Chairman's Report 2014-15

At the Annual General Meeting of the Society held at the Hellenic Centre, London, on 6 June 2015 the Chairman gave the following report:

In keeping with the usual pattern, this report covers the period of 12 months since the last Annual General Meeting, and also looks ahead to some events planned for the coming year.

Our speaker after the AGM last year was Professor Peter Mackridge and his subject “The Re-Hellenization of Greek since 1750”. The lecture attracted a large and appreciative audience, and demonstrated Peter’s consummate knowledge of the Greek language in its historical and synchronic dimensions, its written and spoken uses, and the complex issue of language planning. The text of his lecture is still available to read on our website if you missed it.

The annual Graduate Research Colloquium took place in June at the University of Birmingham, organized by Professor Dimitris Tziovas. Thirteen papers were given, by postgraduate students from the Universities of Birmingham, Bristol and Oxford, and King’s College London. The colloquium was supported by grants from the Hellenic Foundation and from the University of Birmingham itself. This event has a firm place in the calendar of the Society, as it had before that in the time of SCOMGIU (the Standing Committee on Modern Greek in the Universities). We think it started in 1988, though recollections are somewhat hazy. Anyway, we regard it as one of the Society’s most important activities, since it provides the opportunity for postgraduate students to present their work, receive informal and helpful feedback, and get to know other students working in similar, or indeed different fields, within the broad area of Modern Greek Studies. The next colloquium takes place at King’s College London in four days’ time and we expect it to be just as valuable as its predecessors.

In March this year another similar event for postgraduate students took place under the auspices of the Society, but with one important difference: it was entirely organized by students themselves, with the student representative on our Executive Committee, Jessica Kourniakti, playing a leading role. With sponsorship from The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities, it was entitled: “Diversity in 20th and 21st century Greek popular culture(s) and media”. Around 50 people attended and there was a full day’s programme of presentations, with a round-table discussion to end the formal proceedings. This innovative event made a very welcome addition to our programme, reaching out to a considerably wider range of students and institutions than is usually the case, thanks in particular to the use of social media. It is to be hoped that the event can be repeated next year, with similar success. Another initiative for which Jessica is responsible is the creation of a mailing list for postgraduate students, to provide regular information and to encourage closer contact, collaboration and awareness of one other’s work.

In the course of the year the Society organized two well-attended events commemorating significant landmarks in the history of Greece and Cyprus. On 28 October Dr David Wills masterminded and spoke at an evening event, at the Hellenic Centre, entitled “Greece at War: marking 70 years since the end of ‘Hitler’s Greece’”. The other speakers were our member Dr Violetta Hionidou, who focused on famine in occupied Greece, and two authors of books on the Albanian campaign and the resistance, John Carr and Alan Ogden. The second occasion took place at the University of Hertfordshire in November, and consisted of a lecture by Dr Klearchos Kyriakides on “The Annexation of Cyprus by the UK on 5 November 1914”. The organizational genius of our colleagues David and Klearchos ensured that both events were highly successful.

Finally, in a joint venture with the Modern Greek Section at the University of Cambridge, the Society co-hosted a fascinating lecture on “Masculinities and gender relations in the Old Greek Cinema”, given by Dr Achilleas Hadjikyriacou, Cultural Counsellor at the Cyprus High Commission. Since Dr Hadjikyriacou took up his position last autumn, he has taken a welcome interest in the work of the Society and we hope to collaborate further on future events.

The Executive Committee of the Society usually meets four times a year, but the officers are also in regular email communication with one another and with the other members when a need for consultation arises or when an urgent decision has to be taken, for example on matters referred to us by the European Society of Modern Greek Studies. Recently we agreed the text of a letter protesting against the abolition of Modern Greek A level, which your Chairman has sent to the Secretary of State for Education on behalf of the Society, with copies to the Secretary of State for Business, Education and Skills, and the Chief Regulator of Ofqual. We would urge all members to sign related petitions or to send their own letters to the relevant bodies, to oppose the removal of Modern Greek from the examination system, but more generally the drastic reduction in the teaching and examining of modern foreign languages that is taking place so tragically in this country.

Two members of the Executive Committee are retiring at the end of this year after serving two consecutive terms: Dr Klearchos Kyriakides and Dr Semele Assinder, who has also been our Publicity Officer. We thank them both very warmly for their valued contributions to the work of the Society. I also take this opportunity to record my personal thanks to the Secretary and Treasurer and the other members of the Executive Committee for their support and commitment.

After a dip at the beginning of the year as some members failed to renew their subscriptions (promptly), I can report that membership has again risen to close to a hundred, and we hope it will continue to increase as more people realize the benefits of membership, but also seek actively to associate themselves with our aims and objectives. The more members we have, the better we can fulfil our goals, and – to be blunt – the more we can do for our members. You will be pleased to hear that the Committee is not proposing any change to the current subscription rates.

Plans under discussion for the next twelve months include a joint event with Royal Holloway University of London, which will focus on the Greek community of Cairo, its history and architectural heritage. This will happen some time in the autumn. Before the end of the year we shall also launch the first issue of our online journal. Members will recall that the 2014 AGM approved a proposal to establish such a journal, to be called Modern Greek Studies Online. Since then Kostas Skordyles has been appointed editor, an editorial board has been set up, and a website designed. The first issue will include both academic articles and literary translation. Potential contributors can still submit their work for consideration via the peer review process, in time to appear in the first issue. Thereafter contributions will be uploaded to the website once they have been approved, so that the second and subsequent issues will grow through the year in question.

Looking ahead to 2016, we are discussing plans for a book presentation, as well as a joint event with King’s College London, and perhaps also a conference on a Cypriot theme, though deliberations are still at an early stage. The Executive Committee is always keen to discuss proposals for collaboration with other bodies or any other ideas that members may have to expand and enhance the activities of the Society. And finally, it gives me great pleasure to announce that our speaker next year, at the public event following the AGM, will be the distinguished social anthropologist Professor Renée Hirschon, author of the seminal Heirs of the Greek Catastrophe and expert on migration and refugee issues. Her work is more topical than ever and we greatly look forward to her lecture.

It remains for me again to express our gratitude to the Hellenic Centre, and in particular its Director Mrs Agatha Kalisperas, for their joint sponsorship of the event that follows and for allowing the use of this building.

David Holton
6 June 2015