Of American Expat Thanksgivings in Greece

I still remember my first Thanksgiving at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (the ASCSA or the School hereafter) in 1989. We had just returned from a ten-day trip through the Corinthia with Mr. Williams [Charles K. Williams, the Director of the Corinth Excavations], which also marked the end of the School’s fall program. We only had a few hours to rest and get ready for the big event: cocktails at 8 followed by dinner at 8.30. I had never seen Loring Hall so crowded and festive. Director William (Willy) Coulson and his wife Mary Lee were the hosts. Eight large tables filled the dining room; more were in the salonaki for families with young children. In later years as the numbers of guests increased, the party would take over the saloni for dinner and dancing afterwards.  

Thanksgiving 1989. From left to right: Ted Coulson, Willy and Mary Lee Coulson, Kevin Glowacki, and Nancy Klein. ASCSA Archives, Events Photographic Collection

I attended many of the School’s Thanksgivings, and these events were the source of many fond memories. When our son was born in 1999, we skipped the party but took him (then barely 6 months old) earlier in the day to see the roasted turkeys in Sakis’s kitchen. We eventually stopped going because of conflicts with our son’s schedule and our desire to start our own family tradition for the holiday.

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The Cretan Diaries of Colonel Émile-Honoré Destelle (1897-1898)

Following the Cretan revolt of 1896, six Great Powers (Austria-Hungary, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, and England) sent a squadron of warships to Crete in early 1897 to maintain the fragile peace between the Muslim and the Christian communities. France appointed Admiral Édouard Pottier (1839-1903) to lead her naval forces. The French division included Colonel Émile-Honoré Destelle (1856-1944), who brought previous experience in the colonies of New Calydonia and Madagascar. The Colonel disembarked on Crete in February of 1897 to supervise the administration of the eastern part of the island.

I would not have known about Destelle had I not come across the publication of his military diaries from 1897 and 1898 on a recent visit to the Historical Museum in Herakleion (a must for anyone visiting Crete). Edited by his grandson Jean-Pierre Destelle and translated into Greek by Emmanuela Tzedaki with a thorough commentary by Maria Sorou, and published by the Society of Cretan Historical Studies in 2018-2019, Destelle’s diaries document in great detail his administrative activities, as well as everyday life in East Crete just before the island was declared an autonomous state under the protection of the Great Powers. For me, after excavating and traveling in the regions of Siteia and Ierapetra for the past three decades, Destelle’s descriptions offered unique glimpses into Crete’s pre-industrial past. (The Destelle family maintains an excellent web page.)

Destelle’s diaries became my evening companion during my six weeks on Crete this summer, while participating in the Mochlos excavations.  I was digging a Hellenistic fort on the summit of Mochlos, trying to understand how it functioned and which city it served, and Destelle was describing the daily activities of an army camp in the same region more than a hundred years ago. I mined the pair of books for ethnographic information, especially communications, since transportation on Crete before the early 20th century was hardly any different from that of ancient times.   

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To Know One’s Country as a Foreign Land

I have always found informal travel accounts fascinating. By informal, I mean accounts found in personal diaries or letters. Occasionally, they are published posthumously by the writer’s relatives (usually for family consumption) and attract little attention because of their mundane nature. Until recently, such letters and diaries of anonymous folk were avoided by historians who considered their content subjective or inaccurate. After all, why use the private diary of an American expatriate in Greece as a source, when the event (e.g., a local revolution) was described in more detail in the newspapers or other official reports?

I, on the other hand, pay particular attention to these types of publications because they provide valuable information, otherwise undocumented, about the level of local awareness, participation or aloofness within foreign communities. Gilbert K. Chesterton (1874-1936), an English writer and philosopher, once said that “the whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land: it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” It’s the second part of Chesterton’s comment that makes me delve into the travel accounts of foreigners-mostly Americans in my case–who have experienced Greece as a foreign land. Here I am not interested in the tourist but instead the engaged traveler, the expatriate, or, in rare cases, the committed immigrant (that is the foreigner who has almost “gone native”).

My latest source of inspiration for getting “to know my country as a foreign land” is a privately published collection of letters which came to my attention after a visit to the newly established Archives of the American College of Greece. There, Dr. Demetra Papakonstantinou, an accomplished archaeologist who now serves as the College’s Archivist, graciously shared with me a copy of a book titled Odyssey of a Learning Teacher (Greece and the Near East 1924-1925). Published in 2005 by David L. Aronson, the book contains transcriptions of the letters that his mother, Charlotte Eleanor Ferguson, a graduate from Mount Holyoke College and a teacher at the American College for Girls (what is now Pierce College), sent to her family in 1924-25. (The original letters are now part of the American School of Greece Archives.)

