Bridging Gaps: A Classics Major’s Foray into A More Modern Greece

In the Fall semester of 2020, I accidentally declared a Classical Civilization major. I didn’t actually mean to - I intended on meeting with an advisor to determine which type of classics major I wanted to pursue, and if I wanted to pursue one at all. However, I left the meeting with a new line on my unofficial transcript and a laundry list of new required courses. However, I’ve loved learning about ancient Greece ever since I was 7 years old, so after I got over the initial shock, it felt like coming home.

If it weren’t for that initial miscommunication, I wouldn’t have even heard of the Michigan Library Scholars, much less applied for an internship. During the Winter semester, I was reading the e-newsletter from the Classics librarian, Zachary Quint, when I came across his note that he was to be the mentor for the MLS’ Greek War of Independence project. As a Classical Civ/History double-major who has spent a significant amount of my life inside a library - and would like to continue to do so in the future - I immediately got excited at the prospect of working on the exhibit. I started my application for MLS that day, and when I heard that I would get to be a part of the project, I immediately started writing down some initial ideas I had.

It should be noted: I knew nothing about the Greek War of Independence before this project. Luckily, Zach had organized a long list of sources for Quinn and I to read in order to acquaint ourselves with the War of Independence. For the first month of the internship, we spent all of our time reading, taking notes, and meeting with various librarians to learn about skills we might need for research, e.g. survey creation, creating accessible and usable materials, and project management. By mid-June, I had read so many articles and books about the war that I felt like my brain was going to flat out explode if I read the word “philhellenism” one more time!

Despite all of our reading, it was hard to form a coherent plan at first. In fact, it was because of all the information that we had gathered that deciding what to write about became a challenge. The Greek War of Independence can be approached from a multitude of perspectives, so choosing just one to write about was a difficult task. After a few lengthy discussions in group meetings, though, we agreed to emphasize the international aspect of the beginning of the war, since Quinn and I were both very interested in the greater historical context of 19th century Europe.

Writing about how the rest of Europe and the United States felt about the war was an eye-opening experience, as I found myself having to check my biases a great deal. As a classics major, I am used to thinking about Greece in terms of its ancient past rather than its present, but it became clear from our readings about international philhellenism that this type of thinking could have very real consequences. Thus, I tried my best to remain as critical as possible of all the sources we examined throughout our research, as many of them were European or American and leaned heavily towards sympathy towards the Greeks at the expense of the Ottomans. It became a priority for me to try to be as respectful as possible to both sides of the war, as we wanted to create an exhibit that would be as neutral as possible - after all, both the Greeks and the Ottomans committed atrocities during the war, and to suggest otherwise would be disingenuous.

Once we had decided on a scope, Quinn and I began to work on writing each section. It was hard choosing what to exclude; I’m someone who loves to write more than is necessary, so having to leave out details that I thought were interesting was difficult. As we wrote, we also found that some sections had less information than others, so we had to find more specific sources to fill those gaps. However, that specific information could be very evasive unless you used exactly the right search terms. With practice, though, finding sources became easier, and as my searches got narrower, my writing became more coherent as well. This practice with working within a finite scope I believe will help me enormously with my writing down the road, as it forced me to stick to a single narrative. Learning how to better use the library’s resources and search functions was also extremely helpful, and I’m sure it will prove very useful during the rest of my college career.

Throughout the internship, communication proved invaluable. Zach, Quinn, and I held weekly Zoom meetings, and Quinn and I also messaged one another regularly to coordinate our work. It was a little strange only having meetings online, but a year of virtual school had made it so that nothing about our communication felt unfamiliar. It did make it difficult at times to stay motivated, but thanks to Zach’s clear planning and our self-imposed deadlines, completing tasks at home became more manageable. Working in this kind of environment really challenged me to improve my time management skills and think more about how to effectively communicate and manage projects, which I think are skills that will help me quite a bit in the future.

There’s a lot more I could say about this internship and everything it taught me, but I’ll try to keep it brief. Over the past three months, I have learned so much about how to work as a member of a team, how to create an accessible, professional exhibit, how to conduct research efficiently, and of course, I’ve learned that librarians do a lot more than just help you find books. It’s been an incredibly rewarding and positive experience during another summer spent inside, and I’m extremely grateful to the Michigan Library Scholars program for giving me the opportunity to be a part of such an interesting project!