- Between Venice and Istanbul: Colonial Landscapes in Early Modern Greece ed. by Siriol Davies, Jack L. Davis
The Greek countryside is speckled with grand monuments testifying to the robust activities of two colonizing forces emanating from Venice and Istanbul. In spite of their [End Page 199] creators, these landmarks have been embraced by the popular imagination as Greek and have aided the conversion of historical time into experiential space (Mackridge 1992). Some of Modern Greece’s greatest declarations of national pride have been uttered, for instance, from the walls of Venetian Nauplion or the towers of Ottoman Thessaloniki. The nation state has conveniently glossed over the colonial origins of the Modern Greek countryside by collapsing all its manifestations into a narrative of Greek resilience. The anachronistic subsuming of colonialist pasts into nationalist resistance conceals the instrumental role played by Venice and Istanbul in structuring the nation’s lived spaces and aesthetic experiences. The archaeology of the early modern period thus aspires to revise myths constructed by early text historians and uncouple the discipline of archaeology from its presumed ancient (archaeo) subject. After all, Greek archaeology seeks the lustrous visualization of distant pasts, the heroic places of Homer, Plato, and Alexander, rather than the traumas of recent history. Between Venice and Istanbul fills an important scholarly lacuna in the early modern period, which in spite of its temporal proximity to the present remains a “dark age” in many respects. Did Greece experience a climatic catastrophe, known as the “little ice age”? How and why were the late medieval settlements abandoned, while new villages were founded? By what agency did such fundamental shifts occur in the Greek landscape? Between Venice and Istanbul tackles questions of colonial agency, strategies and tactics, imagined communities, subaltern subjects, hegemony, and resistance. All contributors directly engage primary sources and methodological hurdles; by a shared commitment to empiricist problem solving, they shun solipsistic theorizing.
Early modern material culture became the subject of official investigation rather late in Greek scholarship through Georgios Lampakis’s Christian Archaeological Society in 1884 and Nikolaos Politis’s Folklore Society in 1909. Although pioneering for their time, the archaeology of the former and the ethnology of the latter were burdened by a central over-arching agenda: to prove ethnic continuity. The concern over “Greekness,” we must remember, arose from the combative arena of Western European scholarship that used cultural Hellenism to justify domination over the spoils of a deteriorating Ottoman Empire. Nationalism and colonialism even crypto-colonialism represent two sides of a single academic coin. An abundance of surviving textual sources from 1500 to 1800 differentiates these three centuries from earlier and later ones. The mechanisms of colonial bureaucracy that dominated Greece produced a plethora of administrative records. Despite the availability of textual sources, this period has slipped through the cracks of two adjacent great epochs. Turkish historiography, on the one hand, has weighed its attention on the era of Ottoman conquest and expansion— the fifteenth century—rather than the fragmentation and ultimate collapse of the late empire. Greek historiography, on the other hand, has placed its attention on the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, where seeds of revolution and ethno-genesis are evident. The seventeenth century falls between the two national scholarly traditions. Ironically, we know more about Periclean than pre-revolutionary Athens. This is a serious problem, since the seventeenth century is the critical hinge of economic, demographic, cultural, and environmental transition into modernity.
One naturally asks, what makes the contributors of this volume immune to the traditional blind spots of historiography? The answer is simple. Two thirds of the authors are archaeologists, while the remaining third are historians who have [End Page 200] collaborated with archaeologists. Collectively, the authors represent the maturity of a discipline, the archaeological regional survey that was born in the 1970s. The field of landscape archaeology, a distinctly Anglo-American positivist discipline, has escaped the attention of textual historians. This...