Collectors of Sources: Local Historiography and the Possession of the Past

  • Penelope Papailias
Part of the Anthropology, History, and the Critical Imagination book series (ACHI)


On a winter evening in 1998 in the provincial city of Volos, amateur local historians, representatives of the local historical associations, the city’s mayor, and some prominent members of the Athenian academic historical community came together at an event entitled “Local History/National History.” This gathering, which had been organized by the municipal history center to celebrate the compilation of a comprehensive bibliography of the city’s local history, was one of numerous conferences, lectures, and exhibitions on historical topics that have taken place in recent years in the Spierer building, a renovated tobacco warehouse originally owned by a German company. With its exposed ceiling beams, rough wood plank floors, and sleek modern lighting, this building testifies to the city’s former commercial past, current economic crisis, and European Union facelift. At the time of my research, along with gallery and auditorium spaces, “Spierer,” as it was usually called, housed the municipal development organization and the municipal history center and archive. Before the event began, people milled around looking at the glass cases that displayed over two hundred books and offprints about the history of the city and the surrounding region: a material testament to the increase in interest in local history in the 1990s.


Local History Town Hall Interwar Period Historical Discourse Historical Writing 
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  1. 2.
    For instance, a heated interchange about “postmodern” historiography took place in various newspapers and periodicals (e.g., To Vima, Avgi, O Politis), following the conference “Historiography of Modern and Contemporary Greece (1832–2002),” organized by the Institute for Neohellenic Research-National Hellenic Research Foundation and held in Athens in fall 2002. The debate was sparked by Kremmydas’s closing remarks, reprinted in Avgi, the newspaper of the left coalition party Synaspismos, in which he accused “young historians” of the “American” school of having confused historiography with history and, as a result, of having abandoned the archives: “I am reminded,” he writes, “of something that a young historian told me a few years ago half-joking: Archives? What archives? Who looks at archives anymore?’—maybe he wasn’t joking.” See V. Kremmydas, “Six Days of Historiography: That’s How We Ended …,” Avgi, November 17, 2002. For articles related to the debate, see Scholar
  2. 13.
    Despite the fact that the publication of memoirs has increased dramatically nationwide (see, for instance, M. Papayiannidou, “Autobiographies of Non-Famous People,” To Vima, August 11, 1996), when I asked local writers in Volos to recommend memoirs or autobiographies of local people, my query usually was met either with a grin (perhaps because writing autobiography was viewed as an act of vanity) or a confused look (since I had asked about a genre rather than a particular historical subject to which the text might refer). Although I ultimately located a few autobiographies written by local people, these were primarily war memoirs, not full life stories. Many autobiographies probably never end up getting published; municipalities and community groups, which have funded so many recent local historical publications, usually would not be interested in sponsoring the publication of an autobiography unless it concerned a famous person fromGoogle Scholar
  3. 51.
    Nitsa Koliou’s Typo-foto-graphic Panorama of Volos (1991) is an example of a history of the local pressGoogle Scholar
  4. and Maroula Kliafa’s Trikala, From Seifoullah to Tsitsanis: The Transformations of a Community as Recorded in the Press of the Day (2 vols., 1996, 1998) of a history as told from the “pages” of local newspapers.Google Scholar

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© Penelope Papailias 2005

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  • Penelope Papailias

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