor Gregory Nagy. The past year included a lecture and cultural event series, the June 28 official opening and an increased flow of students, professors and locals.

Petropoulos says the town's response has been positive but notes the Harvard flag is often mistaken for a tutoring school. He adds, "It's not uncommon to have a mother come in and ask whether she can enrol her son in any program."

The Harvard alumnus underlines, "We do not award degrees, and we don't charge fees."

The centre does offer an e-library that's open to the public. Having taught at the University of Thrace since 1991, Petropoulos says he's "painfully aware of the lack of libraries and research facilities in Greek universities". He says that anyone can walk into CHS Nafplio, register their name, receive a brief explanation and start using a computer portal to access Harvard University's 80 libraries, free of charge.

It's no small thing to access the school's online, noncopyrighted books and the endless list of journals and periodicals. (This Harvard/Radcliffe alumna, for one, may have been jaded by some narcissistic instructors but was never let down by one of the institution's libraries.)

Harvard 'goes global'

This year, 18 Harvard student intern volunteers spent time in Nafplio to participate in a hands-on experience in fields ranging from shipping to archaeologu. Still others passed through via Nagy's summer school course.

In 2010, a pioneering 14-week semester abroad programme will be inaugurated. Petropoulos explains, "It's a pilot project. Harvard has gone global and Greece is the first country where it is doing so."

The programme aims to give 25 students a "deep understanding of Greek culture". In order to avoid the creation of a year-abroad 'ghetto' of American students herded around, the emphasis is on individual cultural immersion. Students will learn basic Greek and will embark on assignments like finding and reflecting on an olive tree or elementary school.

Students will work their way from Crete, to the Cyclades, then stop in Nafplio (3 weeks), Athens and Thessaloniki before heading to either Sicily or Western Turkey.

The CHS outpost is supported in large part by private funding that has included the Onassis Public Benefit Foundation and individual sponsors.

The Centre for Hellenic Studies in Nafplio e-library is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday 10am-2pm and 5pm-8:30pm and Tuesday and Thursday 10am-6pm. To make a recommended reservation: Tel 27520-47030,

(Posting date 17 February 2009)

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