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  • Genres of Recollection: Archival Poetics and Modern Greece
  • Nicholas Doumanis
Penelope Papailias , Genres of Recollection: Archival Poetics and Modern Greece. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. 2005. Pp. xvi + 301. Paper $28.95

Most professional historians continue to think they have a monopoly on historiography. The success of such academically respectable journals as The Public Historian and Public History Review, as well as well-subscribed university programs in public history constitute belated academic recognition that historiography is a much broader societal phenomenon. The history sections of bookshops in Greece contain many "popular" histories by authors with no university attachment as well as the published memoirs of ordinary folk containing personal experiences of extraordinary "historical" times. Municipal libraries all over Greece are full of [End Page 141] locally-produced books that proudly demonstrate how the events in the locality contributed to the defeat of the Ottomans in 1821 or to the defeat of Hitler and the end of the Axis occupation during the Second World War.

The growth of popular interest in history and the writing of history is a global phenomenon, and historians such as David Lowenthal and Raphael Samuel have commented extensively on it. In Genres of Collection: Archival Poetics and Modern Greece, Penelope Papailias demonstrates how non-academic archiving and historiography can also be very fertile sources for ethnographic analysis. The book heralds a promising new series that sets special store in making sense of the form and content of historical imagination around the world. Papailias's specific aims are to show how the past is culturally mediated within various sections of Greek society and how this mediation reproduces and reifies social and political categories. She has a special interest in why non-government organizations and individuals outside the academy have engaged with the past. She also points to the great variety of ways in which ordinary people interpret, think with, and deploy historical knowledge. Nationalist readings of Greek history retain a dominant position in public consciousness, but Papailias shows there is always a vast range of vernacular voices that problematize any standard line, and they can be found everywhere in Greek society.

The body of this work comprises four quite different types of non-academic "recollecting," each of which has quite consciously sought to redress deficiencies in mainstream readings of the past. The first deals with amateur historians in Volos, focusing particularly on what makes them write local histories and how they have negotiated the "symbolic violence" of academic historiography. Throughout Greece one will encounter amateur history and philological associations whose members, for the love of scholarship, dedicate their spare time to publishing books and articles in journals such as Kritika Chronika, and Kalymniaka Chronika, just to name two of many. Academic historians have expressed dismay at the lack of interest in academic theory and method in such works, to which amateur historians in Volos respond by denying they are historians at all. And yet, as ardent empiricists, they feel validated as practitioners of history because of their greater intimacy with their archive. Papailias's main interest here is in the political and social claims being made through the production of local histories, particularly the attempt by local moneyed elites to promote nostalgia for a time when Volos was a thriving commercial center. Local historiography is a very revealing window on local interests in competition and Papailias shows how one group in particular has managed to promote its own vision of Volos's history.

In the second case study Papailias discusses the research-oriented Centre for Asia Minor Studies in Athens whose key documentary collection is essentially an archive of counter-memories. Papailias devotes special attention to its large oral history collection, which consists of roughly 5000 interviews with Asia Minor, Pontic, and East Thracian refugees. The Centre's founder, Melpo Merlier, set out to create an archive that would preserve memories of a world in which Christians and Muslims coexisted in relative harmony. Teams of transcribers were sent into refugee neighborhoods and villages, particularly during the 1950s and 1960s, to [End Page 142] record eyewitness accounts of everyday life in the Ottoman Empire and to write down stories of expulsion. Papailias examines the nature of the...


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