Issue 16, November 2010
homepage > Athens Dialogues – Innovations and Perspectives
Athens Dialogues – Innovations and Perspectives
By Niki Tsironi,
Byzantinologist and researcher at the Institute of Byzantine Research, Academic coordinator of The Athens Dialogues conference.
 

The main subjects of The Athens Dialogues conference, which will mark the inauguration of the House of Arts and Letters of the Onassis Foundation, have already been presented by ΑΩ magazine in issue 47, March 2010, and issue 48, June 2010, where we have analysed the goals, mentioned the co-organizers –universities and research institutions in Europe and the USA– thanks to whom the conference will take place; we have also mentioned the dissemination meetings in Vienna, Oxford, New York and elsewhere; we have discussed thoroughly the thematic sessions, the programme and the desire that all generations participate in the conference works; and we have portrayed the developing network of The Athens Dialogues.

The future of the past or “does the past have a future?”
The opening ceremony of the Athens Dialogues, which will be attended by his Excellence, The President of Greece, Mr Karolos Papoulias, will welcome three prominent figures in the realm of letters, who will address the issue “Does the past have a future?” from different perspectives. Ms Hélène Glykatzi-Ahrweiler, former member of the Onassis Foundation BoD, President of the BoD of the European Cultural Center of Delphi, Dean and President of the European University, will provide based on her experience the theoretical context of the issue of the future of the past. Serbian professor Dusan Sidjanski, Honorary President of the European Cultural Center, Professor Emeritus at Geneva University, and special advisor to the President of European Commission, shall address the issue from the perspective of the contemporary European identity and its relation to the background of Humanities. Finally, Simon Critchley, a pioneer British philosopher of the new era, President and Professor at the Department of Philosophy at New School for Social Research in New York, will focus on the relation of ancient drama to the contemporary world.

The issue that will be addressed by the three main speakers at the opening ceremony reflects the problematic of The Athens Dialogues, which focus on the potential relevance of the Hellenic thinking to problems faced by contemporary men. Furthermore, the subject chosen by the three speakers examines the dynamic relationship between the past and the present and future, by investigating whether history itself as well as its intellectual achievements can contribute to finding solutions in periods of crisis, as the one we are experiencing nowadays on a both national and international level.

Top: Simon Critchley<br>
Middle: Dusan Sidjanski<br>
Bottom: Hélène Glykatzi-Ahrweiler
Top: Simon Critchley
Middle: Dusan Sidjanski
Bottom: Hélène Glykatzi-Ahrweiler

The three speakers for the opening ceremony were selected principally for their scientific status, but also served the organising committee’s desire to open a dialogue, during the opening of the conference, between the generations, with the participation of representatives of both the older and the younger generation of students and thinkers. The three distinguished speakers cover a broad spectrum, which is of direct interest to the Dialogues considering the important changes taking place in the past fifty years with regard to the perception of Hellenic thinking and society’s attitude towards it. Especially today, in an era of crisis and conflicts on many levels (identity, economy, society etc.), we expect the dialogue on history, philosophy and social studies to bring to light interesting parameters of contemplation.

Also shown in the opening ceremony will be an extract of the exceptionally interesting dialogue between two internationally acclaimed figures in their fields. Gregory Nagy, Professor of Classical Greek Literature and Comparative Literature at Harvard University and Director of the Center for Hellenic Studies at the same university –which also has a branch in Greece–, holds a conversation with German director Peter Stein. Their dialogue has been recorded in Salzburg, where in light of the town’s popular summer festival bringing together artists and art lovers from every corner of the world, the latter presented with the theatrical team of Berliner Ensemble the play Oedipus at Colonus with great success. Amongst other, they discussed the importance of the text as well as its rendering on stage, the interpretation and perception of ancient Greek drama, the relation democracy holds to this remarkable and diachronic form of art, which continues even to date to appeal to the wider public, thus proving its profound value. All the material of this live and dynamic discussion will be used in teaching programmes for graduate and post-graduate students of the Center of Hellenic Studies at Harvard University, as well as by research organizations and foundations in collaboration. It will also be posted on The Athens Dialogues website and presented in special events by the co-organisers of the conference in an attempt to spread the knowledge and the concern of the main participants in the dialogues regarding the texts, the interpretation and the use of this intellectual treasure nowadays.

