Member of the Month – Vassilis Varouhakis
I know, it’s been a little while since we had one of these, but this one is an excellent entry to re-start the series, meet Vassilis Varouhakis.
Aside from having a truly superb beard, I can tell you that Vassilis joined HARN two years ago and listed his interests as ‘Nationalism and Archaeology, Aegean Prehistory, History of Modern Greece, Public Archaeology, Archaeological Ethnography, Social Archaeology, Identity Politics, History of Archaeology and Pseudoarchaeology.’ Which I think could be boiled down to pretty much everything archaeological. So I was particularly pleased that after being awarded his PhD (which you can read here) Vassilis agreed to write this piece for the blog. I know the following will be of great interest to many of our members, so I’ll stop wittering and hand over to Vassilis:
Archaeology has been for me a childhood dream, rapidly and endlessly moving between utopia and dystopia: growing up in the 80s with Indiana Jones movies, dinosaur Transformers toys and forcing the family to pay ceremonial visits on every single rock designated as a “monument” during vacations was part of my early years. Of course, after holding a BA, an MA and a PhD degree, naturally things start to look less romantic.
Until the end of my undergraduate studies I was full-on into Neolithic tool assemblages and the technical universe of our discipline. Still, a strong love for the theoretical and political aspects of Archaeology and an academic existential crisis deriving from it prevailed gradually in my interests. I did an MA in Minoan religion, pursuing its deconstruction, and this is when a whole new world appeared in front of me: as years passed, my focus on the material past turned from the narrative to the narrator. From studying the archaeological record, I ended up studying the archaeologists, their affiliations, their sympathies, obsessions and aversions, their sociopolitical backgrounds and stratigraphies of thought, and how all this found its way to the illustrated volumes and high prestige papers we used to read as students, the archaeological news of the mass media and, in the long run, our own collective and individual self-images.
Throughout the last four years I have been doing research on the nationalist uses and consumptions of the past, focusing on the Greek island of Crete during the late 19th and early 20th century. A period that is a multifaceted crossroad: Around that time, the autonomous Cretan State was established, as a semi-colonial project by the Great Powers of the time, but also as an archaeological laboratory, a nation-building project for Greek nationalism and a hotbed of European identity formation, all in the name of the mythical king Minos. A Labyrinth indeed, but this time with many wanderers and beasts, not just Theseus and the Minotaur.
I always find myself in doubt when it comes to define what archaeology is nowadays, thinking perhaps that, eventually, it has become so many things, from hi-tech digital applications to philosophical ontologies on Time and Matter, that, in the end, it exists no more, that the people involved in the discipline demolished it. I still find great comfort in my research. And great frustration too, thinking that the majority of my colleagues is so deeply entrenched in their work that they fail to grasp the broader consequences of their actions and words, the fatality of their self-referential saga, or, sometimes, the futile insignificance of their contribution “out there”. But, after all, if academia has become a race for grants that fund self-fulfilling prophecies, we might as well bear in mind that we should not take things, including archaeology, too seriously. So don’t pay attention to anything above.
Thank you Vassilis for an entertaining and thought provoking piece. There will be more member posts to look out for as I slowly get myself organised again. In the meantime, have a great weekend