2014 Summer Seminar: "Constructing Identities: Byzantium to the Balkans"

Mount Menoikeion 2014

The seemingly simple concept of identity has come into prominence over the past half century, discussed and investigated by both scholars and the public. From a humble beginning as a relatively straightforward term, it is clear today that reality, as always, is more complicated. Over the years, thinkers and researchers in various fields have shed much light about the cultural, social and psychological processes that create and modify such identities. Today, identities are usually seen as flexible, changing and situational mental constructs.

The 2014 Mount Menoikeion Summer Seminar will use identity and its construction as lens through which we will examine Byzantine, Modern Greek and Balkan culture and society. The monastery of Ioannis Prodromos in northern Makedonia would be a superb location for such an investigation on multiple levels. From an historical perspective, the area has been part of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires for almost two millennia, while its inhabitants have always belonged to a wide and constantly changing variety of ethnic and religious groups. In the last century alone, the immediate region played a long series of national, cultural and religious disputes between Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria and Makedonia, all of which could easily be traced back to questions of identity. Likewise, the greater Balkan region’s issues of identity were nothing if not at the root of the Yugoslav wars that ended only a decade and a half ago. 

Yet one could also look at these questions of identity and its construction at an individual level. Each of the seminar participates will inevitably come with a gamut of different identities – national, ethnic, religious, familial, institutional, to cover just a few – that constantly change according to our surroundings and immediate circumstances. The identity of the monastery itself, a vestige of the Byzantine Empire that encapsulates Ottoman influences which is at the same time both the quintessential local monastery but is also made up of nuns from around the world, is continuously re-constructed in order to serve new narratives. Even the nuns, seemingly uniform at first glance, are quickly revealed to have an intricate series of identities, ranging from their own self-image and understanding, through their place in the monastery’s communal life and their personal ties to the local community, and up to their former lives, which are never completely forgotten. 

Summer Seminar Handout for more information

2014 Summer Participants

Seminar Directors:
Nikolaos Bakirtzis (Professor, The Cyprus Institute)
Dimitri Gondicas (Professor, Hellenic Studies)

Seminar Coordinators: 
John Lansdowne (Ph.D. Candidate, Art & Archaeology)
Lee Mordechai (Ph.D. Candidate, History)

Princeton Faculty: 
Slobodan Ćurčić (Professor Emeritus, Art & Archaeology)

Greek Archaeological Service Participant:
Xenophon Moniaros (9th Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities)

Graduate Students: 
Danai Konstantinidou (Heritage Preservation/ Digital Cultural Heritage)
Nikolaos Michailidis (Anthropology)
Orlando Reade (English)
Christina Roditou (Museum Studies/ Digital Cultural Heritage)

Undergraduate Students: 
Jenny Jiang '16 - Paper
Stephanie Leotsakos '16 - PaperJournal
Ryan Low '16
Yossi Quint '17  - Journal
Marjorie Xie '15