The conference works shall begin on November 24th and the opening ceremony will be succeeded by the thematic session entitled: Identity and Difference. The programme, inevitably full, will last until November 27. The works will end with a session of interdisciplinary debate, during which the organizing committee aspires to accomplish a blending of the approaches of the thematic sessions, based on the key focus of The Athens Dialogues problematic. All sessions follow the same organizational schema: they are divided in two sections where the main speakers present briefly the key points of their proposals, which in the meantime have already been posted on the e-journal of the conference. Facing the main speakers, the co-speakers will intervene with 10-minute proposals underlining issues that have been raised sufficiently or somewhat insufficiently in the main proposals, while at the same time presenting their own views (diverse in their perspective and approach of the theme). The interventions won’t aim to refer in detail to scientific issues (in the sense of bibliography or other documentation), but to trigger a fruitful dialogue, open to the informed public. Following the conclusion of the conference, all proposals of the co-speakers, updated and perhaps enriched, shall also be posted on the e-journal.

The dialogue
The dialogue is the objective and the common denominator of all levels of the event. In every thematic session, speakers from different research fields approach each subject from their own perspective. This results in the force of each thematic session being shaped by multiple factors, such as the main subject, which to some degree imposes the composition of the speakers, the basic axes of diachronicity and interdisciplinarity, as well as the current issues addressed in each thematic session.

The composition –in terms of speakers– of each thematic session has its own particularity. In some sessions particular emphasis is placed on interdisciplinarity with the participation of speakers from various scientific fields, as in the session Identity and Difference which includes representatives from various research fields such as sociology, political sciences, history and archaeology, theology and journalism. In their papers, speakers raise a series of issues regarding the matter of Identity and Difference and the dialogue among cultures in different times and situations, as well as in modern times. A characteristic example is Martyn Barrett’s paper, Professor of Psychology and Academic Director of CRONEM Center (a center for research on nationalism, ethnicity and multiculturalism) of Surrey University, who attempts a psychological approach of the matter of national and ethnic identities in our days. We could not neglect to mention the participation of the famous French jurist, former Minister of Justice of France and currently Senator, Robert Badinter, who will engage on the dangers threatening the universality of human rights.

For this session, the co-speakers were selected from the fields of history, archaelogy and journalism with a view to setting forth new issues around diachronicity and placing emphasis on the present. We mention specifically Dr Johannes Saltzwedel, editor in chief of the German magazine Der Spiegel, as well as Nikos Bacounakis, Professor at the Panteion University and editor in chief of the insert “Vivlia” of the newspaper “To Vima”.

The session History and Stories focuses mainly on narration, as viewed through a diachronic perspective and formulated in the different national and local traditions which impose and convey various manners of expression. We mention indicatively Professor Edhem Eldem, head of the Department of History at the University of the Bosporus, who investigates the myth and reality of the biography of one of the most fascinating political factors in the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century, that of Ibrahim Edem Pasha, whose Greek origin (undocumented so far) was widely discussed during his time and has generally come to be considered authentic. The co-speakers of the session include figures from the field of Classical Studies from different countries, such as Dr Hyun Jin Kim, post-doctorate researcher of the Department of Classical Studies and Ancient History at the University of Sydney, as well as intellectual journalists, such as Sir Peter Stothard, currently editor in chief of Times Literary Supplement (TLS) and of The Times in the past.

Top: Peter Stein<br>
Middle: Gregory Nagy<br>
Bottom: Professor Gregory Nagy in a dialogue with director Peter Stein
Top: Peter Stein
Middle: Gregory Nagy
Bottom: Professor Gregory Nagy in a dialogue with director Peter Stein

The diachronic element and the interaction amongst the various forms of expression are the issues that concern the participants in the Logos and Art session. The speakers who, of course, come mainly from the broader area of Classical Studies and Fine Arts, examine issues regarding the artistic expression throughout the centuries as well as the interactions amongst works. Edith Hall for example, professor of Classical Studies and Theatre at Royal Holloway College of the University of London, investigates the reasons why ancient Greek drama continues to influence theatre worldwide. Amongst the co-speakers are, Nikos G. Xydakis, editor in chief at Kathimerini newspaper, and also Maria Del Pilar Fernandez Deaugustini, Professor of Classical Studies at La Plata University of Argentina, specializing in ancient Greek poetry.

