Tsakopoulos Hellenic Collection Fellows Researching Fascinating History

The Tsakopoulos Hellenic Collection has announced its Library Research Fellows for 2021-2022 along with their project titles, which offer a wide array of study and research pertaining to the Greek American community and its rich history.

Interestingly, researchers come from universities across the world yet their topics will shed light on many unknown stories and individuals from Greek American history.

Consisting of the holdings of the former Speros Basil Vryonis Center for the Study of Hellenism, the Tsakopoulos Hellenic Collection, part of the Donald & Beverly Gerth Special Collections and University Archives at Sacramento State University, is an internationally significant resource for the campus and Sacramento regional communities, as well as for scholars around the globe.

Currently numbering approximately 75,000 volumes, it comprises a large circulating book collection, journal holdings, electronic resources, non-print media, rare books, archival materials, art, and artifacts.

With its focus on the Hellenic world, the collection contains early through contemporary materials across the social sciences and humanities relating to Greece, its neighboring countries, and the surrounding region.

There is a broad representation of languages in the collection, with a rich assortment of primary source materials. This multidisciplinary collection supports various campus programs and facilitates research by external scholars through the grant-funded Library Research Fellowship Program inaugurated in 2012.

The collection curator, George I. Paganelis, manages the collection and provides class orientations and research assistance in its use.

Tsakopoulos Hellenic Collection2021-22 Library Research Fellows

Dr. Konstantina (Nadia) Georgiou, Independent Scholar, U.K.; Project Title: “Gatekeeping Networks and Patronage: The Role of Diasporic Greek Americans in the Promotion and Dissemination of Translated Modern Greek Literature”

Abstract: “Several studies on diasporic Greeks in the USA have explored a host of issues related to history, literature, cultural studies, music, gender and feminist studies, Modern Greek studies to name a few. The proposed research project intends to approach the archival material hosted by the Sacramento University Library archives from the perspective of translation studies and the sociology of literature, as it aims at studying the role of diasporic Greek Americans in the promotion and dissemination of translated Modern Greek literature. Specifically, the study aims at exploring the input and impact of patrons on the nascent field of translated Modern Greek literature into English in the second half of the twentieth century.”

Ms. Ioanna Kipourou, Doctoral Candidate, University of Graz, Austria; Project Title: “’Mr. Greek’ — The Making of a San Franciscan Civic Leader: A Memoir of Peter G. Boudoures (1893-1982)” 

Abstract: “Every immigrant has a story to tell: making a new start in a strange place among strangers, coming into contact with other cultures, and mastering a new language but also coping with nostalgia and longing for the homeland. Yet not all immigrants seek for a meaningful connection solely to the past. They create new ways of belonging and identity, thus redefining themselves as well as culture and society. As a multidimensional experience, the immigrant experience has long been documented through storytelling, with the immigrant/ethnic memoir genre being particularly the most popular medium employed to narrate these stories about the immigrant communities created and the memories of traditions, heritage, and customs to be passed on to the next generations. However, the Greek American memoir is a genre still under-researched. Despite the importance of the memoir genre in the making of public memory, only a few narratives have been under the spotlight while stories that do not abide by the mainstream stereotyped representations of Greek immigrants in America are sidelined as insignificant for the memory-making of Greek American history and culture.

Within this framework of immigrant/ethnic memoirs, this project focuses on the narrative of Peter G. Boudoures’ manuscript. Boudoures’ manuscript is a hybrid memoir that blends the personal and the political as it follows the story of the narrator’s immigration and coming-of-age between memory and memory-making, between past and present, between Greece and the United States, between the narrative persona of Boudoures and the narrative interventions of John B. Vlahos—a fellow San Franciscan, lawyer, and critical friend of Boudoures who recorded and preserved Boudoures’ memories.

My analysis of this picaresque adventure narrative and immigrant/ethnic memoir intends to demystify the trickster persona of Boudoures and approach his narrative of lived and remembered experiences through a critical analysis lens. Approaching the manuscript as a twice-mediated text through the speaker-Boudoures and the narrative voice-Vlahos, my reading explores the forms and functions of the literary devices used by both personas and how their interaction affects the memory-making process and doubly mediates the meaning of these memories as well as the effect the narrative structure has on the readers. Reading the manuscript as a memory-making narrative with focus on the Greek American male subject as narrator, my analysis focuses on the conceptual codifications that mainstream culture projects onto Greek Americans up until today.

