Saturday, September 27, 2008

Singular Antiquity 3: Mazower

In preparation for my review for BMCR, I individually review the essays in A Singular Antiquity: Archaeology and Hellenic Identity in Twentieth-Century Greece, ed. Dimitris Damaskos and Dimitris Plantzos (Athens, 2008). See related links below.

This posting is a review of Mark Mazower's, “Archaeology, Nationalism and the Land in Modern Greece” pp. 33-41.

The first essay in
Singular Antiquity is written by renown Modern Greek historian Mark Mazower, who looks at the role of land, soil and property as a register of cultural significance. Nationalism arose in the context of expanding or maintaining the territory of the nation-state and is ultimately connected to the land. Archaeology is another activity occurring within the soil and, as such, it directly grounds the present (and its territorial claims) with the past.

Mazower, however, refuses to accept the wholesale association between archaeology and nationalism, a trope "widely recognized" in recent scholarship and, frankly, the subject of the book. The continuum between nationalism and archaeology breaks down once we consider that, for the most part, land is privately owned in Greece. Of equal importance is the constantly shifting cultural paradigms across Greek history. Even within the 19th century, Bavarian and French neoclassicism cannot be equated with Romanticism. The latter, which flourished in the later part of the century, had emotive effect as its priority, and even welcomed into the canon, non-classical monuments such as picturesque mosques, Byzantine churches and modern peasants. In the 20th century, this ethnographic lens gave way to modernist formalism. Classical architecture was photographed in severe black-and-white contrast and any view of peasants was unfashionable. Mazower warns us that"the nature of the connection between archaeology and nationalism needs to be carefully specified" and placed in a precise historical framework.

Mazower seems turns the spotlight on the social role of scholars. Nationalism, Mazower argues, is not self evident but has been elevated into focus by a politically powerless scholarly community: "the appeal to nationalism can be construed as a legitimizing slogan by a scholarly community all too conscious of its own feeble standing in daily life rather than a self-evident truth of unstoppable force; all the more so as what is to be an archaeologist--sociologically, intellectually--changes so fast between 1830 adn 1950." (p. 34)

Finally, Mazower points out that archaeology as a practice has itself radically changed, moving towards an inclusiveness incompatible with older definitions. "Archaeology has changed enormously, even in the past thirty years. The spread of field surveys, industrial and ethno-archaeology and the boom in museology have diffused the discipline's offerings and led it to sponsor a much wider and more inclusive conception of the past than it once did. The political elite, having grown up on the ideology of eternal Greece, finds it hard to let go." (p. 39) Perhaps in my most extreme reading of this essay, I find evidence of scepticism. My suspicion is that Mazower distrusts the current scholarship on nationalism/archaeology for failing to particularize historical variation. And I think it is true, when modern historians talk about archaeology they rely on an antiquated view of the discipline.

Mazower's essay is enlightening in its nuanced readings of historical periods and in its critique of the subject in general. Mazower is arguablythe most important living American historian of Modern Greece.
Inside Hitler's Greece: The Experience of Occupation, 1941-44 (New Haven, 1993) should be mandatory reading for all students of Greece. My personal new favorite is an edited volume, After the War Was Over: Reconstructing the Family, Nation, and State in Greece, 1943-1960 (Princeton, 2000), which deals with the effects of the Civil War. Unlike other books dealing with the military and political dimension of the war, this volume specifically addresses aspects of social life. Mazower is a prolific writer. His Salonica, City of Ghosts: Christians, Muslims and Jews 1430-1950 (New York, 2006) was greatly received even by a general audience. The same could be said for his earlier study, Dark Continent: Europe's Twentieth Century (New York, 2000). For me, Mazower shines best in his less general works where a critical edge is evident.

For additional reviews from Singular Antiquity, see here.

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Kostis Kourelis

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