In the Democracy and Politeia session, participants investigate the issue of democracy and governance from ancient times until today, placing emphasis on the relationship between the intellect and the constitution. One of the speakers is Angelos Chaniotis, Professor of Ancient History at the School of Historical Studies of the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) in the U.S.A, who will investigate the illusions of democracy in the ancient world. Stathis Kalyvas, Professor of Political Science and Director of the Program on Order, Conflict and Violence, at Yale University in the U.S.A, is amongst the co-speakers.

In the Science and Ethics session, emphasis is placed on the holistic approach to life in the circumstances of the new era. The speakers in this session come mainly from the field of sciences, as well as the field of History and Philosophy of Science. Baroness Susan Greenfield, a British scientist from Oxford University with specialization on brain physiology, shall investigate in her presentation how certain perceptions of ancient Greeks regarding the brain correspond to modern neuroscience. John D. Barrow, Professor of Applied Mathematics at Cambridge University, shall examine the simplicity and the complexity of the world, a crucial matter in the history of science, which stems from Plato and Aristotle. Amongst the speakers who will approach the subject from a philosophical point of view is Theodosios Tassios, Professor Emerittus of National Technical University of Athens, who will deal with the subject of “Moral issues and technology”, attempting thus to identify possible lessons from ancient Greece, while Metropolitan of Pergamon John (Zizioulas) will look into the difference between knowledge and wisdom. The co-speakers were selected based on the same rationale and come from the broader area of sciences and the Philosophy of Science.

Finally, interdisciplinarity is the point of emphasis in the thematic session Quality of Life. The participants belong to the fields of sciences, Economy, Architecture and Art. Professor Michael Mehaffy, city planner and intellectual, will expand on the subject by mentioning that questions relating to the quality of life as set by Greek philosophy remain even today as valid as always. Sarah Rubidge, Professor in Choreography and New Media at the University of Chichester, attempts to demonstrate through her presentation the importance of art in the improvement of the quality of life, the refinement and stimulation of man.

Each thematic session concludes with a dialogue among the public, the speakers and the co-speakers. The dialogue coordinators are in charge of compiling and putting together the questions that the public can submit either through the online venue for discussion of the e-journal, or inside the room while attending. Due to the large number of participants, the questions will be grouped and then received by the Chair in each thematic session, who will then manage the questions as they see fit. The group of dialogue coordinators includes scientists recommended by the representatives of the co-organizing bodies, as well as representatives of the younger generation: the winners of the European Youth Competition “Culture  Past, Culture Future” (organised in partnership with EUNIC/European Union National Institutes of Culture), which will be mentioned further down.

The responsibility and supervision of every coordinator group lies with yours truly, with John Petropoulos, Professor of Democritus University of Thrace, and Ioanna Papadopoulou, researcher at the Center for Ancient Philosophy at the Free University of Brussels and partner of The Center for Hellenic Studies at Harvard University. Their responsibility is the efficient organization and the satisfactory representation of all participants in the dialogue, as much as possible. Furthermore, the same group is responsible for the scientific coordination of the online venue for discussion.

Top: Anthony Papadimitriou<br>
Middle: George Babiniotis<br>
Bottom: Niki Tsironis
Top: Anthony Papadimitriou
Middle: George Babiniotis
Bottom: Niki Tsironis

The Athens Dialogues – Internet sites
At this point it should be noted that The Athens Dialogues website features two separate areas for discussion and exchanging of opinions. The first one concerns the entire Dialogues program and is related to the AD Network, which we will examine more closely in the following sections. This forum allows the expression of views on the wider discourse of the Dialogues and on issues that concern those who are interested in and work on the Greek civilization research. The e-journal forum is more specialized and the conversations hosted either as direct dialogue or in the form of comments are more targeted to the proposals of main speakers or the interventions by interlocutors. We hope that, following the closing of the conference, we will be able to post all (or almost all) the questions posed by the public, so that those which have remained unanswered during the conference will fire new discussion and thought.

