ATHENS – The Consulate General of Greece in Boston and College Year in Athens (CYA) co-hosted a celebratory lecture on March 17, via Zoom, held under the auspices of the Greek Embassy in Washington, commemorating the bicentennial of the Greek War of Independence. The lecture, titled Greece’s 1821 & America: A Message of Freedom, featured guest speaker Dr. Alexander Kitroeff, Professor of History at Haverford College and a Member of CYA’s Academic Advisory Roundtable, discussing the American philhellenic movement during the Greek Revolution.
As Dr. Kitroeff explained, the wave of philhellenism that swept through the United States with the outbreak of the Greek War of Independence in 1821 included the establishment of “Greek committees” in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia and the arrival of several American volunteers in Greece among them was Bostonian Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe. What facilitated the emergence of philhellenism was the growing American fascination with Classical Greece that was expressed through the growth of Greek Revival architecture and an interest in Greece itself and the first visits there by Americans, Edward Everett from Massachusetts and Nicholas Biddle from Pennsylvania. What was also remarkable was the growing interest in the Greek struggle for freedom throughout the United States during the 1820s.
The presentation offered an overall picture of the wide parameters of American philhellenism and explored the reasons for its depth and breadth during this period.
Consul General of Greece in Boston Stratos Efthymiou gave the welcoming remarks and introduced Ambassador of Greece to the United States Alexandra Papadopoulou who noted how Philhellenism was a major component of the success of the Greek Revolution.
CYA President Alexis Phylactopoulos also offered his greetings and introduced Dr. Kitroeff, a Professor of History at Haverford College, where he has been teaching since 1996. He was born in Athens and left Greece at age fourteen to join relatives in England where he finished his schooling and then went on to acquire a Bachelor’s Degree in Politics from Warwick University. He also received a Master’s Degree from Keele University and a doctorate in modern history from the University of Oxford. After doing his national service in Greece, in 1986, he began teaching at the Byzantine & Modern Greek Center at Queens College at the City University in New York. In 1990 he moved across town to the Onassis Center for Hellenic Studies at New York University. His next position was at the History Department at Haverford College on Philadelphia’s “Main Line.”
The presentation offered fascinating insights into Philhellenism in the United States, sparked by, among other things, the influence of classical education and travels to Europe and Greece in particular which opened the eyes of many to the plight of modern Greeks under Ottoman oppression. The fight for freedom from an oppressive empire was inspired in part by the American Revolution which was itself inspired by ancient Greek philosophy and ideals of democracy espoused by the Founding Fathers. Heightening the sympathy for the Greek cause was the aspect of religious freedom with many eager to help their fellow Christians, though some Protestants may have had reservations about helping Orthodox Christians, they were still Christians.
Kitroeff also noted the influence of Romantic Philhellenic poetry in building support for the Greek cause, from Lord Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage to the work of William Cullen Bryant, American poet, journalist and long-time editor of the New York Evening Post.
The newspaper coverage from all across the United States at the time concerning Greece and the Revolution was also impressive, and highlighted by a slide showing papers from Massachusetts to Alabama, some of which devoted entire front pages to Greece, Kitroeff noted in the presentation. The fact that Americans were so concerned about the freedom of Greece while slavery continued in many parts of the U.S. also led many Philhellenes to join the Abolitionist movement in America.
As Kitroeff pointed out, the heirs of classical Greece fighting for freedom captured the imagination of the American people.
A Q&A session followed, moderated by CYA President Phylactopoulos who read the questions submitted by the viewers.
Ambassador Papadopoulou then gave the closing remarks, thanking Dr. Kitroeff and all those who participated and made the event possible.