GREEK COMMUNITY OF MELBOURNE’S 2021 SEMINAR SERIES WILL DELIGHT, EXCITE AND CHALLENGE AUDIENCES-1821 crash course in collaboration with NUGAS will kick-start the series next week

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1821 crash course in collaboration with NUGAS will kick-start the series next week

 Christos D. Markos

The History and Culture Public Seminar series run by the Greek Community of Melbourne (GCM) has now become an institution, entering its eleventh year. Mainly delivered from the mezzanine level of the Greek Centre, at least until Covid struck, the series has been an important part of making the CBD-located Greek Centre a beehive of activity, and a location for intellectual and educational pursuits. The Centre has become a magnet for persons from all works of life passing through its doors  attracted by the numerous activities and enterprises hosted in the building.

The concept of the seminar series came about in 2000 after discussions by three education stalwarts in Melbourne: Kyriakos Amanatidis, Dr Christos Fifis and Dr Maria Herodotou. Initially the seminars were semi-regular and held on the third level of the old Greek Community building before its demolition. After 2002 a new support committee was constituted and GCM Board member Dr Nick Dallas became the series convenor. The structure of the series was formalized and seminars were held on a weekly Thursday evening basis between March to September.

At least 30 seminars are held every year where local, interstate and international speakers are invited to present on a topic of their expertise pertaining to Greek history or culture. The topics are amazingly diverse as are the presenters. Topics pertaining to Classical Greece and philosophy always have a loyal following, while attempts are made to introduce the audience to themes of modern Greek history and the diaspora experience.

Most of the seminars are presented in English to attract not only younger generations who may not be fluent in Modern Greek but also non-Greek participants. With regards to invited speakers there isn’t a Classics, Philosophy or Archaeology department in Australia that hasn’t been tapped for its expertise, along with Modern Greek Studies departments.

The program also tries to promote up and coming future academics by having doctoral candidates present their work before thesis submission. Erudite non-academic individuals well-versed in certain topics also get invited. Diversity in topics, variety in speakers and filling in the gaps are some of the key goals of the Seminars, according to the convenor Nick Dallas. ‘On many occasions I identify a topic, then search for a suitable speaker’ says Nick.

2020 proved to be a watershed year as the series had to be suspended due to Covid restrictions. It restarted after a few dormant months by gravitating online and being delivered through the video-conferencing platform Zoom. This approach had both pros and cons. The positives were that a new audience was cultivated. For those that considered the CBD on a Thursday night inconvenient, online delivery was a godsend. The potential audience was global and beyond Melbourne, interstate and international followers became part of the online audience. The choice of speakers and topics evolved exponentially, speakers could be anywhere around the globe giving access to a greater variety of topics. The main detractions were the loss of the social dimension and the dropping out of some loyal first generation members. Attendees no longer congregated in the mezzanine over coffee and tea, and some pre and post-presentation banter.

The 2021 program appears to be a blockbuster as it coincides with the 200th anniversary of Greek independence. It will attempt to achieve the best of both worlds and experiences by returning the series to the mezzanine level when possible, allowing for physical attendance but also simultaneously streaming the events online. Half the seminars will be on topics linked to 1821 with the series being kicked off by Professor Vrasidas Karalis from the University of Sydney on 4th March. The closing seminar will be given by one of Greece’s most eminent historians, Professor Antonis Liakos. No doubt the events being organized around 1821 will have celebratory overtones and rightly so as Greece has survived two very turbulent centuries. The 2021 seminar series aims to transcend this and get people critically looking at events and issues that shaped the 1821 War of Independence. History is never black and white, revolutions and uprisings are always messy affairs, and there are always many competing narratives. ‘If the series provokes people to examine and research some themes further, if it has questioned some of their long-held beliefs, if it has pleasantly enlightened them, then we have achieved our aims’ according the series convenor.

As a prelude to the commencement of the series this year, there will also be a crash course on the main topics around 1821 aimed at students who want to acquire a broad background on the main themes. This came about when NUGAS (National Union of Greek Australian Students) approached the GCM to organize such a course as this would give their members a knowledge framework to be able participate in the more topic-specific and in-depth seminars about 1821. And with some luck these students will become regular attendees in future programs.

Program Schedule below:

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