My analysis of this manuscript narrative focuses on how Greek Americans have been stereotyped, and how Boudoures as a Greek American male subject has contributed to redefining stereotypical representations through his life and works. Boudoures redefines the Greek American male subject through his own selective memory and subjective representation of himself and others, something that Vlahos attempts to correct according to his own perception filtered through his personal relationship with the speaking subject while also transcribing the text as means of memory-making. It has to be noted that Boudoures’ name became so closely synonymous with the notion of Greek America that he was commonly known in San Francisco as “Mr. Greek” —a signifier-nickname with ambiguous references, as it denotes a specific signified-identity to the subject as well as limits the subject’s other identification, and perhaps essentializing Boudoures into a type identified through his immigrant and ethnic identity only.

My retelling of Boudoures’ story intends to contextualize Boudoures’ memories and Vlahos’ transcript and reveal how this unpublished manuscript intervenes in memory-making. Through my analysis, I explain how the readers of Boudoures’ text are invited to participate in the memory-making process through a playful interaction with the speaker-Boudoures as well as the narrative voice-Vlahos. It is important to note that Boudoures dictated his memoir through employing a picaresque narrator and presents himself as a self-made and hard-working immigrant that achieved becoming an upstanding citizen and political player due to his personal abilities and his constant creation and pursuit of entrepreneurial opportunities. At the same time, Vlahos fact-checks the parts of the narrative that seem inconsistent and incoherent or even not entirely truthful to him, and thus both these narrative personas are literary mechanisms that interact within the text itself as well as with the readers.

My research intends to recover texts like the Boudoures memoir and make them accessible to the public, something that contributes to a better understanding of how autobiographies help us better understand Greek American history and culture and consequently promote the formation of Greek American public memory.”

Mr. Panos Koromvokis, Doctoral Candidate, Panteion University; Project Title: “Behind the Counter: Representations of the Greek-American Diner in 20th-Century Greek America”

Abstract: “The Greek American diner is a space that has become synonymous with the Greek presence in the United States. As a cultural transplant of the Greek Kaffenion (coffee shop), according to Dan Georgakas, the Greek American diner became more than a workplace for the Greek immigrants in the United States; it became a space of opportunity to pursue their American dreams and redefine themselves through adopting new cultural values and adapting to new marketplace structures. The history of the Greek American diners is thus closely intertwined with the immigration history of Greeks and their integration within the American society.

The cultural popularity and commercial success of the Greek American diner is founded upon the hard-working immigrants who introduced their notion of philoxenia (hospitality) and served their exotic delicacies to the customers within the folk ambience of their traditional music and the Grecian décor of statues and columns. This truthful yet stereotypical image of the Greek American diner is something that certainly added to the colorful cultural representation of Greek heritage and culture and the social customs and food habits they brought with them from their homeland.

However, this representation of the Greek American diner from this perspective limits its cultural, social, and political impact and has already been addressed by some scholarly works. Yet there is very little scholarship and research regarding how the Greek American diner functioned as a culinary space that redefined the American lifestyle of dining out as well as how it contributed to the social, cultural, and political changes both in the Greek homeland and the American society—especially during the turbulent times of the 20th century. Hidden behind the counter, this role of the Greek American diner as means of cultural production through popular culture remains untold.

The mini-documentary Between Whites and Blacks/Μεταξύ Λευκών και Μαύρων produced by the journalist Lamprini Thoma and The Press Project puts diners on the map of social and community discourse with focus on the Greek American diners as a space of sociopolitical interaction, interracial alliance, and cultural exchange between African Americans and Greek Americans, a new perspective that sheds light into the many under-researched stories about the Greek American diner.

Filling in the gaps of scholarship, my project focuses on the role of the Greek American diner as means of cultural production of the Greek ethnic identity within the American context and the sociopolitical role of the dining industry. In other words, I aim at recovering material representations (in magazines, journals, films, advertisements, cartoons, newspapers) of the Greek American diner and analyzing how these representations build a narrative about the Greek ethnic identity and Greek America as well as how this narrative contributed to the formation of the Greek American culture in terms of family and community structures.”

