“From ‘Warriors for the Fatherland’ to ‘Politics of Volunteerism’: Challenging the Institutional Habitus of American Archaeology in Greece.    

Disciplinary history is not a miraculous form of auto-analysis which straightens out the hidden quirks of communities of scholars  simply by airing them publicly. But it does force us to face the fact that our academic practices are historically constituted, and like all else, are bound to change.
Ian Morris, Archaeology as Cultural History, London 2000, p. 37.


Jack L. Davis. Created by Blank Project Design, 2020.

 “Archives may be even more important than our publications” said Jack L. Davis in his acceptance speech on January 4, 2020, at the Annual Meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) in Washington D.C.  Recognizing his outstanding career in Greek archaeology, the AIA awarded Davis, a professor of Classics at the University of Cincinnati and former Director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (and a frequent contributor to this blog), the Gold Medal Award for Distinguished Archaeological Achievement.  Earlier that day, in a symposium held in his honor, eight speakers highlighted Davis’s contributions to the field. Honored to be one of them, I presented a paper about a lesser known aspect of his career: his scholarship concerning the history and development of American Archaeology in Greece. An updated version of my paper follows below.

“Warriors for the Fatherland” (2000)

Jack Davis made his debut as an intellectual historian and historiographer in 2000 when he published “Warriors for the Fatherland: National Consciousness and Archaeology in ‘Barbarian’ Epirus and ‘Verdant’ Ionia, 1912-1922” (Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology 13:1, 2000, pp. 76-98).  Following “Warriors,” he published more than twenty essays of historiographical content in journals, collected volumes, and online platforms.  Today I have chosen to review the ones that, in my opinion, offered counter-narratives challenging the institutional habitus of American archaeology in Greece.

Allow me to spend a bit more time with this essay because it contains the seeds for Davis’s growth as an intellectual historian and the directions he followed afterwards. In it he discussed two cases of state-supported archaeology, challenging the processes by which notions of cultural identity had been shaped, as well as the role that archaeologists had played in the advancement of ahistorical claims in the lands of Epirus and Ionia.

In the case of Southern Albania, Davis argued that during its brief occupation by Greece in 1912-1913, the Greek State employed archaeology to claim age-old cultural ties with Greece. This was done by promoting the study of Byzantine monuments, by assisting in the Hellenization of local place-names, and by prioritizing the excavation of Hellenistic cemeteries. In Asia Minor, during the brief period from 1919 until 1922, the Greek state once again employed archaeology to support nationalist agendas. Like soldiers fighting for the liberation of the fatherland, Greek archaeologists were sent to Asia Minor to promote the cultural unity of the two sides of the Aegean by excavating ancient Greek and Byzantine sites. On the heels of the Archaeological Society, the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or School hereafter) also sent a team of archaeologists to excavate ancient Colophon, thus mixing science with political opportunism.

By revisiting cases where archaeologists had either consciously or subconsciously contributed to the promotion of nationalistic agendas, Davis was about to join a group of archaeologists and historians who actively sought to avoid repeating past mistakes in the future.

“It was a hard paper to get the right tone for. And it was then that I realized that the future lay in examining our role as foreigners, not that of Greeks and Greece,” Davis recently admitted.

“Warriors for the Fatherland” was initially submitted to Hesperia. The Publications Committee, however, did not think that Hesperia, which represents the School’s work in Greece, was the right place to publish an essay that criticized state-supported archaeology.

To be fair to the School’s concerns, let me remind you that the 1990s was a highly charged decade for Europe, the Balkans, and Greece in particular. For the first time in many decades Greece was facing issues of national identity: with the collapse of the Eastern Bloc hundreds of thousands of immigrants had entered Greece challenging the national and religious cohesion of the Greek state, while the re-appearance of the Macedonian Issue led millions of Greeks into street for rallies. Once again it was nation-building time for the Balkan Peninsula, and the American School having suffered from the intense anti-Americanism of the 1980s opted not to step out of its own policy of political neutrality, by publishing an article that criticized policies of the host country.

Davis also admitted that he benefited considerably from the comments of Hesperia’s anonymous reviewers that warned him of the dangers of presentism, and, most importantly, pointed out the absence of primary sources in his research.

“This was all new turf for me… I was coming at it from the wrong direction and was too emotionally involved. [Yannis] Hamilakis who was a Tytus [fellow] pushed me in the better direction. As did [Michalis] Fotiadis. I hadn’t found my voice when I wrote Warriors” Davis commented.

