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2005-2006 Visiting Fellows

Eleftheria Arapoglou
Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece

I am extremely grateful to the Friends of the Princeton University Library and the Program in Hellenic Studies who, by awarding me a generous Research Fellowship in August 2005, allowed me the opportunity to conduct original research into the work of the author Demetra Vaka Brown, using the Rare Books and Special Collections of the Princeton University Library. More specifically, my study of the Atlantis Collection, the Diamantides Collection, and the Collection of Modern Greek Pamphlets, Ephemera, and Clippings on Greece and Southeastern Europe shed light on important aspects of the life and work of Vaka Brown that had raised vexed questions prior to my visit to Princeton.

Demetra Vaka Brown (Prinkipo1877-Chicago 1946) belonged to the cosmopolitan middle class of Istanbul and was one of the first Greek immigrant women who joined American mainstream culture and society. After her wedding to author Kenneth Brown, she worked for the American Press and was eventually considered an authority on the subjects of oriental women and also on the Eastern Question. She worked as a journalist and foreign correspondent in the U.S.A. and the Balkans, especially in Ottoman Turkey. Her 14 books were in print until the 1930's and were translated into several European languages. Unfortunately, the fact that Vaka Brown's books are today out of print had thus far posed serious obstacles to my research. However, consulting the entire written corpus of Vaka Brown held by the Princeton University Library and framing it within the context of significant historical publications of the time has proved invaluable to my research.

My goal while at Princeton was to read Vaka Brown's texts by foregrounding historical context in order to make a case for the author's positioning with respect to nationalist and imperialist practices. Hence, my research using the Rare Books and Special Collections evolved along two axes. Firstly, I focused on two works by Vaka Brown: her travel narrative entitled The Heart of the Balkans (1917) and the political testimony In the Heart of German Intrigue (1918). More specifically, upon consulting the Ephemera collection, I came to view the two texts as 'cultural narratives' with a specific ideological function in the construction of a modern Greek nation-state and national identity. As my use of the above-mentioned Princeton University Library collection indicated, the author's specific works yield crucial insights into modern Greek nationalism as a territorial ideology that implicates the modern Greek and Turkish nation states as well as the countries in the Balkan region. Indeed, contextualizing Vaka's writing within other publications of the time that also addressed the Balkan question problematizes the specific political and cultural contexts and contingencies within which practices such as geography, folklore, and travel literature develop.

Secondly, I turned my attention to Demetra Vaka Brown's novels that deal with life in the Orient, such as Haremlik (1909) and Unveiled Ladies of Stamboul (1923). My study of the historical records, newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, newsletters, and other ephemera on the turn-of-the-century period during which Vaka Brown was working as a U.S. correspondent in the East has allowed me to address controversial questions that relate to the conflicted nature of the author's allegiances. Of note, I have been able to probe the alternative responses Vaka Brown's narratives offer to the 'scaffoldings' of nationalism and cultural hegemony, as the Princeton University Library holdings in question facilitated my articulation of a nuanced historical and cultural reading of the author's texts. Ultimately, I believe that my investigation into the way in which Vaka Brown represents the East problematizes the canonical stereotypes of Western 'Oriental' literature and reframes the historical tensions between the culture of the West and that of the East.

Two articles which are currently in progress -- one on Vaka's 'nationalist' project as this is manifested in The Heart of the Balkans and In the Heart of German Intrigue, and another on Vaka's 'harem novels' as illustrations of female imperial positionings -- have evolved out of my research at Princeton. Subsequently, I plan to submit one of them to the Journal of Modern Greek Studies.

Closing, I wish to repeat my deep gratitude to the Friends of the Princeton University Library and the Program in Hellenic Studies, without whose support and assistance I would not have been able to consult Princeton University Library's Special Collections -- a unique resource that allowed me to place Vaka Brown's oeuvre in a rich, historically and culturally informed, context.


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