Students travel to Greece, witness history in the making

Sixteen York University students spent a month in Athens this summer to study Greek history and witness an historical moment in the making.

The course Greece: A Modern History, from 1800 to the present is one of two courses the History Department offered overseas this summer. It was the first time this course was taught abroad, and was led by history Professor Sakis Gekas.

Sixteen York U students studied abroad in Greece this summer as part of a history course. Here, they are pictured at the 1896 Olympic Stadium in Athens

Sixteen York U students studied abroad in Greece this summer as part of a history course. Here, they are pictured at the 1896 Olympic Stadium in Athens

For four weeks, students from various degree programs learned Greek history while experiencing the country; as part of the course curriculum they toured the country to visit islands including Mykonos, Crete and Santorini, and ancient sites in Athens, Delphi and Knossos.

They also visited Nafplio, the country’s first capital city in the 1820s.

“One of the most rewarding experiences that distinguishes the course from the ‘usual’ teaching we offer on campus is the opportunity to visit museums, historical archives, public buildings and statues that make history much more tangible and exciting,” said Gekas. “Some of the sites we visited were the National History Museum, the Museum of the City of Athens, the Bank of Piraeus Historical Archives, the Jewish Museum of Greece, the Benaki Museum and the Centre for the Study of Minor Asia Greeks.”

Students also had the opportunity to visit the Acropolis Museum, the Archaeological Museum and the Acropolis and the Parthenon.

While abroad, the class also lived history in the making. Their visit coincided with a time of unprecedented economic events, a bank closure and rare political developments such as the referendum of July 5. The referendum measured the public’s support of bailout conditions to address the country’s government debt crisis, and resulted in a majority rejection of the proposal.

“Such dramatic developments – the economic crisis, but also the recent refugee humanitarian crisis – made this a unique educational experience for our students who learned about the political and economic condition of Greece today as the country struggles to find its pace amidst a continuing recession and rapid political change,” said Gekas.

The six-week course – which ran two weeks at York U, four weeks in Greece – also took the students to the Clara Thomas Archives and the Greek Canadian History Project.

“Greece is a country I have been fascinated with since I was a kid, and actually experiencing Greek culture and history first-hand for a month this summer was beyond words,” said student Sierra Maier-Niemi. “I am profoundly grateful to have had this opportunity.”

The course would not have been possible without the support of the York International Office, The Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies, the Department of History and the Hellenic Heritage Foundation Chair in Modern Greek History, said Gekas.

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