Front cover photograph: Charlotte Ferguson and Helen Larrabee departing from New York.

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Schliemann’s Culinary Adventures in Italy

Heinrich Schliemann, a man of the world, ca. 1870. ASCSA Archives, Heinrich Schliemann Papers.

A day does not go by in the Archives of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA) without an inquiry about the Heinrich Schliemann Papers. More than one third of the collection has been digitized and made available for research online; still, these inquiries keep coming from all over the world, including destinations as remote as Japan and Cuba.  Though unquestionably a legendary figure, Schliemann’s popularity is largely due to the richness of his personal archive, which remains an inexhaustible source of information for a wide range of audiences: historians, archaeologists, fiction and non-fiction writers, even film producers. (I have written about Schliemann before [Schliemann of Troy: The Story of a Linguistic Genius] and have hosted two posts by Curtis Runnels [Who Went to Schliemann’s Wedding? and, “All Americans Must Be Trojans at Heart”: A Volunteer at Assos in 1881 Meets Heinrich Schliemann], the author of The Archaeology of Heinrich Schliemann: An Annotated Bibliographic Handlist [2007].)

To the rich list of books and articles that have been written about Schliemann I would like to add the recent publications by Umberto Pappalardo, who has been studying Schliemann’s activities in Napoli and on the island of Motya, and Massimo Cultraro’s new book with the sibylline title L’ ultimo sogno dello scopritore di Troia: Heinrich Schliemann e l’ Italia (1858-1890). Before them, in 2012, Elizabeth Shepherd published a comprehensive article about Schliemann’s wanderings in Italy in the fall/winter of 1875, especially his interest in the site of Populonia. Schliemann travelled to Italy seven times, first as a tourist (1858), and later, especially after the discovery of Troy (1871-1873), as a celebrity and potential excavator. He even drew his last breath in the streets of Naples one morning in December 1890. Yet, until recently, Schliemann’s Italian days remained understudied. Read the rest of this entry »


Touring the Balkans with the Ladies of Ploutarchou 9

Posted by Jack L. Davis

Jack L. Davis, Carl W. Blegen Professor of Greek Archaeology at the University of Cincinnati and a former director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (2007-2012), here writes about women travelling alone through the western Balkans in the late 1930s, on the eve of WW II.


The second half of the 19th century saw the advent of mass tourism in the Mediterranean and Balkans. Despite a few blips (e.g., the Dilessi Murders in 1870 that resulted in the death of three Englishmen and an Italian at the hands of brigands; J. Gennadius, Notes on the Recent Murders by Brigands in Greece), travellers could be reasonably certain of their personal safety. Their passage was also facilitated by travel brokers and books of advice for tourists.  Thomas Cook tours began in Greece in 1868. The Baedeker guide for Greece was published in 1889 while and Murray’s Handbook for Travellers in Greece was already in its 7th edition by 1880.

Group and individual tourism became ever more common and secure.  American students in Greece experienced violence only on three occasions. In 1872 John Williams White, first chairman of the Managing Committee of the ASCSA, was the target of an attempted kidnapping. In 1886 University of Michigan student Walter Miller was commissioned a captain in the Greek army, so that he could hunt down his assailants. Only once did lawlessness end in death, in 1925 when John Logan was shot in Aitolia by attackers who fired on members of the American and British schools, in an apparent case of misidentification (http://www.ascsa.edu.gr/pdf/uploads/ASCSA-1882-1942.pdf, p. 179).

Since the late 19th century trips for the students of the ASCSA had been institutionalized, with a Peloponnese and an island trip led by Wilhelm Dörpfeld.  The Peloponnese trip was considered too rough for women, although the first woman member of the School (1885-86), Annie Smith Peck, travelled extensively there with friends. Several of the School’s female students would also hire Angelis Kosmopoulos (foreman for many excavations, including Olympia and Corinth) and his son George (later the husband of Alice Leslie Walker), as guides for their travels throughout Greece.

The more northern reaches of the Balkans began to attract tourists, including women travellers, a bit later than Greece, and there was an explosion of women travel writers there and elsewhere in the late Victorian period (http://www.womeninworldhistory.com/essay-07-07.html).

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