Research Frontiers, Academic Margins: Helen Papanikolas and the Authority to Represent the Immigrant Past

by Yiorgos Anagnostou (Γιώργος Αναγνώστου)

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Between the 1950s and the 1980s, at a time when Greek American Studies was still a nascent academic undertaking, folklorist and historian Helen Papanikolas (1917-2004) conferred upon the newly emerging field a substantial share of institutional visibility. From as early as 1954, she was successful in publishing her research in the Utah Historical Quarterly, the official journal of Utah’s Historical Society, also managing to place her work in numerous university-affiliated venues, including academic presses. These accomplishments deserve particular attention not merely because they represent a pioneering initiative that bestowed respectability upon the field, but notably because this prolific writer was never professionally trained in the subjects in which she extensively published, namely, oral history, ethnohistory, and folklore.’ How can one explain this institutional success?
How did a non-academic researcher come to be acknowledged, early in her career, as an authoritative chronicler of immigrant history
and culture by prestigious regional institutions? The fact that Papanikolas’ research interests reflected the ideological signature of the institutions that published her work explains this situation only partially…