Yet “Warriors for the Fatherland” laid the foundations for Davis’s subsequent scholarship in historiography, which would focus exclusively on a critical examination of American archaeology in Greece; in order to do that, he embarked on an-in-depth study of the School’s institutional records.

“Politics of Archaeological Practice” (2003)

Davis published his next article in 2003. “A Foreign School of Archaeology and the Politics of Archaeological Practice: Anatolia, 1922” (Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology 16:2, 2003, pp. 145-172) is a long, well-researched article about the School’s excavations at Colophon, in the summer of 1922, in collaboration with Harvard’s Fogg Museum.  In it Davis was able to demonstrate how decisions made by key members of the School during the interwar period were still defining the practice of American archaeology in Greece at the dawn of the 21st century. When I asked him about this new turn in his intellectual pursuits, Jack told me: The key for me was institutional reproduction. In addition to having discovered the value of archival research, Davis had also been introduced to the work of French sociologist and anthropologist Pierre Bourdieu. Bourdieu’s notion of academic habitus, “the unwritten set of shared assumptions that constrain an institution’s choices and options and shape its policy” (“Politics of Archaeological Practice,” p. 13), would form the theoretical basis of Davis’s subsequent scholarship on institutional history.

In the first volume of the History of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (Cambridge, Mass. 1947), Louis E. Lord dedicated less than half a page to describe the Colophon excavations, focusing on factual information and avoiding any reference to the exportation of antiquities from Sardis, which occurred at the same time.  It was perhaps too soon for Lord, who wrote most of the School’s history during WW II, to evaluate the long lasting effects of the Colophon experiment. Davis’s scrupulous research into the School’s institutional records produced a new reading of the Colophon excavations, the aftermath of which would affect for decades the institutional policies of the American School.

Colophon 1922. From left to right: Benjamin Meritt, Franklin P. Johnson, Lulu Eldridge, Kenneth Scott, Leicester Holland, Hetty Goldman, and Carl Blegen. ASCSA Archives, Excavation Records, Colophon Excavations.

Having launched the School’s first endowment campaign in 1920, Edward Capps, who chaired the School’s Managing Committee from 1919 until 1939, relished the idea of a fresh excavation in the newly acquired Greek territories, and welcomed a partnership with Harvard’s Fogg Museum. He needed to create excitement in America through press releases, and Hetty Goldman, the director of the excavation, and her cousin Paul J. Sachs (1878-1965), director of the Fogg Museum, were part of the East Coast elite that Capps intended to tap for his campaign. With one drawback, however. This elite was willing to fund American archaeology abroad so long as antiquities from these ancient lands were available to enrich the collections of the American museums.

The New York Herald, May 21, 1922

Davis discovered that, while negotiating for Colophon, Capps and Bert Hodge Hill, the School’s director from 1906 to 1926, entered into discussions with the Greek administration in Izmir for the exportation of antiquities from Sardis to America.  It is probably not preposterous to say that if Greece had not lost the war in 1922, Capps and Goldman would have facilitated the exportation of antiquities from Colophon as well. As a result, the Turkish authorities, who were upset with the American School’s opportunism, denied its return to Colophon in 1923.

“…the High Commissioner [Aristeides Stergiades] will oppose no objection to the American excavators [of Sardis] transferring to Smyrna and exporting what they think wise and right. He could not issue a formal permit for their export; but would either just allow them to go, or –more probably– turn them officially to the care and disposal of the American Consul [George Horton],communicated Bert H. Hill to Edward Capps, April 28, 1922.

This unsuccessful experiment at Colophon led the American School on a change of course that would define American archaeology in Greece for several decades: a) it would restrict its operations within Greece’s geographical boundaries, unlike other foreign schools in Athens which continued to sponsor out-of-Greece projects; and b) it would concentrate all its resources, intellectual and financial, on two excavations: Ancient Corinth and Athenian Agora, thus becoming a center concerned almost exclusively with the study of Classical Greece and Rome. (The excavations at Lerna in the 1950s was the exception that proved the rule.)

From studying the aftermath of the Colophon excavations, it struck Davis that the American School he was looking at in the early 2000s had been shaped in the interwar period. In the last section of his article, titled “Towards a Reflexive History of Greek Archaeology,” Davis criticized the School for its “myopic vision that continued to foster and reproduce neocolonial stereotypes of Western Hellenism”; and called for a reconsideration of its current archaeological practices that would allow for “a series of other (and allegedly) lesser archaeologies” within Greece but also outside the Greek boundaries (pp. 163-166).

