This summer I decided to devote time into putting some order to the pool of Greek American articles, magazines, newsletters, pamphlets, posters, postcards, photographs, brochures, newspapers, community publications, catalogues, LPs, CDs, letters, announcements, and notes I have been accumulating through decades of research. This personal archive of largely public documents covers the recent past between the early 1990s, when I started graduate work, up to 2010 or so, when I started e-filing most of the relevant resources.
The sheer immensity of sorting through pile after pile of paper dwarfs me. Even this relatively small-scale archive looms as an overwhelming task. It does not help that I have no training as an archivist. I cannot devote myself full-time to this ordering either, as summertime is the time of the year calling for reading and writing.
But I persist toiling through amateurish methods. To add a layer of ordering I have even created the website Archiving Greek America featuring selective documents (https://wordpress.com/stats/day/archivinggreekamerica.home.blog).
The site provides motivation and meaning in turning a journey of private collecting into an act of public sharing. It is fulfilling to know that I contribute, albeit in a tiny way, to a larger archival project gaining momentum in Greek America.
Numerous archival initiatives, some funded by international foundations, others by prestigious national organizations, and some by local communities, are in full swing in Greek America. This institutional recognition of the value of the archive and the willingness to invest resources for digitizing it is gaining momentum, expanding and enhancing its public visibility. It preciously adds to the vast–and largely underresearched–available archive (www.mgsa.org/Resources/gkam.html).
Sorting through my documents has been far from a mechanical enterprise of neat arrangements. Like any archaeological excavation my delving into the disorganized, I admit, microcosm of paper chaos, holds the prospect of exhilarating findings. The randomness in the order in which some documents appear next to each other produce all sorts of delights (but also frustrating realizations). An editorial declaring pride in ethnic success next to an issue of a valuable magazine now defunct, unable to sustain itself. A document whose existence I had forgotten and so relevant to my current writings. Contradictions abound. Serendipity stretches itself in triumph. Unexpected connections call attention out of random juxtapositions.
The excavation of this material proves productive for bringing into fuller view several contours of Greek America, for making discernible some uncommon linkages.
I trace one contour along the lines of several magazines that left a considerable public imprint before receding from public view, morphing into something else, or ceasing to exist.
Another contour is barely perceptible, dotted by fragmented traces of conversations framed by volumes of silence. We know little if anything at all about the reasons why a cultural initiative which incited interest among some failed to animate interest among others, eventually fading away from contemporary concerns.
Yet another contour points to a well-marked line of interests that continues to make headlines in the popular media.
Through the practice of archiving, a seemingly amorphous terrain starts taking shape into a cultural space crisscrossed by identifiable continuities, recognizable shifts, or perceptible ruptures. And still, it feeds the imagination with a multitude of unknown recesses, unexplored areas, unrecognized resonances. Also, other angles and terrains that escape me.
My archive asserts a presence while making visible, alarmingly so, a gaping absence. I am overwhelmed by the realization, once again, that these documents (scattered but available in the public record) remain largely unexamined. For a substantial volume, if not for all, of this cultural network, there is absolutely no analysis; no scholarship; no public discussion. Consequently, there is no understanding of the processes through which certain projects gained prominence while others faded away.
I return home from the office late at night, blanketed with a sense of dejection. Inevitably, or so it seems. Once again, the urgency to animate the archive presses itself.
To animate an archive, like any past, is to infuse it with another life: study it, circulate the findings, identify its contemporary significance, challenge and inspire researchers, contribute to cultural understanding. It is about linking the archive with the making of books, dissertations, articles, essays, reviews, blogs, commentaries, and documentaries that frame and reframe its significance.
Several dedicated archival activists, academics, researchers, and public intellectuals work intensely and intensively as we speak to materialize these linkages.
But it is not a secret, we all in the field of Greek American studies know what is missing. The critical mass of human resources necessary to fill the multiple gaps, to chart the multiplicity of connections in the record is not (yet?) available.
Perhaps this is what defines the experience of doing Greek American studies, a field that finds itself in lack of cultural and material capital. (Relative lack in some quarters, dire lack in others.) Practicing this field cultivates a heightened consciousness of incompleteness, a partiality in tension. On the one hand, the condition of an underresearched archive feeds the feeling of expansive prospects. On the other hand, the reality of resource scarcity, both material and human is limiting. In turn, it drives the urgent obligation to keep cultivating the archive for greater relevance, for the sheer determination not to allow it to wither; not to allow the displacement or silencing of certain histories and knowledges.
And hence the productive tension residing in the coexistence between opening prospects and limiting aspects, offering, for me, an ethical and political purpose that makes the dust of the archive and the thrust of achieving its animation a well worthwhile project.
June 6-8, 2019