Establishing the Program in Hellenic Studies

Since the 1930s dedicated teachers have offered courses in Modern Greek language and culture at Columbia and Barnard, but not until 1988 with a gift from Kimon A. Doukas was there a concentrated effort to set up a program. The efforts of Roger Bagnall, Chair of the Classics Department at Columbia, and Helene Foley, Chair of Classics at Barnard, enabled the hiring of the Modern Greek specialist Karen Van Dyck in 1988 from Oxford. Van Dyck offered a two-year sequence of Modern Greek language and culture courses, and a series of literature seminars taught in Greek, one per semester in a four-semester rotation, alternating surveys and special topic courses. This basic curriculum was supplemented whenever possible with interdisciplinary electives by Columbia faculty (Edward Malefakis for Greek History, Nina Garcoian, and later Alexander Alexakis, for Byzantine Studies, Karen Barkey for Ottoman Studies, Neni Panourgia in Anthropology, Kenneth Frampton in Architecture, Stathis Gourgouris in Comparative Literature, Nadia Urbinati in Political Science, and Mark Mazower and Christine Philliou in History), as well as by many visiting scholars.

In 1992 the New York Greek community sponsored an adjunct language lecturer, who offered two extra courses per year. This meant the Program could add a much-needed language course directed to the specific needs of bilingual speakers, as well as a senior research seminar for students writing theses on Greek and Greek-American topics. Over the years the course for bilingual students has been taught on a variety of topics and by a wide range of talented adjunct faculty: Dan Georgakas (Film), Gail Holst-Warhaft (Music), Andreas Kalyvas (Political Philosophy), Ioanna Laliotou (History), Maria Leontsini (Sociology of Literature), Elena Tzelepis (Philosophy), and Vassiliki Yiakoumaki (Anthropology). By the mid-nineties our enrollments had reached an average of 70 undergraduates a year. In response to demand in 1995 we introduced a seminar on the Greek-American experience under the rubric of Columbia's Major Cultures requirement.

In 1996 we were able to secure a three-year promise to support a junior professorship in Modern Greek Studies from the Onassis Foundation and the Foundation for Hellenic Culture. The hiring of Marina Kotzamani enabled us to have two full time professors teaching language and literature. We expanded our seminar listings to include courses in Kotzamani's area of expertise: Modern Greek theater and cinema.

With two full-time faculty in Greek literature and language the program has flourished. The College officially approved a concentration and a special Pre-med concentration in Modern Greek Studies in the Spring of 2000. In 2004, Kotzamani accepted a position at the new University of Peloponnese in Nafplio. Our international search to replace her was successful. Vangelis Calotychos, whose special areas include Cyprus and the Balkans with a cultural studies focus on 19th and 20th century Greek prose and film joined our faculty in 2004. Calotychos brought with him strong administrative experience (at Harvard, NYU) and immediately set to work establishing a ‘Modern Greek Seminar,’ at the University Seminars’ Program and securing ties with the Harriman Institute and the Film School. In 2007, Stathis Gourgouris was jointly appointed as a full professor to the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society, the Department of English, and the Department of Classics. With the addition of faculty members such as Calotychos, Gourgouris as well as the arrival of Mark Mazower in the Department of History, Butler Library has increased its buying commitment in the areas of Modern Greek literature and history.

In the Columbia community, Modern Greek has become an example of how to integrate and learn from the presence of bilingual students as well as how to make lesser-recognized languages central to the undergraduate curriculum.Our program has also received national and international attention. In Modern Greek Studies circles in the United States, the Columbia program is a success story for three main reasons. First, compared to other equivalent institutions in the United States we have high undergraduate enrollments. Secondly, we have a very productive balance between heritage students and students of other backgrounds. In the past decade we have seen an increase in Asian-Americans, African-American and, more recently, Turkish, Bulgarian and Albanian students taking Greek. Lastly what distinguishes our program from other programs in the United States is our insistence on teaching upper level literature classes in the original Greek. While there has been a trend more generally in Modern Languages to move towards cultural studies courses taught in translation, we have sustained our commitment to language proficiency. More recently we have become an example internationally of how to integrate Modern Greek Studies into an interdisciplinary curriculum. We have presented our thoughts on program-building to European and Australian colleagues at various conferences. We have also helped shape the Greek University curriculum in Modern Greek Studies, serving on Greek Ministry of Education reviews (EPEAEK) and more recently as external examiners for tenure and department reviews for various Greek and Cypriot universities. Perhaps the most defining characteristic of the Program is in its ability to be a two-way street in which culture and curriculum are always going both ways from Greece to America and back again.

In addition to the academic program, we have also simultaneously organized a series of events directed to the Columbia community and the greater New York community. Over the years people have learned to look to Columbia as an important conduit for Greek and American cultural collaborations and a place where they have a chance to hear Greek scholars, writers, and other artists speak. Our faculty's ties with Greek and British universities and cultural institutions, as well as our fund-raising efforts have enabled a very high quality of public programming, often co-sponsored by other departments and institutes within the University, as well as by Greek Studies programs at Harvard, Princeton, Michigan, NYU, etc. or by Ministries or Foundations in Greece. Generous support has come from the Ministry of Culture, The Kostopoulos Foundation and the Ouranis Foundation, the Foundation for Hellenic Culture, the Niarchos Foundation, The Lucy Foundation, as well as, most substantially, the Onassis Foundation. Each year since 1988 we have offered six or more events, from literary readings to large scale interdisciplinary conferences (The Politics of Continuity: Ancient, Byzantine and Modern Greece, At the Margins of Europe: Greek and Irish Poetry, The Art and Politics of Elia Kazan, Dissenting Journalism in Greece and the US) to lectures such as the annual Kimon A. Doukas lecture on Diaspora, the Kyriakos Tsakopoulos Lecture on the Ancients and the Moderns, and performances such as readings by Olympia Dukakis and Olga Broumas. We have involved many writers and artists from Greece and the greater New York community in the work of the University by awarding semester and year-long fellowships and creating cross-disciplinary teaching opportunities for them.

For the future, we look forward to building toward a center, with our own budget, funds directed exclusively for graduate study across the university, and our own physical space on campus. With our University President interested in enlarging the faculty in the Humanities as well as the actual physical space of the University, the time is definitely right for such an initiative. We welcome your ideas and support!