A 170-year-old treasury of records made more accessible

The moment you cross the threshold of the building housing the Historical Archive of Athens University, the urban buzz is replaced by a throwback aura of a long-gone Athens. The building at 45 Skoufa Street was once a residence and then a clinic. The drawing room on the ground floor is now a hall for events and meetings. All around the walls hang portraits of rectors and professors. A wide staircase leads to the first floor. The archives were organized by Professor Giorgos Dertilis 15 years ago and have been under the direction of Professor Costas Gavroglou since 2003. Despite the shortage of space, staff and funds, the archive is now in a busy phase, using the European Union’s Information Society program to digitize the collection. Archive collection Gavroglou, who teaches in the Department of Methodology, History and Theory of Science, and Ada Dialla, head of the Historical Archive Digital Collection program, shed light on the project, with a guided tour of the archives. From the basement to the first floor, myriad objects have been cleverly stacked along a maze of documents, files, photographs, and handwritten notes. There are also the names of hundreds of students written in the calligraphic style of the 19th century. In the library, two students work on the archives. They have already digitized more than 400,000 documents and expect to wrap up work by the end of the year. It’s a big step for such historical preservation, since Greece has only developed its archive culture recently. The material comes from a a wide range of sources. There are the archives kept by Athens University’s schools of theology, law, medicine, philosophy and physics-mathematics. There are also the administrative archives from the University Senate, the protocol and etiquette departments. Decades of documents reflect the ideological development of the Greek academic community and, by extension, of Greek society. Apart from the general archives, there are also personal archives belonging to professors, which are a rich source of information. There are some gaps in that section, since many archives have been separated, lost or destroyed. That’s one reason the Historical Archive is keen to locate and record as many personal archives as possible. Photographs, audio and film comprise another interesting section. Some 100 portraits of university professors since the 19th century trace the development of academic painting, the history of official university fashion and the course of power relations in academic circles. The collection includes archives from hospitals (including the Aiginiteio and Aretaion), and schools (such as Marasleios Academy). The digitizing of the archives also broadens the social range of the archives. For example, Gavroglou said, the archive of student and union movement contains material related to the history of youth and radical movements in Greece. The management and coordination of the material takes a lot of work. Gavroglou and Dialla say that the archives will compile unprecedented expertise for Greece. «We have started am informal cooperation network with other universities in Greece,» Gavroglou said. This initiative, which has institutional and organizational support from Athens University’s Senate, aims to rally other universities around the issues of archives. By sharing expertise and experience, the Athens University Historical Archive hopes to organize a knowledge-exchange network with archives in other Greek universities. That way, official history can be better recorded and analyzed throughout the country’s academic system.