Classifying Greece

Thomas W. Gallant, April 1998

To the Editor:

As a long-standing member of the AHA and as the liaison officer between the AHA and the Modern Greek Studies Association, I write in protest concerning one of the changes recently made to the AHA membership form. I was more than slightly surprised when I went to fill in my membership renewal form only to find that the field of modern Greek history had disappeared from the AHA's list of fields. My dismay may appear trivial to some, but, in a field that has struggled for some time to establish an identity for itself, it is not.

The history of modern Greece--unlike that of other regions of Europe--has suffered under a double burden. One burden has been the legacy of an ancient past which was a recognized field of historical inquiry even before the modern state of Greece emerged; the ancient past has cast a long shadow over the study of modern Greece. The other burden is the modern nation-state's perennial Janus-like disposition between West and East, between Europe and the Orient. Not surprisingly, fields seeking to establish credibility as autonomous realms of scholarly study are sensitive to perceived slights. Moreover, this challenge to the field's ontological status could not have occurred at a worse time. As I have argued in a recent article, modern Greek history is poised at a critical moment in its development ("Greek Exceptionalism and Contemporary Historiography: New Pitfalls and Old Debates," Journal of Modern Greek Studies 15:2 (1997) 209--16). The field is showing signs of becoming even more a part of mainstream modern European history. The field's previous tendency toward insularity is beginning to be replaced by a new engagement with contemporary historiography. Compounding my great unease as well is the fact that the Greek world is so well represented for earlier epochs. The AHA lists no less than five discrete ancient fields, including one that is prehistoric, and five fields for Byzantium. Are there really that many historians who identify themselves as belonging to the field of "Byzantium: Age of Recovery"? As someone who has published books and articles on all periods of Greek history, I find it inconceivable that ancient and Byzantine Greece require ten fields while the study of Greece during all of the modern epoch is not deemed worthy of one. This is not to denigrate either of those fields. I am pleased that Byzantium in particular is accorded institutional, professional recognition. Their extensive field representation, however, serves only to exaggerate the anomalous exclusion of the modern field. Furthermore, other regions of southern Europe, like Italy, Spain, and Portugal are listed as fields. As you know, until the recent revisions, the history of modern Greece was conjoined with that of Italy. Italy now appears as a distinct field, as it should. But Greece has been decoupled from it and dropped.

Please consider revising the membership field categories to add the field of modern Greek history. As I go to fill in my membership renewal form and write my check, the irony of the fact that a nation and a field of scholarship that have struggled so long to establish a European identity should once more be enshrined as the "Other"--#599 on the form since this is the only applicable category--is palpable.

—Thomas W. Gallant, Associate Professor
and Graduate Coordinator, University of Florida

Editor's Note: At its January meeting, the AHA Council corrected a number of omissions in the list of specializations, by correcting the absences of Brazil, the Oceania region, and eastern Europe. The inclusion of eastern Europe for the modern period is intended to partially amend the oversight that Professor Gallant rightly notes, within the limits that space will allow. The Council expects to revisit the larger structure in the near future.