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Head of AphroditeStrengthening Modern Greek Collections

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The Modern Greek Collection at the University of Minnesota

Timothy Johnson, Curator of Special Collections & Rare Books; and
Theofanis G. Stavrou, Professor of History, Director of Modern Greek Studies

The University of Minnesota Libraries, Twin Cities campus, is home for the Basil Laourdas Modern Greek Collection. Numbering over 15,000 volumes, the collection includes both Greek and non-Greek materials. In the autumn of 1999 - twenty years after the Laourdas gift came to the university - the collection will move, along with the Department of Special Collections and Rare Books, to the new Minnesota Library Access Center on the West Bank of the Minneapolis campus. The scope of the Collection is modern Greek history and culture, from the post-Bryzantine period to the present.

The large and unique Basil Laourdas personal library forms the core of the collection. It reflects Laourdas' scholarly interest in the Greek experience, especially in neohellenism. Numerous subjects are included, among them a good section on the history of Orthodoxy, but the collection is especially rich in modern Greek literature. Many of these books are inscribed first editions, and nearly every modern Greek author is represented. There is almost a complete collection of Thessaloniki poets, most of whom Laourdas knew personally. For teaching and research the section of the library containing commentaries and essays of literary criticism is noteworthy.

The personal library has served as a nucleus, to which have been added many other materials donated to the collection. Professor Theofanis G. Stavrou of the Department of History at the University, together with the Special Collections Department, have been instrumental in promoting the Modern Greek Studies program and building the collection in Minnesota, along with Nostos, the Society for the study of Greek Life and Thought. An attempt has been made to assemble as complete a collection as possible, including foreign translations of selected modern Greek authors. The collection includes monographs, periodicals, offprints, newspapers, photographs, slides, recordings, music, and some manuscript materials and artifacts.

Annual celebrations of Modern Greek Letters, now in their second decade, have focused on a particular author or theme related to the featured writer or theme have been gathered for an annual exhibit in Wilson Library, an authority on the featured writer has been engaged to speak, and a summary booklet of the writer's life and works - along with a schedule of the event's proceedings - has been published and distributed as a part of the annual celebration.

Basil Laourdas

As a scholar, educator and humanist, Basil Laourdas sought to appreciate and to convey the Greek experience in as comprehensive a way as possible. Consequently he became in turn a classical philologist, a Byzantinist, and a heohellenist. His publications - totaling over four hundred items - attest to the diverse range of his scholarly interests in historical, philosophical, and educational questions.

Born in Pireas on March 21, 1912, Basil Laourdas lost his father early and thereafter struggled to finish the local gymnasium and finally to graduate from the Philosophical School of the University of Athens in 1936. For a decade after graduation, he taught at a gymnasium in Athens, Pireas, and Heraklion (Crete). During that period he med and associated with the leading Greek intellectuals and literary figures, such as Sikelianos, Kazantzakis, and Prevelakis. He became a philosophical and literary critic of Greek culture. His intellectual curiosity took him to Exeter College, Oxford, in 1948. And from there he came to the United States to spend four productive years at Harvard and Dumbarton Oaks as a research fellow (1950-1953).

The years in America were a turning point in his life and work. The scholar of the classics gradually moved into Byzantine and modern Greek studies. But more decisive was the familiarity he developed with Western culture. This was the beginning of a long and fruitful collaboration between Laourdas and American scholars, which lasted to the end of his life. He returned to the United States frequently, either to attend international symposia or to lecture at American universities.

In 1954, partly because of his increasing contacts with American and European scholars, Basil Laourdas was pointed director of the newly founded Institute for Balkan Studies in accomplishments as Director of the Institute were the successful series of monographs on various subjects of Balkan history and culture, the journal Balkan Studies, the development of a specialized library on Balkan subjects, and the establishment of a school for Balkan languages. In addition, he organized a large number of symposia on subjects ranging from ancient Macedonia to the Orthodox Church in modern times.

There in Thessaloniki he married Lousisa Syndika who helped him significantly in his various scholarly efforts. (It was through the generosity of Louisa Laourdas that her husband's library was donated to the University of Minnesota.) The hospitality and generosity of Basil and Louisa to American scholars and students visiting Greece became proverbial. Their office and apartment became landmarks for scholars from all over the world, just as the Thessaloniki White Tower, close by the Institute, is a landmark for citizens or visitors to that city. Many scholarly projects either originated, were encouraged, or reached fruition as a result of such visits with Basil Laourdas in Thessaloniki. An indication of the range of interests and contacts which he enjoyed is the impressive and massive volume, Essays in Memory of Basil Laourdas, published in 1975, in which forty-four international scholars honored him with essays dealing with subjects from Roman Macedonia to "Problems in Rendering Modern Greek."

Laourdas' interests were encyclopedic. As a classicist he was especially interested in the Greek philosophers, and as a Byzantinist he focused his attention on Photius and related subjects. He demonstrated the same encyclopedic interest as a neohellenist. He dealt with such diverse subjects as the Greek Orthodox Church, Greek-Slavic cultural relations, demotic songs, and Greek intellectuals during the Turkish period. He also wrote on almost every major Greek writer of the twentieth century, such as Papdiamantis, Vlachoyannis, Xenopoulos, Palamas, Sikelianos, Cavafy, Kazantzakis, Venezis, Theotokas, Prevelakis, and Anagnostakis. The valuable library of Laourdas on these subjects was supplemented by the library of his wife Lousia Laourdas, a scholar in her own right, especially in the field of Byzantine art. Her library became a part of the modern Greek Collection in 1992.

The dedication of the collection was held May 19, 1978, with Mrs. Laourdas in attendance.

The Collection

In the early 1980s a collection development plan focused, in part, on developing the modern Greek collection. A review was made of the current holdings in modern Greek including both serials and monographs which were included in the reference collection, the general collection and in Special Collections. One aspect of this project intended to investigate the relationship of current modern Greek holdings to the on-going and planned instructional and research activities within the University. It is unclear, at this point, what the outcomes of this plan and study were, although some basic data seems to have been gathered about monographs, serials, and reference materials. No specific attention, it seems, was given to the materials in the Laourdas Collection as a part of this study, with the exception that a new policy was to be considered whereby the general circulating collection would become a research collection and Special Collections would restrict its acquisitions to special categories (e.g. donor restrictions, personal libraries, presentation copies, rare materials). At the time of this investigation it was determined that no other collections of comparable rank could be found with in Big Ten institutions or the Midwest, with the exception of Cincinnati.

The issues of bibliographic control - raised in the early 1980s study - has yet to be resolved; the materials are currently included in the backlog of uncataloged items for Special Collections and Rare Books. Issues raised at the time of the study - and its impact on technical service operations - included the need for additional cataloging staff with the requisite language abilities, the scarcity of cataloging copy, and verification sources. While the improvement and increase of bibliographic databases have lessened the problem of bibliographic copy, the issues surrounding staff resources need to be addressed within the context of other cataloging pressures and needs. Outside funding and/or outsourcing of cataloging may be the most likely avenue of approach in order to place the collection under automated bibliographic control. Despite these problems, the growth of the Modern Greek Collection and the scholarly activities connected with it, attest to the University's commitment to improve and maintain this collection as part of the central teaching and research mission of the University.

The materials in the Basil Laourdas Modern Greek Collection do not circulate outside the reading room of the Special Collections and Rare Books Department. While the collection has yet to be cataloged, a card file (main entry) for the collection has been created and is available for use in the Reading Room. Photocopying is available, subject for use Monday-Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. For information about the collection or to make an appointment with the Special Collections staff, see the website External link.

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  June 17, 2016
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