Introducing Dr Andonis Piperoglou
In 2022 Dr Andonis Piperoglou was appointed the inaugural Hellenic Senior Lecturer in Global Diasporas. In this role Dr Piperoglou is teaching on topics related to migration, multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism, as well as the global dynamics of Hellenic culture and diaspora. Andonis frequently engages with the wider public on the relevance of Hellenism’s pasts and presents, as well as how Greek migration to Australia can be rethought for future generations. SHAPS History PhD candidate James Hogg sat down with Andonis to discuss his research interests and his plans.
View the interview below and read the transcript following:
Hi, I’m James Hogg, a second-year PhD candidate in History. Today I’ve been lucky enough to have the opportunity to chat with Dr Andonis Piperoglou, SHAPS Hellenic Senior Lecturer in Global Diasporas. An expert in migration history and ethnic history, Andonis has worked as a postdoctoral fellow at Griffith University, has published widely in the field of history, and is a co-founder of the Australian Migration History Network.
Before we begin, I’d like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation, the traditional custodians of the land hosting us today, and pay my respects to their Elders, past, present and emerging. Sovereignty was never ceded.
Andonis, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me today.
Thanks, James, and it’s a pleasure to be in your company.
Before we get started, I’d just like to say that, as someone whose mother was born in the British Colony of Cyprus, with my father’s family stemming from an island called Castellorizo in the eastern Mediterranean, I’ve inherited the experience of living under various forms of coloniality and I guess a healthy distrust of exclusivist colonial regimes that I see as tied to contemporary First Nations calls for sovereignty. So, it’s because of this inheritance I wish to pay my respects to the Wurundjeri, Wauthurong, and Boonwurung and Woiwurrung peoples of the Kulin Nation and to their Elders past, present and emerging, while also acknowledging that sovereignty has never been ceded on this beautiful city that hugs the river and the bay here in Melbourne.
Wonderful. Thanks a lot for that, Andonis, and hopefully we can get into some of these complexities in our discussion today. Just to start off, to get a bit of an idea of how we came to be here today in terms of your own personal journey, could you just tell us a bit about what drew you to become a historian and how that’s led you to the University of Melbourne?
I entered the study of history at an interesting historiographical moment, a particular moment in the study of Australia’s past, in which transnational studies was beginning to open up new ways of thinking about Australia and its historical formation. I was nurtured by a wonderful cohort of historians at La Trobe University in the northern suburbs here in Melbourne, many of whom were trained here at the University of Melbourne.
But I was born in Canberra, and I moved to Melbourne for my undergraduate studies. I began to realise, after I moved to Melbourne, that I had experienced and encountered a particular framing of Australia’s national story because I had grown up in the capital.
At the time I thought that I aspired to be a diplomat, to work for government and be a public servant. This was squeezed out of me quite quickly when I entered a pre-honours mandatory capstone subject about narrative history, run by a well-known Australian feminist historian, Professor Marilyn Lake. At the time, Marilyn had recently co-authored an award-winning book called Drawing the Global Colour Line, which she wrote with another famous Australian historian, Professor Henry Reynolds. The book and the subject matter it explored opened my understanding of what constituted, what could constitute, Australian history.
For this subject, I was assigned an essay topic that explored the politicisation of immigration restrictions in reference to a ship that arrived in late nineteenth-century Victoria. The arrival of a ship, called the Afghan, ignited much controversy. And I had to assess this controversy. This ship arrived with unwanted immigrants on board. I had to assess the debates that were circulating in Melbourne at the time in two newspapers, the Argus, and the Age. To do this, I visited the Supreme Court Library, and I began to trawl through heavy leather-bound copies of these newspapers.
Something about it hooked me. Something about these old newspapers pulled me into the study of the past – the smell, the building, the access to these types of sources. It opened a world that allowed me to encounter and engage with the past.
But it also allowed me to enter the past with a sense of contemporary relevance. At the time, there were all these discussions happening about border control and about refugees arriving to Australian borders by boat. The desire to control immigration and the surrounding debates seemed to really echo what I was reading in the newspapers from almost a century earlier.
