York scholars present at major international conference in Athens

York faculty members journeyed to Athens, Greece, to take part in the second annual international symposium on the Mediterranean that was organized jointly by York and the University of Athens. This year’s symposium titled, “Constructions of Mediterranean Nostalgia”, took place March 3 to 5 and the featured theme centred around cultural memory in arts, humanities and social sciences.

The symposium brought together scholars from universities in nine countries from an interdisciplinary mix that included history, anthropology, cultural studies, literary criticism, ecology and film studies. Over the course of the symposium, presenters contributed to panels on such topics as “Creating Cultural Memory”, “Visualizing Nostalgia”, “Literary Constructions of Nostalgia” and “Institutional Frameworks for Cultural Nostalgia.”

The keynote address on “The Bullfight: Commercial Spectacles and National Nostalgia” presented by Adrian Shubert, York history professor and associate vice-president international, suggested that sports and similar commercial ventures are often seen through a nostalgic lens as a way of sustaining national identity. Shubert explained how bullfighting, due to the way it has been contested in Spain, has not generated this sort of nostalgic national image.

Right: Adrian Shubert

Some common themes emerged from the presentations and the following discussion that took place between conference participants. All agreed that nostalgia and cultural memory are topics of great importance and that nostalgia is an abiding and enduring aspect of the human condition. There was also consensus that, within the Mediterranean – for a variety of historical reasons – the content of nostalgia draws on a cross-culturally consistent set of images and sense memories.

Vigorous debate centered around issues related to how and why nostalgia changes, how contemporary popular culture deploys nostalgia in political discourse, and, on the larger question of, whether or not “Mediterraneanism” exists. All agreed that the conference made a major contribution to the ongoing scholarly discourse over nostalgia and cultural memory.

Opening and concluding statements were given by Thomas Gallant, the Hellenic Heritage Foundation Chair of Modern Greek History at York University. (It is largely due to Gallant’s efforts and the establishment of the Hellenic Heritage Foundation Chair that the annual symposium on the Mediterranean exists.)

Right: From left, Antonis Liakos with Thomas Gallant

Gallant, along with University of Athens Professors Antonis Liakos and Nicoletta Giantzi, and Mary P. Gallant, formed the conference arrangements committee and worked hard to bring together this distinguished group of scholars in one of the most historic cities of the Mediterranean.

Other distinguished guests at the conference who welcomed attendees included Philip Somerville, Canadian ambassador to Greece; Sheila Embleton, York’s vice-president academic; Stefanie Kennell, director, Canadian Institute in Greece; and Greek author Yiorgos Chouliaras.

The symposium was jointly sponsored by York, along with the National and Capodistrian University of Athens, the Canadian Institute in Greece, the University of Michigan and the Network on Cultural Memory in Europe. Eleftheroudakis Books, one of the largest and most respected bookstores in Athens, was also a contributing sponsor and featured a window display with works by the scholars who presented at the symposium.

For further information on the symposium and the complete program click here.  For further information on the Hellenic Heritage Foundation Chair of Modern Greek History, click here.