Regarding the European Youth Competition “Culture Past, Culture Future”, we should stress that it was intended to introduce the young to The Athens Dialogues. The competition was completed successfully on June 15, 2010. It was widely advertised through the British Council network and its numerous branches throughout Europe, with the help of the institutions participating in the E.U.N.I.C. network (Institut Français d’ Athènes, Goethe-Institut Athen, Instituto Cervantes de Atenas, Danish Institute at Athens, Istituto Italiano di Cultura di Atene, Swedish Institute at Athens, House of Cyprus), as well as the broader E.U.N.I.C. network and the co-organizers of the Athens Dialogues conference. The 61 young people who submitted their papers in order to be considered for the competition came from the following 18 countries: Azerbaijan, Albania, Armenia, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Greece, United Kingdom, Italy, Cyprus, Latvia, Poland, Romania, Russia, Ukraine, Slovenia, Sweden and Turkey. The young participants submitted papers and essays on one of the six thematic sessions of the conference. The assessment committees included representatives of educational institutions, academics, scientists and intellectuals nominated by the EUNIC Greece partners and the Athens Dialogues Committee. The applications were evaluated by a pool of eighteen experts from Spain, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Cyprus and Greece. Each application was assessed independently by two assessors and the final decision was taken in a Committee meeting led by Professor George Babiniotis, Chair of the Organizing Committee of The Athens Dialogues conference, and Dr Niki Tsironi, academic coordinator of the conference. 

The selection criteria were the overall essay quality, the mastery of language, originality and authenticity, as well as the extent to which the proposal related to the broader aim of the conference and its thematic sessions. The competition awarded 19 winners who are classified according to the thematic session they dealt with as follows: 4 winners (and 1 special prize) for Identity and Difference, 1 for History and Stories, 3 for Logos and Art, 4 winners (and 1 special prize) for Democracy and Politeia, 2 for Science and Ethics, 3 for Quality of Life. The winners are from Austria, Armenia, Germany, Switzerland, Greece, Italy, Cyprus, Ukraine, Poland and Romania. The winning papers touch upon a broad spectrum of themes, i.e.: Eva Marie Noller from Germany has written a paper entitled “Why does Medea live in slums?” which treats of Euripides Medea examining the notions of identity and difference, and explaining why this Greek tragedy was widely accepted in the apartheid South Africa. Anton Pasisnychenko from Ukraine has conducted an interesting study entitled “In Search of the European Identity: A Return to Ancient Greek Tradition” where he explores the endeavour to create the European identity while detecting elements of the ancient Greek civilization that relate with it and accentuating the element of diversity and difference. Cédric Scheidegger Lämmle, from Switzerland, has written a historical paper entitled “Negotiating the Greek Identity: Dionysius of Halicarnassus and the ‘otherness' of the Romans” which is about the historiographic work of Dionysius of Halicarnassus in the beginning of Cesar Augustus’s era and witnesses the reinvention of the Greek identity against the rising Roman force.

Three more papers are also worth mentioning: Antigone Katsadima’s paper entitled “Antigone is still present: Reassessing the Myth of Antigone through exemplary modern performances”. This paper offers an alternative interpretation of the myth of Antigone, closely relating it with the artistic expression of modern times. The myth unfolds in a universal cultural setting so as to shed light on the strong relationship that exists between the culture of the past and that of the present. Equally worthy of mention is Irina Vadunescu’s ingenious paper “It’s all Greek: Material Culture, Craftsmanship and Souvenir Art opposite the British Μuseum”. A giftshop opposite the British Museum gave the idea for this paper which analyzes the way in which ancient Greek heritage can interrelate with works and concerns of modern people. Finally, we should mention Andreas Gavrielatos’s paper which approaches and examines the way in which ancient Greek literature can help us improve the quality of our lives. The writer argues that the basic principles of Greek thinking could help subdue the materialism which dominates the modern world and has caused it to lose its quality of life.

Broadcasting the works of the conference
Given the interest and the response demonstrated by the public for The Athens Dialogues, the organizing committee has made the necessary arrangements for the live online broadcast of the works of the conference through personal computers. Those interested, especially those who will not be in Athens in November 2010, will have the opportunity to watch the works of the conference in real-time broadcast. People in different continents, who will not be able to view the works in real-time due to the different time zones, will be granted access to archives of recordings for each thematic session. Nevertheless, believing in the significance of meeting in person and the collective nature of such an experience, we have established contact with Greek and foreign universities (Europe, USA) whose cooperation will enable the broadcast of the conference in specially designed rooms for teachers, students and anyone interested to watch.