When I commented on the critical tone of the Colophon paper, Jack told me: “I am still amazed that the School appointed me as Director three years later. Could they have not read my paper?” I doubt it. His promotion to the helm of the American School shows that the School had (and has) the reflexes to fight academic habitus formations and resist dominant discourse.

“Birth of Hesperia” (2007)

Soon after the Colophon article, Davis had another opportunity to challenge institutional reproduction when he accepted an invitation by the then Editor of Hesperia, Tracey Cullen, to write an essay about the origins of the journal, as part of a celebratory volume for its 75th anniversary. “The Birth of Hesperia: A View from the Archives” appeared in 2007 (Hesperia 76, pp. 21-35) just as Davis was about to start his directorship at the American School.

“Birth of Hesperia was all about my reactions to my experiences when first on the Publication Committee… the priority system which put Agora and Corinth in first place, regardless of anything much. I wondered: Was this really the original vision of Hesperia? How had this happened, since it seemed to stifle creativity and diversity of ideas…Davis said.

Since published reports present policies as finally established, Davis embarked on further archival research to find “the debate and discussion that led to their creation” (p. 22).

First issue of Hesperia. (Note the mistake on the School’s logo: the School was founded in 1881, not in 1886. Click to enlarge.)

The creation of Hesperia in 1932 was a disruptive act by itself. Until then the School members used the American Journal of Archaeology to publish the results of their work in Greece. By launching Hesperia, Capps would cut the last remnants of the umbilical cord that once connected the School with the Archaeological Institute of America. Although original discussions between Capps and Rhys Carpenter, the School’s director 1927-1932, entertained the idea of also accepting “contributions from others,” and viewed the journal as a vehicle to elicit “criticism and suggestions from the ablest specialists,” Hesperia over the years, especially after WW II, increasingly confined publication rights only to present or past members of the School. That lasted until 1976. It also did not become a fully refereed journal until 1990, thus depriving the School’s projects from the benefit of criticism. Davis argued that, by having a limited scope for many decades, Hesperia played a role in insulating American Archaeology in Greece “from developments in world archaeology.”

“Politics of Volunteerism” (2013)

Davis continued to conduct research in the School’s institutional history during his directorship from 2007 to 2012. His article “The American School of Classical Studies and the Politics of Volunteerism” was part of a conference we organized together in 2011 and was published in 2013 (Hesperia 82, pp, 15-48). In Philhellenism, Philanthropy, or Political Convenience: American Archaeology in Greece we invited a broad spectrum of scholars to research the School’s Archives and present papers that examined American philhellenism in the first half of the 20th century; how it manifested itself and where it intercepted with philanthropy; the social capital it created, and how the School benefited from it.

“Politics of Volunteerism” reexamined another forgotten chapter in the School’s history: the relief-aid that its members, as part of the Greek Commission of the American Red Cross (ARC), offered to Greece in 1918-1919. Highly appreciated by the Greek State, it created substantial social capital for the School and allowed Capps to negotiate the land expropriation for the Gennadius Library and the concession for the Athenian Agora excavations.

Edward Capps (third from right) with the rest of the ARC Commissioners photographed outside the Director’s House at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 1919. Source: Chicago History Museum.

The School throughout its history never failed to respond to times of crisis: in 1923 Capps would establish the American Friends of Greece to seek U.S. support for Greece after the Asia Minor catastrophe, while his daughter Priscilla organized the Near East Industries offering work to hundreds of refugee women for many years. (On Priscilla Capps and the Near East Industries, read “Dollies and Doilies: Priscilla Capps Hill and the Refugee Crisis in Athens, 1922-1941.”)

Cloth tag seamed on the interior of an embroidered purse made in the 1930s. Source: Jack L. Davis Collection.

The culture of volunteerism that the School nurtured in its grounds continued during and after WW II.  But for all their commitment to Greece, most American archaeologists continued to keep Classical Greece on their right hand and Modern Greece on their left, thus reinforcing a polarization that lasted until the end of the 20th century reflecting Cold War realities: on the one hand, the U.S. needed institutions such as the School to reinforce American cultural values abroad, and, on the other, Greece needed projects such as the Agora excavations to remain part of the Western world.

