Monday, September 19, 2016


During this last year, I have been energized by the conversations over archaeological responses to the recent refugee and migrant camps in Greece. There is a rich tradition of an archaeological discipline, from Janet Okely's Roma camps in England (1975) to Jason De León s Undocumented Migration Project  in the Arizona-Mexico desert (2009). The conversation in Greece began in April, with the Archaeological Dialogues plenary session in Lesvos (see, The Nation). It will continue at the American Anthropological Association meetings in Minneapolis this November with two panels devoted to the Contemporary Archaeologies of Forced and Undocumented Migration as well as in January at the annual meetings of the Society of Historical Archaeology at Fort Worth. 

Struggling to organize my own thoughts and practices around this topic has resulted into a number of ideas. One of them, has been the realization that we need to do a lot more fieldwork-based archaeology (as opposed to the theoretical-based archaeology that also needs to be done in tandem). 

Few countries have the quantity of refugee settlements that Greece has historically had. Anthoula Karamouzi (1999) drafted a catalog of refugee sites in Greece and it numbers to the 3,000s. We tend to think of the Asia Minor refugees because of their demographic impact (2,089 new villages built by the Refugee Resettlement Commission) but we forget the refugees of earlier centuries like the encampment of African slaves under the Acropolis in the 18th century. In spite of the great quantity of refugee sites in the history of Greece, few of them have been approached archaeologically (as far as I know). I would argue that in order to build a hefty archaeology of the contemporary crisis, we also need to work on the foundations of historical crises.

So, I ask myself this question. What is the one refugee camp of historical significance that I would excavate first. This last summer, I had a wonderful conversation with Thomas Gallant to discuss our two projects on deserted villages (his in Kefalonia and Andros; mine in Lidoriki). The conversation also centered around the 1897 Greek-Turkish war and its archaeology. Tom has argued in his Edinburgh History of the Greeks 1768-1913 and elsewhere that we need consider the 1893 Greek bankruptcy and the 1897 failed war with Turkey as watershed moments in modern history. Tom has called for a carefully study of the 1897 battle lines in Thessaly.

In this thrilling conversation (over delicious fresh fish and wine in Pangrati), we started talking about the site of Washingtonia, in the Corinthia, as another ideal place to excavate. And this brings me back to the question of refugee sites. The first documented refugee site in Greece was built by the American activist Samuel Gridley Howe in 1829 at modern day Hexamilia. He named it Washingtonia. In his letters, we have a clear and detailed description of the architectural character of this site. During the 1990s, Timothy E. Gregory surveyed the area during the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey, finding no overground elements (see discussion here). Guy Sanders, director of the Ancient Corinth Excavations has also explored the site (see discussion here). Between Gallant, Gregory, Sanders, as well as Lita Gregory, Bill Caraher, David Pettergrew, and Dimitri Nakassis, I am sure the boundaries of a trench would easily emerge.

Howe described Washingtonia in his letters (edited posthumously by his daughter). The description provides clear parameters of what this excavation should look for. Definitely not traditional masonry walls, but obviously the shadows of ephemeral architecture, huts made of wood.

"I selected twenty-six families from Sico, Aivali, and Athens brought the men herewith me, in a few days put up some huts, and then transported their families here. They were all then employed in cultivating the earth. I procured about two hundred of the poor who were wandering about Corinth in idleness, and began building huts for the colonists. I determined to give each family a house, or hut as you would call it and as the foundations and the fallen walls [of a former village] remained, and since the earth mixed with water makes mortar, there was little that could not be done by the poor. They make the mortar, ring the stones, cut and bring the wood, and are paid [p. 354] merely as much bread as they can live up… When I say ‘doors,’ however, you must not imagine panels, hinges, latches,, locks, etc. There is not a particle of iron about them except nails, and perhaps I cannot give you a more correct idea of the economy and even saving we use than by describing one of them. It is composed of three boards, six feet in length, nailed together, and having an upright stanchion attached. Each end of this stanchion is pointed, and it is set into a hole mortised in the door-frame above and below. This serves for hinge. This door stands open in summer, and when closed is fastened by a wooden bar which shoves into a hole in the wall by its side. [p. 355]"

In 2015, Todd Brenningmeyer and I had the pleasure of surveying the deserted village of Penteskouphi with James Herbst and a gropu of wonderful undergraduate students from F&M and Maryville (picture above). Sanders presented his ongoing analysis of this mud-brick village at the Deserted Village panel of the Archaeological Institute of American 2016 meetings in San Francicso. While presenting this survey at a conference on the Ludlow Massacre at San Francisco State, I had the most amazing experience. A gentleman in the audience came to me after my talk and told me that his father was assassinated during the Greek Civil War. His father was abducted from Hexamilia (the site of Washingtonia), killed, and the body was dumped in Penteskouphi, but has never been found. Could the work in Penteskouphi be integrated with Hexamilia? 

Over the summer, I have been doing more research on the archaeology of Greek immigration. In the 1820s, Greek Philhellenism was centered in Boston (e.g. Howe) and Philadelphia. What I only recently discovered was that Howe went to Brown University in Rhode Island (where Yannis Hamilakis is now teaching). Brown's flagpole is dedicated to Howe and most amazingly, it was paid by the American Hellenic. The base of the flagpole has the shape of a Doric capital (see here). Also note that there is a brand new biography of Julia Howe (Samuel's wife) by Elaine Showalter that should nicely complement the 2012 Howe biography by James Trent. Howe's Papers are not at Brown, unfortunately, but at Harvard.


Gallant, Thomas. 2015. The Edinburgh History of the Greeks, 1768 to 1913: The Long Nineteenth Century, Edingurgh: Edinburgh University

Gregory, Timothy E. 2007. “Contrasting Impressions of Land Use in Early Modern Greece: The Eastern Corinthia and Kythera,” in Between Venice and Istanbul: Colonial Landscapes in Early Modern Greece (Hesperia Supplements 40), ed. Syriol Davies and Jack Davis, pp. 173-198, Princeton: American School of Classical Studies at Athens.

Howe, Samuel Gridley. 1906. Letters and Journals of Samuel Gridley Howe: The Greek Revolution, ed. Laura E. Richards, Boston: Dunn, Estes, and Co.

Sanders, Guy D. R. 2013. “Landlords and Tenants: Sharecroppers and Subsistence Farming in Corinthian Historical Context,” in Corinth in Contrast: Studies in Inequality, ed. Steven J. Friesen, Sarah James, Daniel Schowalter, pp. 103-125, Leiden: Brill

Showalter, Elaine. 2016. The Civil Wars of Julia Ward Howe: A Biography, New York: Simon Schuster.

Trent, James W., Jr. 2012. The Manliest Man: Samuel G. Howe and the Contours of Nineteenth-Century American Reform, Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press

1 comment:

Jim Wright said...

Kostis, Why not go to Hexamilia and sit in kapheneia till you find the oldest residents? Then interview them to see if anyone knows where the oldest houses are in the area, while pressing questions about Ουάσιγκτονια? Jim Wright

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States