Global Mediterranean: Human Encounters and Cultural Exchange

May 29, 2019

Julie Clack

“As a cultural ideal and as a modern polity, Greece figures prominently in critical global processes,” said Nikos Michailidis, lecturer in the Stanley J. Seeger '52 Center for Hellenic Studies and the Department of Anthropology. “From the formation of the nation-state to globalization and the current financial and political crisis in Europe, the people of Greece are in the center of international developments, engaging the world in diverse ways.”

This spring, Michailidis taught a course titled “Global Mediterranean: Human Encounters and Cultural Exchange.” 

The class, cross-listed in Hellenic studies and anthropology, explored cultural and material exchanges between Greeks and the world in modern times.

Drawing from a broad range of interdisciplinary texts, students analyzed issues such as conceptualizations of cosmopolitanism, mobility, borders and migration, meaning and human exchange, identity, sociocultural transformation, colonialism and globalization, ownership of antiquities, travel and writing, urbanism and modernity, and the human relationship with the sea. 

“We tried to approach and analyze global problems through the local Greek experience,” said Michailidis. “It is really fascinating to see how a small country and society can speak to global issues and provoke fruitful discussions.”

Over spring break, the students, who came from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds, visited Athens for in situ explorations of relevant course themes. The group visited ancient and modern sites, learned how to dance traditional Greek dances, and attended several events at the Princeton Athens Center:  lectures by Aimee Placas and Yiannis Aisopos, a concert with ancient Greek lyre, and a presentation by Yorgis Yerolymbos, a Greek artist-photographer. 

Students posing on rocky shore

Returning from Athens to Princeton, and as a capstone to the trip, each student prepared a short presentation on the aspects of their experience that interested them personally. The topics ranged from the Parthenon marbles to photography and graffiti to the Greek diet. 

Sophomore Kavya Chaturvedi was struck by how the Acropolis Museum was curated to make a statement about the British Museum owning the Elgin marbles, particularly in how its displays cultivated sentiment about what their absence means in Greece.

Junior Brad Spicher, the class’ designated photographer, was struck by the ways different neighborhoods in Athens were lit, with bright white lights strung over heavily-trafficked tourist areas or warm yellow lights in residential neighborhoods like the Pangrati neighborhood, where the Princeton Athens Center is located.

While the students’ interests were diverse, the experience was impactful for everyone. “I actually changed my major to art and archeology because the trip inspired me to study history through a material lens,” said sophomore Daniel Bracho.

People around table, watching presentation on screen

“Our travel and experiences in Greece helped students realize that there is a whole different world out there worth exploring by seriously engaging with it,” said Michailidis. “Moving out of campus, even for a week, deeply enriched the pedagogical experience for all of us.”

“Year in, year out, thanks to the Erric B. Kertsikoff Fund for Hellenic Studies, we are able to offer these unique onsite learning opportunities in Greece,” said Dimitri Gondicas, the director of the Seeger Center. “The very title of this course, ‘Human encounters and cultural exchange’ is at the core of our teaching mission.”