“Politics of Volunteerism” is less critical than the Colophon article because by the time of its publication the School (2013) had already taken steps to expand its mission. A study of three of the School’s mission statements spanning three decades (1991, 2001, and 2008) document a series of institutional changes that took place in the early years of our century as a response to the “new world systems and global economies,” as well as to Greece’s new role in the enlarged European Union. Subtle changes, sometimes unnoticeable at first reading, such as by replacing “pre-Hellenic” with “earliest” times, “post-classical” with “present,” by prioritizing archaeology, art, and history over languages, or by adding “dissemination” next to “publication,” define the School’s new enlarged and multi-faceted scope, as it developed during the first decade of the 21st century.

ASCSA Mission Statements, 1991-2008

In this paper I attempted to map Jack Davis’s growth as an intellectual historian, as well as to re-contextualize some of his landmark essays concerning the School’s institutional development, by adding a new level of interpretation to his counter narratives. I am also taking the liberty to invite him to revisit the Colophon article in the context of the School’s current mission, appending a meta-reflexive history of American archaeology in Greece. Finally, anyone who doesn’t believe that there are lessons to be learned from delving into institutional history should start by reading Davis’s scholarship on this subject. Through this work he has inspired many others, including myself, to follow in his footsteps by tracing our present paths into the past.


“The haughty arrogance of the Nordic people”: A Scandal in the German Colony of Athens on the 20th of April 1935.

Posted by Alexandra Kankeleit

Alexandra Kankeleit here contributes an essay about an unknown episode, almost a scandal, which took place in 1935 in the German community of Athens and involved the local Catholic church and members of the German Archaeological Institute.  Alexandra, an archaeologist who specializes in the study of Roman mosaics, has also since 2016 been part of an extensive project of the German Archaeological Institute (Athens and Berlin), titled The History of the German Archaeological Institute at Athens during the National Socialist Era. As part of the project, she has examined a host of bibliographic and archival sources in both countries that document the activities of the German archaeologists in Greece from 1933 until 1944. A list of her most recent publications can be found on Alexandra’s own website.

A recently discovered episode from 1935 offers a striking picture of the predominant mood in the so-called “German Colony” in Athens following the National Socialist seizure of power in Germany. (“Deutsche Kolonie” was the official name of the German-speaking Community in Greece until the end of WWII.)  It illustrates in dramatic fashion what battlefronts were being drawn up at the time and what the representatives of the German Archaeological Institute at Athens (DAI Athen hereafter) saw as their role in this critical period.

I stumbled more or less by chance upon this incident while carrying out research at the Politisches Archiv des Auswärtigen Amtes (Political Archive of the Federal Foreign Office). The relevant documents are to be found in a folder that deals with the “Schwarze Front” (“Black Front”) in Greece, an underground organisation that was opposed to Hitler and his policies, and which was founded in 1930 by Otto Strasser (1897-1974), brother of the infamous Gregor Strasser (1892-1934). From 1934-1937 members of the “Schwarze Front” were based in Greece publishing illegal flyers and articles, and encouraging Germans living in Greece to turn away from Hitler. Read the rest of this entry »

The Man from Damascus, the Good Wife, and Baby Solon: R.I.P. at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens

ASCSA Library, 1902

ASCSA Library, 1902

“You enter a reception hall of marble and go up a flight of marble steps which give the effect of entering a museum, as there are marble busts and old sculptures round that have been dug up…” Major A. Winsor Weld wrote to his wife on October 26th, 1918, upon entering the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or School hereafter). He and six other officers of the American Red Cross including Lieutenant Colonel Edward Capps would live in the School’s premises until July of 1919. (At the time one entered the Library through the Director’s residence.) Although the ASCSA was already building a small collection of antiquities –mostly pottery sherds and other small objects picked up on walks and informal surveys– the antiquities Weld described are of a different scale. The busts he refers to must have been plaster casts of originals similar to the one displayed above the fireplace mantle in the Library in a photo from 1902. I believe that the other “old sculptures” on display, the ones that “have been dug up,” were three Roman marble funerary reliefs unearthed in 1894, at the corner of Vasilissis Sophias (then Kephissias) and Merlin (then Academy) street, exactly opposite the Palace (now the Greek Parliament), during the construction of a mansion by Charles Edward Prior Merlin (1850-1898). Named after one of Merlin’s French ancestors, the “Hôtel Merlin de Douai” has housed the French Embassy since 1896.

