During the opening hours of the photo exhibition “From Nubia to Sudan”, our hosts at the Institute for Mediterranean Studies (IMS) employed the post-graduate student of Rethymno University, BA Eleni Zerva, as assistant.
Eleni is specializing in Modern and Contemporary Greek and European History, after having completed her bachelor degree in History at the Ionian University (Corfu). Before entering the Ionian University, she attended two years of studies in Social Anthropology at the Aegean University (Mytilene).
Eleni’s experience from these three different island universities has given her the chance to appreciate the quality of historical and anthropological studies in peripheral university centers of Greece. Therefore, she has seen from close the problematic nature of funding for students in non-central academic institutions of a country, where in general the state economic support is much inferior in relation to similar institutions in Europe. Since the professors and researchers are not enough backed by the state machine, the quality of studies is dependent upon their own benevolence and enthusiasm for the object of their work. In this context, Eleni would judge the result of studying in the IMS in Rethymno as a blessed situation since aside inspiring teachers, and a very rich library, IMS and its members have the luck of being mainly funded by the economically powerful Foundation for Research and Technology, Hellas (FORTH – based in Heraklion, Crete). She adds, however, that the knowledge of the past, as it is excellently serviced at the Institute is in its essence – or should be – object and aim of the state and of the local authorities. They are ideally the ones most interested in the promotion of such research, in the strengthening of related studies, and in the application and use of the results deriving from these researches and studies.
More specifically, the objective of the IMS’s research program is to study the geographical space, the history and culture of Greece and the other Mediterranean countries in various historical periods, from prehistory to modern times. In order to achieve these objectives, the research projects of the Institute are organized along the following axes:
- Turkish Studies
- History Studies
- Art History
- History of the theater – Ethnomusicology
- The Laboratory of Geophysical-Satelite Remote Sensing & Archeo-Environment
Eleni comments that the IMS focuses its research agenda in the Eastern Mditerranean, both in the coastal and the inland towns, as well as in the rural countryside of these urban centers. It highlights the importance of the Eastern Mediterranean region as a geographical meeting point, as a point of exchange and mutual influence between the cultures of the Christian West and the Islamic East. This historical and cultural significance can hardly be underscored from the viewpoint of national historiographies, given the fact that their interests are confined within the national borders; and contrary to the perspectives of supra- or trans-national zones where civilization intermingle and intertwine. Eleni sums it up by saying that the Eastern Mediterranean constitutes a privileged field, a melting pot, where Christianity and Islam meet and receive together aspects of the world of the Indian Ocean and Africa.
This idea would set the Nile Valley in a very central position in the mind framework and conceptual horizons of the IMS, and therefore explains well, according to Eleni, why the exhibition “From Nubia to Sudan” found its place in the agenda of events of the IMS for the year 2012.
Moreover, she thinks that the exhibition “From Nubia to Sudan” is narrating a past of a similar melting pot of cultures, where images of mosques and qubbas converse with Christian and Pagan temples, pyramids and the faithful in prayer; images that trace the passing of historical time and narrate the longue durée starting from Medieval Nubia to end with Sudan of today.
And she concludes: «These images were brought to Crete by the Greek-Norwegian Archaeological Mission that seems to have navigated down the Nile, as if carrying a Greek-speaking manuscript, crossing Sai Island, and arriving at the Mediterranean Sea, brining the message that Sudan is much closer and much more familiar than we would initially think».
Our own conclusion would be phrased as an enquiry: whether perhaps Eleni’s experience of working with us for two weeks will make her revive an old interest she had on African studies, the Greek diasporas in the sub-Saharan belt, and the formation of (Greek) national identity/-ies in the hosting countries.