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Greece and Spain:
Parallel Histories at the Margins of Europe?

The aim of this research group is to seek a deeper understanding of the analogies, common patterns and converging elements between Greece and Spain, in contrast to current academic trends, which argue for the paramount importance of national particularities and cultural exceptionalisms. By engaging scholars from different departments and disciplines we further aim to increase the interdisciplinary ties and cross-curricular activities within the University and to provide a model for a comparative, or rather, cross-national historical approach that covers an extended chronotopical area.   

The Greek-Spanish group will meet on a monthly basis with a presentation on methodological issues concerning comparative history by one of its members that will be followed by discussion. Participants will include members of the following departments: Classics, Hispanic Studies, Watson Institute, Comparative Literature, Philosophy, and History . The meetings will be open to interested undergraduates who are currently enrolled in courses of the Modern Greek Studies and the Hispanic Studies curricula, as well as to the general Brown community. To enhance and facilitate collaboration between the members of the research group a special site will be created under MyCourses. Materials, special dates and handouts will be posted in advance so that all participating members have the opportunity to prepare in advance for the meetings. An application has been submitted that would enable the group to design the conference webpage and facilitate collaboration and exchange of information between the members.

External participants include Professors Edward Malefakis (Columbia), Stathis Kalyvas (Yale), Chris Livanos (Wisconsin-Madison), Thanasis Sfikas (University of Ioannina) and Enric Ucelay da Cal (Autonoma de Barcelona). At the end of the conference contributors will be asked to submit their papers in the form of articles for publication in order to compile a comprehensive volume on the above subject matter.

Additionally, screenings of interrelated Greek and Spanish movies, followed by discussion, are scheduled on 10-12 November. The screenings will occur within the framework of established credit courses in History and Modern Greek Studies and will be open to the public. A follow-up event to the conference will be a speech by Prof. Gerasimos Moschonas (Princeton University) on the “Success stories of the socialist parties of Greece (PASOK, 1981-2004) and Spain (PSOE, 1982-2008)” in early December 2008. Finally, at a later date Prof. Engin Akarli (History) will talk on the usefulness of comparative history and the longue-durée issues concerning Southern Europe.

Specific Parameters of Comparison

The longue–durée approach suggests that a comparison will be useful beyond the nation-state structure of the contemporary period, in times in which national consciousness was more fluid than consolidated. Starting from the middle ages, the project sets out to surpass the imaginary line between the Byzantine world and its western counterparts, arguing for cultural transfers and common developments ever since the 13th century, despite cultural and socio-political barriers.

The first comparative component, the medieval one, deals with the contact zones between the Spanish and Byzantine worlds. What are the common denominators between the epic poetry of the Middle Ages, including the depiction of the legendary figures of Dhighenis Akritas and El Cid, who were famously fending off alien invaders? What was the effect of the Almogavar invasion of Greece in the 14th century and what is the legacy of the Catalan presence in Athens? 1492 is a key year, since it marks the expulsion of the Spanish Sephardim Jews, a great number of whom found refuge in Salonica. The interaction between the Spanish past and the Ottoman present, as well as the itinerary of this powerful community throughout the centuries is of particular interest, especially with regard to its political, social and cultural aspects. The massive deportation and annihilation of the Sephardic Jews of Salonica by the Nazis during WW II (1943) and the role the Spanish state in granting them passports to freedom is another issue that requires attention.  A key figure connecting the two peninsulas is of course Domenicos Theotokopoulos, more widely known as “El Greco”. As part of the attempt to place him within a wider historical context we seek to look into issues pertaining to the nature of the channels of communication between the Cretan Renaissance and the Spanish “Golden Age” as well as to the type of networks which operated throughout the Mediterranean sea, connecting its opposite poles in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. The emergence of the modern era and the creation of the Modern Greek State brings us to the issue of the reception of Spanish literature in Greece and vice versa, including the publication and critical reading of classical texts. In particular, what was the impact of the “irreverent” Emmanuel Roidis or Nikos Kazantzakis on Catholic Spain, and later on, what was the impact of Federico García Lorca on inter-war Greece? What can be said about the translation and reception of literary works in the respective countries?

In political terms, the almost synchronic authoritarian turn of the two countries in 1936 invites further comparisons. What were the similarities and differences between the Spanish and Greek civil wars and their aftermaths? Issues of political violence, state repression and censorship are of great interest, starting with Metaxas and coming to a head with the Greek Colonels in 1967 – a fact that brought Greece closer to Spain “spiritually”, according to Franco’s right-hand man Admiral Carrero Blanco. The similar ways in which the two regimes tried to ‘liberalize’ from within, the role of the exiled Communist Parties as well as the reaction of the civil society and especially the students, invite yet another comparison. What was the role and mutual influence of cinema, theatre and literature and what were the common points of reference in terms of defiance, including cross-references such as Panagoulis and La Pasionaria, Saura and Gavras? What was the stance of the Orthodox compared to the Catholic Church? Finally, the two countries’ transition to democracy in the 1970s, the emergence of socialist governments and their European integration in the early 1980s constitute another common trajectory that invites comparison.

By seeking to trace common denominators in the Greek and Spanish thought, literature and history, this research group and its activities will aim to contribute to the deepening of the research on the two countries on a comparative level. By analyzing their similarities and differences it sets out to enhance not only the understanding of the two countries’ distinct and asymmetric developments but of the macro-historical evolution of the entire Mediterranean area.

Selected Bibliography

Filippis Dimitris E., 1936. Greece and Spain, Athens 2007.

Green Nancy L., ‘Forms of Comparison’ in Deborah Cohen & Maura O’Connor (eds), Comparison and History. Europe in cross-national perspective, New York & London 2004, Haupt Heinz-Gerhard, ‘Comparative history – A contested method’, in Historisk Tidskrift, 2007,127, 4, 697-716.

Kalyvas Stathis, ‘How not to Compare Civil Wars: Greece and Spain’, in Martin Baumeister & Stefanie Schüler-Springorum (eds.), The Spanish Civil War in the Age of Total War. Chicago, 2008 (forthcoming).

Malefakis Edward, Southern Europe in the 19th and 20th Centuries: An Historical Overview, 41-56.Working Paper, Instituto Juan March, 1992/35, January 1992. 

Werner Michael & Zimmermann Bénédicte, Beyond Comparison: Histoire croisée and the challenge of reflexivity, in History and Theory 45 (1), 30–50.


For information on the November 2008 conference, click here.