“Hôtel Merlin de Douai” (French Embassy at Athens)

The “Hôtel Merlin de Douai” (French Embassy at Athens)

“In digging for the foundations of the large house which Mr. C. Merlin, the well-known artist and photographer of Athens, is building at the corner of Academy and Kephissia Streets, the workmen came upon considerable remains of an ancient cemetery. At my suggestion Mr. Merlin made over to the American School the right of publishing these discoveries, and afterwards generously presented to the School three reliefs and one other inscribed stone, together with some smaller fragments. The finds were made in the autumn of 1894. Only a part of them came under my observation at the time; hence the description of the graves and their location rests in part upon the accounts of Mr. Merlin and his workmen” reported Thomas Dwight Goodell a year later (American Journal of Archaeology 10, 1895, pp. 469-479).

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Who Went to Schliemann’s Wedding?

Posted by Curtis Runnels

Curtis Runnels, Professor of Archaeology at Boston University, here contributes to From the Archivist’s Notebook a story about the accidental discovery of an original letter by Heinrich Schliemann at an Antiquarian Book Fair in Boston. The letter was found inside an old Greek-English lexicon that Runnels bought for his book collection.  In addition to doing fieldwork and publishing extensively on Palaeolithic archaeology in Greece, Runnels is also the author of The Archaeology of Heinrich Schliemann: An Annotated Bibliographic Handlist (Archaeological Institute of America; available also as an ebook from Virgo Books).

Experienced booksellers and collectors always look through old books that come into their possession to see what might have been left between the pages.  Some people make collections of their finds, which range from the curious to the valuable.  It can be an exciting business: almost anything may turn up in a book, from gold coins and paper money to love letters and flowers—even a strip of bacon (cooked or uncooked, one wonders).  It was a matter of habit, therefore, that induced me to leaf through an old Greek-English lexicon that I purchased last November at the Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair.  Of all the finds I have made in old books, this was perhaps the best: a letter written by Heinrich Schliemann.  It was tucked inside the first volume of A Lexicon of Modern Greek-English and English-Modern Greek by N. Contopoulos, which was published in two volumes in 1867 [volume 1] and 1869 [volume 2] in Smyrna by B. Tatikidou (vol. 1) or B. Tatikianou (vol. 2). Read the rest of this entry »

On Communism and Hellenism: An Archaeologist’s Perspective

Posted by Despina Lalaki

Despina Lalaki holds a PhD in Historical Sociology from the New School university while she currently teaches at the The New York City College of Technology-CUNY. The essay she contributed to ‘From the Archivist’s Notebook’ is largely an excerpt from her article “On the Social Construction of Hellenism: Cold War Narratives of Modernity, Development, and Democracy for Greece,” in The Journal of Historical Sociology, 25:4, 2012, pp. 552-577. Her essay draws inspiration from an unpublished manuscript by archaeologist Carl W. Blegen, titled “The United States and Greece” and written in 1946-1948.

Carl W. Blegen (1887-1971) is one of the most eminent archaeologists of the Greek Bronze Age. Nevertheless, he intimately knew Modern Greece, too. In 1910, at the age of twenty-three, he first visited the country as a student of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (hereafter ASCSA), and by the time of his death in 1971 he had made Greece his home and his final resting place, having experienced first hand the land and its people in the most troublesome moments of their modern history. In 1918, for instance, he participated in the Greek Commission of the American Red Cross, assisting with the repatriation and rehabilitation of thousands of refugees who during the war had been held as prisoners in Bulgaria. During WWII, he was recruited by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) to head the Greek desk of the Foreign Nationalities Branch (FNB) in Washington D.C., which was following European and Mediterranean ethnic groups living in the United States and recording their knowledge of political trends and conditions affecting their native lands.

April 1946: US Cultural Relations Attache Carl W. Blegan (R) and J. W. Foster standing in headquarters of the Allied Mission For Observing Greek Elections (AMFOGE). (Photo by Nat Farbman/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)

J. W. Foster (left) and Carl W. Blegen (right) standing at the headquarters of the Allied Mission for Observing the Greek Elections (AMFOGE), 1946. Photo by Nat Farbman. The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images/Ideal Image.

