The making of the Greek History
The construction of national time
I awoke with this marble head in my hands
which exhausts my elbows and I do not know where to set it down.
It was falling into the dream as I was coming out of the dream
our lives joined thus and it will be difficult to part them

George Seferis, Mythical Story

A. The construction of time
1. Representations and Interpretations
As modern history writing was developed within the scope of national historiography
since the 19th century, so the concept of the nation has become one of the essential
categories through which the imagination of space and the notion of time are
constructed1. This is the tradition and the institutional environment within which
contemporary historians conduct their research and write their texts, reconstructing
and reinforcing the structures of power that they experience.
The concept of the nation has been approached through two basically different
perspectives, despite internal variations. The first one concerns the representations of
national revival: the nation, an already existing entity, resurrects itself and under
certain conditions, undertakes an active historical role. The second perspective refers
to the interpretations of the construction of the nation through national ideology and
the institutions of the political community. Theories of the first category (essentialist
theories) constitute parts of the national ideology, especially in its romantic and
historicist phases. They refer, and eventually rationalize, the way the nation perceives
itself, or more precisely, they describe the dominant view of the national ideology.
Essentialist theories contribute to the construction of the nation. Since they have been
transformed into ideology and obtain significance in space and time, in culture and in
institutions, they do not simply describe a process but reproduce their object. They
constitute the reflection through which the nation constructs its self-view. As a result,
they intervene in the processes of the re-definition and of the construction of
identities2. The second category of theories, closer to the French tradition that
conceptualizes the nation on the premise of “a sense of belonging”, has been formed
by the seminal work of Frederik Barth (1969), Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger
(1983), Benedict Anderson (1983), Ernest Gellner (1983) and others3. This theoretical
framework has been enriched by post-seventy’s studies on ideology and on the
discursive construction of identities and now constitutes the common background of
working theories on the nation within the international academic community (constructivist theories).4 Within both of these approaches to the nation, there is a
different reading of the direction of time. In representation the direction is from the
past to the present; in interpretation, from the present to the past. Both directions
relate to the reading of dreams. During dreaming, “the preceding events are caused by
the ending, even if, in narrative composition as we know it, the ending is linked to the
events which precede it by a cause and effect relationship.”5 This is also the time of
history making. History and National ideology share the double time of the dream.
As Seferis wrote, “it was falling into the dream as I was coming out of the dream”.

2. Time and National Narrative
Having a temporal structure, national identity imposes a restructuring of the
perception of time. This perception is articulated as narrative and narration. It is
formulated in the shape of national history using the organic category of the nation.
Through the national narrative, it identifies the subjects with the national collectivity
and impersonates the nation; it consolidates these identifications in the domains of
institutions and of symbols; it influences, clarifies and unifies different traditions
constructing, in this way, the national culture. The construction of the national
narrative restructures the experience of time attributing a new significance to it and
presenting the nation as an active historical agent that, through the narration, acquires
a new historical identity6. In this sense, national historiography constitutes the
codified past which is activated through present action and which aims at an expected
future. In other words it embodies a significant and ever-present element of the
nation, its active memory. Memory, however, since it has been activated and
articulated in a certain narrative, cannot accept blank spaces. This means that a
national narrative should have an internal element of coherence and cannot exist if
there are temporal discontinuities. The question of continuity has acquired a crucial
importance in the construction of national history, particularly for Mediterranean

3. Mediterranean pasts
Mediterranean nations “awoke” with a “marble head” in their hands. The
need to deal with these long historical periods and different cultures is a common
feature of their national histories. But Mediterranean nations had undertaken the
difficult task to combine different and significant pasts: the Greek-Roman world with
the Christian, the Latin with the German, the Greek with the Slav and the Ottoman
world, the Egyptian, the Hellenistic, the Roman, the Islamic, the Arab, the Ottoman
past, the era of colonialism and independence, need to be synthesized. All of these
periods have different meanings for the construction of Mediterranean identities and
for the shaping of national cultures and politics.
How, for instance, should historia sacra and historia profana be allayed in
Christian nations, or the Arab, Iranian and Ottoman past with the Islamic past? Is the
Hellenistic period part of the history of Egypt, or does it belong to the history of  Greece? To whom does Byzantium belong? Is it part of Greek history or does it
belong equally to Bulgarian and Serbian History? Is the Ottoman period an organic
part of Balkan and Arab history or is it a foreign interruption of their history? To
which continuity does Macedonian history belong? Does it belong to a Southern Slav,
Hellenic or local Macedonian continuity? To whom does the history of early modern
Thessaloniki belong? To a history of the Jewish Diaspora, to Ottoman history, or to
Greek history? Is there a place for non-national, ethnic and religious minorities in the
Balkan national histories such as the Sephardic Jewish communities, the Vlachs, the
Greek-Catholic or the Orthodox-Turkish speaking populations? All these questions
relate to identities. What is the Egyptian identity? Is it Arab, Islamic or geographic
and cultural (the child of the Nile) extending from the Pharaonic to the post-colonial
era? What consequence for domestic or foreign politics could the adoption of one or
another of the definitions of identity have?7



1 James Sheeham, ‘What is German History? Reflections on the Role of the “nation”
in German History and Historiography’, Journal of Modern History, 53(1981) pp. 1-
2 Anthony Smith, Theories of Nationalism (London 1983)
3 Frederik Barth, Ethnic Groups and Boundaries (London 1969), Eric Hobsbawm and
Terence Ranger, The Invention of Tradition (Cambridge 1983), Benedict Anderson,
Imagined Communities (London 1983), Ernest Gellner, Nations and Nationalism
(Oxford 1983).

4 For an assessment of this transition from the essentialist to the constructivist theories
of the nation: Cora Govers and Hans Vermeulen (Ed.), The Politics of Ethnic
Consciousness (London 1977), pp. 1-30.
5 Boris A.Uspenskij, Storia e semiotica (Milano 1988),p.13
6 On the restructure of experience of time through narrative: Paul Ricoeur, Time and
Narrative (Chicago 1983) pp. 52-87, and on the term “appropriation of the past”, his
Memoire, Oubli et Histoire ( EUI, Working papers, Florence 1995) .

7 Jack Crabbs, The Writing of History in Nineteenth-Century Egypt (Cairo 1984),
Anthony Gorman, ‘In the Shadow of the Nation: the Politics of Egyptian
Historiography in the Twentieth Century’, Journal of Arabic, Islamic and Middle
Eastern Studies, 3(1996) pp. 117-126, Israel Gershoni, ‘Imagining and Reimagining
the Past: The Use of History by Egyptian Nationalist Writers, 1919-1952’, History
and Memory,4 (1992)pp. 6-37, David Gordon, ‘History and Identity in Arab Textbooks’,
Princeton Near East Paper 13(1971) pp.1-15

SOURCE  Antonis Liakos “The making of the Greek History The construction of national time” in Jacques Revel, Giovanni Levi Political Uses of the Past. The recent Mediterranean Experience London, Frank Cass, 2001 (pp. 27-42)

About sooteris kyritsis

Job title: (f)PHELLOW OF SOPHIA Profession: RESEARCHER Company: ANTHROOPISMOS Favorite quote: "ITS TIME FOR KOSMOPOLITANS(=HELLINES) TO FLY IN SPACE." Interested in: Activity Partners, Friends Fashion: Classic Humor: Friendly Places lived: EN THE HIGHLANDS OF KOSMOS THROUGH THE DARKNESS OF AMENTHE
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