We firmly believe that such a conference has no intention to “bring owls to Athens” or “preach to believers”, instead, it targets those who question the relation of Greek thinking to modern society, the formal scientists rather than the scholars of humanities, the young rather than the older ones schooled, given the time, with the Greek education.

Furthermore, this material is to be used in seminars, university meetings and cultural actions intended for disseminating and instigating greater reflection on Greek culture. These actions will certainly be held by the partner universities and research institutions, as well as cultural bodies operating in the field of Greek culture in Greece and abroad.

E-journal
One of the more ground-breaking and innovative aspects of The Athens Dialogues is the e-journal which hosts the authored essays of the main speakers in the conference. The pre-publication of the essays contributes significantly to achieving the desired level of dialogue and establishing an essentially interactive relationship between speakers and the public. The Center for Hellenic Studies of the University of Harvard, co-organizer of the conference, is responsible for the creation and academic editing of the e-journal. The e-journal differs from similar online scientific magazines in that it ensures an interactive communication between the public and the speakers and fosters the notion that a text read out loud during a conference is not just a text. This innovative experimental venture by the Center for Hellenic Studies of the University of Harvard visualizes the multiple levels of data and metadata promising thus to present the texts in ultimate completeness, wealth and complexity.
The journal constitutes a critical junction in the event, both before and after the conference, since it has been exclusively designed to capture and present elaborately the multi-layered dialogue triggered by this initiative. It is also the element which, through open and free access and interaction, addresses and invites a universal audience to dialogue; an audience which is immensely larger than the audience that will physically attend the conference in November 2010 and geographically scattered around the globe. It is thus a virtual realm of dialogue before and after the conference, and beyond the physical building of the House of Arts and Letters.

Initially, the journal will help so that the dialogue can begin online before the opening of the conference. The speakers’ essays, already received in simple Word format, have undergone the necessary editing and are gradually pre-published in the journal since September 2010. They consist mainly of text but in many cases there are graphics, pictures, videos and audio, using modern technologies and embellishing the academic writing with additional data.

The pre-publication of the essays allows the co-speakers to prepare their comments contributing hence in achieving one of the conference’s goals, that is to adopt a new approach which focuses on the dialogue amongst speakers and not on the mere presentation of the papers. On the other hand, the journal itself represents the modern online environment which would be the starting point of the discussion of the various issues dealt with in the essays. Speakers and co-speakers will be able to publish observations, notes and views in the form of thematic threads which will be related to the main body of the text. Moreover, the e-journal offers a podium to a wider but informed public: anyone interested can be a user and participate in the online discussions by posting comments and remarks. The only prerequisite is that they create a user profile and follow the rules set by the moderation procedure which ensures high dialogue level filtering the posts, if needed.

By the time the conference begins, the researchers’ initial essays will have turned to “dialogues” and will no longer be mere “theses” for presentation. Every speaker will be granted 15 minutes to present the main ideas of their essay taking into consideration the most weighty comments and remarks posted by the public. The presentations conducted during the conference and the dialogue with the attendants will be recorded on video and uploaded on the e-journal. These recorded presentations will be enriched with additional data that would render them accessible through advanced search. Namely, they will have subtitles, time scales, metadata, metascripts, etc. Also, additional informative material for the author/speaker (biography, works, interview, etc) will be accessible through the texts and the presentations. In this way, the journal will form an advanced and state-of-the-art type of conference practice, where the preceding online dialogue in the form of text will be surrounded by its performative version. Both versions –the first dependent on the text itself and the online dialogues, and the second on the physical presence and the live dialogue with the attendants during the conference– will comprise the additional components of the concepts they convey. Thus, the ideas and the discussion around them will be online for a long time and will continue expanding through the addition of new data, comments and remarks of a constantly growing public.

Visitors can interact in various ways; they can choose their preferred format, i.e. text or recorded presentation, and the level of information applicable to them, i.e. more or less information according to their interests, a summary or enriched format with picture and sound, or even the presentation itself in video, full text, text with metadata, footnotes, etc.