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“A Greek Author Travels to the Country of the New Myth”: The Voyage of Elias Venezis to America in 1949

This essay comprises the text of a talk that I presented in the Cotsen Hall auditorium of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA), April 9, 2013, at an evening devoted to novelist Elias Venezis, whose papers reside in the Archives of the Gennadius Library. The text was also published (in Greek ) in the “Athens Book Review,” in an issue dedicated to Venezis. Since my essay discusses two of Greece’s most important novelists’ impressions from their journeys to America, I thought that it also deserved to be published in English and be made available to an American audience (here, I must thank my friend and former colleague Stefanie Kennell for her wonderful translation). For half of my life I have studied and worked in a Greek-American environment; there interest lies in examining how foreigners (usually described as philhellenes) perceive(d) Greece, and it is rarely discussed, at least in the broader community of the American School, how Greeks experienced America at critical times, such as in the first decade following WW II. The two authors, Elias Venezis and Yiorgos Theotokas, traveled in America during the period of the Marshall plan and the beginning of the Cold War, just before strong anti-Americanism began developing in Greece. For both, the voyage to America was a journey to a mythical land — as implied by the title of this essay, which is drawn from the title of a talk (“Ένας Έλλην συγγραφεύς στη χώρα του νέου μύθου”) that Venezis delivered at the Greek American Cultural Institution in 1950, immediately after his return from America.

"The Thirties Generation" in 1963

“The Thirties Generation” in 1963

For those who are not familiar with Modern Greek Literature, I should also add a few remarks about the so-called literary “Generation of the Thirties.” As commonly employed, this term describes a group (all male) of novelists, poets, and artists, who came of age in the 1930s. These men continued to be very productive and influential in the following three decades, to the point that a myth with regenerative power was built around them, one that still aspires and inspires (Leontis 2013). Nobel-prize laureate poets Yiorgos Seferis and Odysseus Elytis, novelists Angelos Terzakis, Stratis Myrivilis, Elias Venezis and Yiorgos Theotokas, are some of the most accomplished and distinguished “members” of the “Generation of the Thirties.” The personal papers of most of them have been deposited in the Gennadius Library of the American School.

Elias Venezis

Elias Venezis

 In 2009, at an event devoted to Yiorgos Theotokas and the republication of his Essay on America, I was introduced to Greek travel literature about America. Theotokas was among the first writers of the so-called “Generation of the Thirties” who visited America a few years after the end of World War II. While taking receipt of Elias Venezis’s personal papers in 2010, I came upon the manuscript of Land of America and then, in discussions with the author’s daughter, Anna Venezi Kosmetatou, I was made aware of the fact that Venezis was actually the first of the famous “Generation of the Thirties” to travel to the U.S., in 1949.

Except for Theotokas’ Essay on America (Δοκίμιο για την Αμερική), which had the good fortune to be re-published a few years ago, travel writing of this type is difficult or impossible to find on the shelves of Athenian bookstores. When I looked for Land of America at a well-known bookstore in downtown Athens, clerks told me that it was the first time they had heard that Venezis had written a book of this sort. Perhaps this is because, in the age of globalization, trips to America have lost some of the magic and myth that used to surround them. Already in the 1970s, as Vassilis Lambropoulos writes, “with the spread of cinema and even more the advent of television in Greece, travel writing is losing its primary function and sparkle. The public does not need the guidance of an eyewitness to get to know foreign countries.”

Αμερικανική γη (Land of America) by Elias Venezis

Αμερικανική γη (Land of America) by Elias Venezis

Unlike the other writers and intellectuals who visited the U.S. in the 1950s and 1960s, Venezis began his long journey without the support of the American government. The famous program of cultural exchanges sponsored by the the U.S. Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948, popularly known as the Smith-Mundt Act, does not seem to have been implemented immediately in Greece. What is certain is that Elias Venezis and his wife either did not know about or did not expect American government support when they decided in the summer of 1949 to cross the Atlantic. On the opposite shore was Venezis’s brother, Thanos Mellos and his wife, the mezzo-soprano Eleni Nikolaidi, who had settled there just a year before.

Thanos Mellos wrote to his brother Elias and his wife on May 6, 1949, from New York: “I’ve told Elias that a place has been confirmed for his trip to America on a merchant ship that sails from a port in France. Perhaps there’s a way he can embark even from Greece. The trip won’t cost a cent. The steamship owner’s a friend of ours, and he’s offering it to us for free. You only have to get your papers ready, Elias, and send me a telegram.” Read the rest of this entry »