‘Official Voices, Minority Choices’: Re-visiting Interactions of Ethnic Communities with Dominant Archaeological Narratives

Organisers Kalliopi Fouseki (University College London) and Eleni Vomvyla (University College London)
Emails Kalliopi.Fouseki@ucl.ac.uk, E.Vomvyla@ucl.ac.uk

The relationship of ‘ethnic minorities’ (both immigrants and those born in the host country) with the archaeological heritage of ‘dominant’ groups has been investigated to a great extent by a variety of disciplines such as heritage studies, anthropology and cultural studies. Current research has mainly focused on unveiling ways and processes in which disenfranchised and/or oppressed ethnic groups distance themselves from or resist against ‘authorized’ archaeological discourses (Smith 2006). Yet, the multiple strands and facets of this, albeit non-holistically, treated relationship are to be explored. It is the aim of this session to re-conceptualize the interactions of ethnic communities with their own and the others’ personal, regional, and national archaeological past as this is filtered through their own personal experiences. The session further seeks to investigate how this interrelationship is potentially contentious and/or reconciliatory. In more detail, the central axis of this session will be the investigation of the relationship of ‘ethnic communities’ with the archaeological past of the ‘host’ country and the ways in which this relationship is shaped and informed by one or more of the following:

  • Relationship of ethnic minority groups with the official archaeological past of their country of origin
  • Relationship of ethnic minority groups with the official archaeological past of the ‘host’ country
  • “Imagining and Experiencing Greek Heritage in London”Relationship of ethnic minority groups with the local/regional past of their migration destination
  • Relationship of ethnic minority groups with the local/regional past of their country of origin

Imagining & Experiencing Greek Heritage in London

Speaker: Kalliopi Fouseki (University College London)
Email: kalliopi.fouseki@ucl.ac.uk

According to the UK Official National Statistics it is estimated that, as of 2009, 29,000 British residents were Greek or Greek-Cypriots living mainly in London and, more specifically, in Palmers Green, Wood Green, and Green Lanes. This community is often characterized by a strong ‘national identity’ that is also fostered through the everyday use of ‘symbols’ from the past in their everyday life and activities. It is the aim of this paper to investigate the semiotics of ‘Greek cultural symbols’ taken mainly from the ‘archaeological past’ as these are projected in Greek restaurants and shops in London. Through the conduct of semi-structured interviews with shop owners and shop assistants the community’s connections with the archaeological heritage of their country of origin will be revealed. This paper builds upon previous research conducted in the historic centre of Athens (Fouseki 2011) where it was illustrated how the use of ‘banal nationalist symbols’ (Billing 1995) is being eventually used as a means by the shop owners to keep in touch with their personal and local roots, culture and heritage. This paper will reinforce this argument as well as it will explore the possible intermix of ‘Greek cultural identity’ with the British one as this is visually reflected in the community’s shops.


Billig, M. 1995. Banal Nationalism, London: SAGE

Fouseki, K. 2011 (in press) “Live your myth in Greece: The representation of ancient Greek myth in the historic centre of Athens, Plaka”, in Efthymiadis, S. & Petrides, A. (eds) Uses & Reception of Ancient Myths in Ancient Greek, Byzantine & Modern History, Literature & Art, Conference Proceedings, 28-30 January 2010. Gutenberg.

‘Greece & Albania are equal parts of me’ versus ‘we are not Greeks, we are Albanians’: identity conception & making meaning of heritage & the past at the crossroads of new & old homelands

Speaker: Eleni Vomvyla (University College London)
Email: e.vomvyla@ucl.ac.uk

This paper tells the story of two Albanian families’ engagements with the past and conceptualizations of heritage between their old and new habitats, Albania and Greece respectively. Perceptions of cultural identity shaped by families’ personal experiences, and migration trajectories in particular, produce different narratives of re-conceiving their history and heritage, as well as interacting, relating to and/or identifying with the official past narrative of the other.

Despite their twenty-year-long presence in a Greek context, Albanian families have remained largely hidden from heritage phenomena. In the aftermath of iron curtain dismantling, marking the Albanian community’s development in Greece, notions of wretchedness and backwardness have epitomised Albanianness in the Greek public discourse, furthering the former’s exclusion from heritage discourses. In opposition to these stigmatizing constructs, this presentation draws from the speaker’s ethnographic/participatory experience with two Albanian families in the public and private realms of contemporary Athens. Past-related talk, visual and material culture in families’ homespaces, daily routines in the new habitat, and cross-border connections with the old homeland, offer insight to how identity formation in uprooting and re-grounding processes can lead to diverse of approaches of considering what makes families’ heritage and the past (or not).

Archaeology when archaeology is not possible. Some thoughts.

Speaker: Fernanda Kalazich (University College London)
Email: m.kalazich@ucl.ac.uk

Ongoing research in the Atacaman community of Peine (Atacama Desert, Chile), regarding the visions and perceptions about the past reveal that the preferences of remembrance are associated to the events and lifestyle up until the 1970s, when the traditional modes of subsistence were deeply transformed.

In this scenario, archaeology does not play any major role in the creation of narratives relevant to the community despite the great array of archaeological sites in the area, which have been studied for the past 40 years. In fact, the relationship of the community with archaeology and archaeologists is somewhat contentious, as in the Atacaman worldview ancient places and sites are sacred, home to the ancient ones, for which they should not be disturbed.

The reflections that follow are manifold, associated in its most basic level to the pertinence of practising archaeology in such contexts (at least the traditional, scientific one), the need of diversifying methods and techniques (is the object of study the past or the materiality?), and the dangers or benefits of choosing one past to remember and identify with, as seen in several cases of dominant narratives, among others, which I wish to address herein.

Classical Greek-American Style: heritage & identity in Astoria, New York City

Speaker: Ross Wilson (Independent Researcher)
Email: rossjwilson@gmail.com.

This paper examines the nature of the relationship between the Greek American community in the New York City suburb of Astoria and ‘American’ heritage. Throughout the area of Astoria, the presence of a substantial Greek American population can be witnessed within the street names, shops, churches and community centres. Indeed, immigration from Greece and Cyprus during the 1960s and 1970s resulted in the area being home to the second largest Greek community outside of Greece itself. As this community set up homes and businesses within the area, they drew upon Greek heritage and traditions, employing language, iconography and ideals to display identity and affiliation both with their homeland and their adopted country. It is the latter relationship which is the most significant as since its inception the United States has developed its own traditions of drawing upon Ancient Greek architecture, political philosophy and religion to express its ideals of ‘liberty, freedom and the pursuit of happiness’. By examining the usage of both the tangible and intangible Greek heritage within Astoria as expressions of Greek, American and Greek-American identity, this paper will explore how minority communities relate to hegemonic concepts of heritage.

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