Dr. Theodora Patrona, Teaching Fellow, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki; Project Title: “Setting the Scene: The Obscure Greek-American Cultural Production of the Early Twentieth Century”

Abstract: “Through this research, I hope to shed light on the still uncharted cultural production of the early twentieth century, which will also provide a broader and richer context in my life project on the obscure Greek American female writings. For my twofold research in the Tsakopoulos Hellenic Collection, I will explore the holdings on early Greek American activity in the field of literature, performative and visual arts as the cultural context for the presence (or absence) of women.

For this intent, I will devote much of my stay on campus to scrutinize once again the immigrant press, and the rare periodicals that proved illuminating in my previous visit, like Athene, Ellenitha, Ellenismos tes Diasporas, Argonautes, Vema tes Gapa, the Charioteer. I will also go through other important periodicals of Greek Americana like Nea Yorke and Greece in Print. The Tsakopoulos Hellenic Collection hosts an extensive collection of Greek American newspapers on microfilm, many of which are early California papers like Kaliphornia, Prometheus and Chronos which should be enlightening as to the first two decades of the twentieth century. As regards the east coast, the Collection has also microfilms of New York Greek American newspapers of the same understudied time span, like Protoporos, Empros, He Phone tou Ergatou. Their leftist orientation will further assist me in constructing a clearer idea as to women’s participation in the immigrant struggles of those times.”

Mr. Thanasis Sotiriou, Doctoral Candidate, University of Crete; Project Title: “Byzantine Local Aristocrats and Turkish Conquerors in Asia Minor (1260-1330)”

Abstract: “My research lies at the intersection of political history and social structures of late Byzantium, mainly in terms of focusing on a long-neglected social group which I tentatively call “petty aristocracy” and consists of people who enjoyed political, economic, and social power but were not members of the imperial family. In my PhD thesis (anticipated December 2021), through the indexing of the literary sources and the collection of data elucidating various aspects of social life, I identified, defined and described this social group’s socio-economic characteristics, and studied the mechanisms that enabled it to acquire negotiate and exercise power in Constantinople and the provincial centers of the Byzantine Empire.

As a recipient of the Library Research Fellowship Program of the California State University, I will work toward the publication of my dissertation by expanding it with a study on the interaction between the petty aristocrats of Asia Minor and the Turkish Muslim groups that conquered their land. During the gradual encroachment of the Turks in Western Asia Minor (1260-1330), local Byzantines were forced either to abandon their land or to alter their allegiances. The latter is usually interpreted as the result of military violence (conquest and conversion), but it could be seen also as the outcome of negotiations and rational decisions which led Christian communities to serve rulers who were not members of their own ethnic, religious or cultural group. Through the study of this procedure, I aspire to contribute to the debate on the nature of the bonds connecting local elites and central authorities. Moreover, I aim to shed light on local identities, co-existence between Christians and Muslims, and the strategies of the Byzantine petty aristocracies toward rising foreign power.”

Prof. Fevronia Soumakis, Adjunct Assistant Professor, Queens College, CUNY; Project Title: “The Political and Social Activism of Katy Vlavianos and the Ladies Philoptochos Society”

Abstract: “Drawing from the archival sources of the Dr. Basil J. Vlavianos papers, this research project focuses on the social and political activism of Katy Vlavianos and the women’s philanthropic organization known as the Ladies Philoptochos Society. The organization’s activities went far beyond assistance to the poor as their title suggests; they were political activists on behalf of Greeks in the United States and in Greece, raising funds for refugees from Asia Minor, and organizing efforts for Greece during the Balkan Wars and World War II. Neglected in the scholarly literature, the Ladies Philoptochos Society was a pillar in supporting Greek afternoon and parochial schools, Sunday schools, and the founding of St. Basil’s Academy for children in need. The research collected from this visit will be incorporated into a book chapter which chronicles the influence of Greek American women in shaping the educational activities and institutions of Greeks in New York City.”

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