The Basil Laourdas Modern Greek Collection
Scope of the Laourdas Collection
The large and unique Basil Laourdas personal library forms the core of this collection. It reflects Laourdas scholarly interest in the Greek experience, especially in neohellenism. Numerous subjects are included, among them a good section on the history of Orthodoxy, but the collection is especially rich in modern Greek literature. Many of these books are inscribed first editions, and nearly every modern Greek author is represented. There is almost a complete collection of Thessaloniki poets, most of whom Laourdas knew personally. For teaching and research the section of the library containing commentaries and essays of literary criticism is noteworthy. The personal library has served as a nucleus, to which have been added many other materials donated to the collection. An attempt has been made to assemble a complete collection, including foreign translations, of selected modern Greek authors. The collection includes monographs, periodicals, offprints, newspapers, photographs, slides, recordings, music, and some manuscript materials and artifacts.
As a scholar, educator and humanist, Basil Laourdas sought to appreciate and to convey the Greek experience. Consequently he became in turn a classical philologist, a Byzantinist, and a neohellenist. His publications totaling over four hundred items attest to the diverse range of his scholarly interests in historical, philosophical, and educational questions.
Born in Pireas on March 21, 1912, Basil Laourdas lost his father early and thereafter struggled to finish the local gymnasium and finally to graduate from the Philosophical School of the University of Athens in 1936. For a decade after graduation, he taught at gymnasia in Athens, Pireas, and Heraklion, (Crete). During that period he met and associated with the leading Greek intellectuals and literary figures, such as Sikelianos, Kazantzakis, and Prevelakis. He became a philosophical and literary critic of Greek culture. His intellectual curiosity took him to Exeter College, Oxford, in 1948. And from there he came to the United States to spend four productive years at Harvard and Dumbarton Oaks as a research fellow (1950-1953).
The years in America were a turning point in his life and work. The scholar of the classics gradually moved into Byzantine and modern Greek studies. But more decisive was the familiarity he developed with Western culture. This was the beginning of a long and fruitful collaboration between Laourdas and American scholars, which lasted to the end of his life. He returned to the United States frequently, either to attend international symposia or to lecture at American universities.
In 1954, partly because of his increasing contacts with American and European scholars, Basil Laourdas was appointed director of the newly founded Institute for Balkan Studies in Thessaloniki. He served as its director until his death on March 19, 1971. Among his many accomplishments as Director of the Institute were the successful series of monographs on various subjects of Balkan history and culture, the journal Balkan Studies, the development of a specialized library on Balkan subjects, and the establishment of a school for Balkan languages. In addition, he organized a large number of symposia on subjects ranging from ancient Macedonia to the Orthodox Church in modern times.
There in Thessaloniki he married Louisa Syndika who helped him significantly in his various scholarly efforts. (It was through the generosity of Louisa Laourdas that her husbands library was donated to the University of Minnesota.) The hospitality and generosity of Basil and Louisa to America scholars and students visiting Greece became proverbial. Their office and apartment became landmarks for scholars from all over the world, just as the Thessaloniki White Tower, close by the Institute, is a landmark for citizens or visitors to that city. Many scholarly projects either originated, were encouraged, or reached fruition as a result of such visits with Basil Laourdas in Thessaloniki. An indication of the range of interests and contacts which he enjoyed is the impressive and massive volume, Essays in Memory of Basil Laourdas, published in 1975, in which forty-four international scholars honored him with essays dealing with subjects from Roman Macedonia to Problems in Rendering Modern Greek.
Laourdas interests were encyclopedic. As a classicist he was especially interested in the Greek philosophers, and as a Byzantinist he focused his attention on Photius and related subjects. He demonstrated the same encyclopedic interests as a neohellenist. He dealt with such diverse subjects as the Greek Orthodox Church, Greek-Slavic cultural relations, demotic songs, and Greek intellectuals during the Turkish period. He also wrote on almost every major Greek writer of the twentieth century, such as Papadiamantis, Vlachoyannis, Xenopoulos, Palamas, Sikelianos, Cavafy, Kazantzakis, Venezis, Theotokas, Prevelakis, and Anagnostakis. The valuable library of Laourdas on these subjects was supplemented by the library of his wife Louisa Laourdas, a scholar in her own right, especially in the field of Byzantine art. Her library became a part of the Modern Greek Collection in 1992.
The dedication of the collection was held May 19, 1978, with Mrs. Laourdas in attendance.
Using the Collection
The materials in the Basil Laourdas Modern Greek Collection do not circulate outside of the Elmer L. Andersen Library. Photocopying is available, subject to the condition of the material, and to applicable copyright laws.For information about the collection or to make an appointment with the Special Collections staff, contact:
The Basil Laourdas Modern Greek Collection
111 Andersen Library
222 21st Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55455
Fax: (612) 625-5525