Of course, this online interaction aspires to elicit much more than plain exchange of opinions since many interactions emerge; between the academic and non-academic audience and the speakers and co-speakers, amongst the members of the public, between the public and the texts. Ultimately, all participants in the e-journal discussions become co-authors of the text and add to the development of the main idea. 

During the development of the project, the Harvard team realized that the majority of terms used for academic publications, including the word “discussion”, fail to convey the interactive and dynamic nature of these digital multimedia products. Thus, the e-journal has adopted the term “dialogue” to describe all these by-products representing its key components. These dialogues correspond to what one would call “essays” in a conference, “articles” in a magazine or “chapters” in a book.

We sincerely hope this journal continues to serve as a venue for academic publications for many years to come, after the closing of the conference, and as a model for similar attempts and programmes. Users will be able to use the “dialogues” posted on the e-journal in the same way they use any published academic material. Through appropriate tools, users will be able to place links in their preferred material, print, save, send and share materials with friends, colleagues and social network contacts.

Thanks to its interactive, dynamic and multimedia character, the e-journal brings the world of academia to a completely new level. Addressing the global public, it complements the diachronic and interdisciplinary approach of the conference and creates an environment promoting dynamic and constantly elaborating dialogues. 

The Athens Dialogues Network (AD Network)
We have mentioned in the past The Athens Dialogues Network. However, during the planning and the thought concerning its operation, this section of the Dialogues website developed according to the increasing needs of the application in question, and the Centre of Hellenic Studies managed to meet the demands successfully. The starting point was the idea to create a universal map to locate the Hellenic Studies Chairs and also the researchers that work in the field of the Greek culture. The original idea was populated with the participants in the Dialogues (main speakers, co-speakers, winners of the EUNIC competition and the conference audience), the Greek and foreign scholars of the Onassis Foundation and all those interested in the conference's agenda and in communicating with their peers from different countries.

In the process of its implementation, the map was decided to be built according to the social network model, allowing its users to update their personal information and to refer the visitor to their official websites. The map is also associated with the Dialogues discussion website and we hope that it will evolve to become a dynamic venue for the exchange of thoughts and experiences for the Hellenic Studies and the Greek civilization in whole.  Texts, photographs and all kinds of audiovisual material (such as lectures for the public or events for topics related to the study of the Greek civilization) can be hosted here. Through this application we aspire to motivate the network of the Foundation’s Greek and foreign scholars and also to create a broader field of thought concerning this subject. The bonding between these people serves the purpose and offers the possibility to materialize the vision set by the Scholars Association of the Onassis Foundation at its establishment, which continues to constitute the objective even today, despite the remarkable progress made by the previous and the current Board of the Association. 

The Dialogues Network will still be populated after the closing of the conference and we hope that it will attract the interest of all those who have heard of this initiative by attending the conference either online or live, at the House of Arts and Letters.  All the participants in the 2010 conference, as well as old and new scholars of the Onassis Foundation, can participate in the Network. Upon request, anyone that so desires can participate, as long as they meet certain prerequisites, such as relative studies or work in the field of the Greek studies, so as to ensure a high level.

After the 2010 conference, the Network is expected to expand with the participation of institutions such as museums, libraries, and archaeological faculties, digitalized collection networks, student associations, industrial liaison offices of universities etc. Through the Network, the participants will be encouraged to exchange opinions on topics related to, for example, research and teaching methods at Universities, future events of The Athens Dialogues or other relative events. 

The Network expansion and provisions plan comprises also the offer of privileges to its members, such as specialized online seminars, updates on activities of academic and cultural interest and so forth. The Athens Dialogues Network will still be there after the conference and will help to preserve the contacts and to take full advantage of the discussions held during this event, the preparation of which has already completed three years.  

Despite the importance of all the novelties explained above, it should be underlined that, as is the case with events of this range, the most important element is the people participating. The acclaimed speakers will not only honour us with their presence, but they have also contributed their valuable time and effort by participating in the thematic units preparatory meetings and by preparing their proposals that depict innovative, intricate thoughts about Greek culture and its place in today's society. The participants in the conference, the coexistence of 90 distinguished personalities in the House of Arts and Letters and the dialogue amongst them for four consecutive days will create a unique experience. The continuance and the perspectives of the Dialogues are in the hands of those who hold the A (and the) Ω in their hands.
 
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