On Tuesday, February 17th we had the pleasure to have with us Dr George Vassiadis from the History Department. George started his appointment as a Lecturer in Modern Greek History at RHUL in 2014 and he is also an executive member of the Hellenic Institute, an interdisciplinary research centre for the study of Greek history and culture. His research focuses in part on the Greek diaspora in Egypt and Turkey.
Here are some post-LS reflections by George.
I was invited to Landscape Surgery to talk about using maps as a source for my ongoing research into the social, political and economic history of the Greek communities in Turkey and Egypt between the 1850s and the 1960s. Minority groups in the successor states of the Ottoman Empire were negatively affected by the violent upheavals of the twentieth century. Although there are still small numbers of Greeks in Turkey and Egypt, they are struggling to survive as viable communities. Maps provide us with one of the most immediate visual and documentary testimonies of their presence in cities where the host cultures have now come to predominate.
Using specific examples, I showed how the maps produced by Charles E. Goad (1848-1910), Jacques Pervititch (1877-1945) and the largely anonymous cartographers and surveyors of the British-run Survey of Egypt (extant from 1898 to 1960) serve as invaluable aids for tracking the urban presence of non-Muslim minority communities, both indigenous and foreign, in Constantinople (Istanbul), Smyrna (Izmir), Alexandria and Cairo. The ethnic groups involved include Greeks, as well as Armenians, Jews, Syrians, and Levantines of western and central European origin.
The beautifully drawn and coloured Goad and Pervititch maps were originally produced for the fire insurance industry. Until recently, very little was known about the motivations and working methods of these two important cartographers. Goad had a flourishing fire insurance plan business in Canada, yet he chose to map four Ottoman cities. Pervititch’s maps are highly idiosyncratic, the inspired output of a first-generation Constantinopolitan who strongly identified with his adoptive city. Although initially aimed at producing a detailed record of land tenure for taxation purposes, the Survey of Egypt left a rich cartographic legacy which far exceeds its original administrative requirements.
Until now, I tended to study these maps in isolation. Preparing for the Landscape Surgery highlighted the value of a more comparative approach. The interesting and thought-provoking discussion which followed raised a number of significant points. Can the personalities and professional working methods of Goad and Pervititch tell us more about the maps they produced? We know that these maps were originally produced for commercial and administrative purposes. But did people interact with them in different ways at the time? Have these maps now been wholly reappropriated by historians and cultural geographers? Should we treat them as cultural artifacts? When looking at these maps, how do we trace the physical presence of the people we are seeking?
George Vassiadis, Lecturer in Modern Greek History, RHUL