So, you know, here I was entering into these dusty records on Australian immigration restriction. This also then led me to think about histories of racism and histories of the politics of difference. Added on to this, I increasingly started to think about how this type of history was connected to my own cultural background. As I mentioned, my mother was born in Cyprus and my father comes from a particular island in the Dodecanese. So, I was starting to consider how people of Greek background or people from the Mediterranean region at large were situated and identified with White Australia.
This led me to do a PhD and I went on to do a postdoctoral fellowship at the Griffith Centre for Social and Cultural Research. This opened me to a multidisciplinary approach to historical studies that allowed me to be a prime candidate for the position I hold now, the Hellenic Senior Lecturer in Global Diasporas, which is a role that’s associated with Melbourne’s vibrant, versatile, and large Greek diasporic communities. So, in a way, my study of immigration restriction allowed me to start to think about the agency of migrants in the making of White Australia. So that was my entry into history – an unexpected one, I have to say, but one that’s been extremely rewarding.
That’s truly wonderful that you were able to have such a transformative experience, not just in terms of meeting a scholar and being able to be taught by one that fundamentally changed your ways of conceiving the past and your relationship with it, as well as one of those beautiful honours student archival visits where you get to dig deep into something and find some hidden gems as well.
Could you tell us about some of the subjects you’re going to teach? Are your own experience going to impact the way that you teach, and what do you hope the students will get out of your subjects?
I really like how my research and teaching closely align and I’m pretty excited to teach a range of migrant history related subjects here at the University of Melbourne.
This year and ongoing in the years to come, I’ll be teaching a subject called Migrant Nation: History, Culture and Identity [HIST20091]. The subject will ask students to think about what it means to live in Australia, a country that pretty much situates itself in the global story of post-war immigration – to think about how histories and policies and attitudes towards people coming here are relevant to our sense of selves today. We delve into key issues related to the global phenomenon of migration, how people moved, what are the modes and nodes by which they got here, but also how particular cultural identities rub up against the mainstream narrative of what might constitute an ‘Australian’.
I encourage students to think critically about our migrant past, but also about the story of Australia as a whole. We cover things like refugee narratives, the politics of immigration, the development of multicultural policies, as well as hovering over the critical debates that occur in obscure or forgotten or sidelined places – in particular, migrant literatures, ethnic community spaces, backyards – thinking about where alternative migrant stories are within our landscape.
Part of this subject asks students to go to one of Melbourne’s multicultural museums. Here in Melbourne, we have a range of so-called multicultural museums: the Jewish Museum [of] Australia, the Islamic Museum of Australia, the Chinese Australian museum, the Hellenic Museum.
I ask students to write a critical reflective essay on how the narrative of migration is presented in these spaces. The aim is to start to develop their interpretive skills, to learn how to access, interpret and use sources for the presentation of historical narrative.
I’m also teaching a third-year course called Global Diasporas, Hellenic Cultures. This is a third-year historiographical subject, which gets us to think about the diversity of diasporic histories, theories, and experiences across the globe. Here I introduce students to the global spread of Greek culture, civilisation and ethnos. We think critically about the role that Hellenism and ‘ideas of Greece’ have played in fostering notions of civic responsibility.
But we also look at what I call comparative diasporic snapshots. We’ll be looking at a whole range of other groups like Italian, Lebanese, African, Chinese, Indian and Indigenous diasporas. We’ll think about what it might mean to be diasporic – what it might mean to live with a sense of self that’s disassociated from strict notions of national identity. It might be attached to a homeland, a place, a sense of cultural distinctiveness, but it’s not necessarily bound up with a sense of ethno-nationalism.
A fun assessment that I encourage students to engage with in this unit is what I call a ‘mapping diasporic Melbourne’ assignment, where students contribute to a Google map of Melbourne and locate different places, peoples, things – in their historical context – in this map. Throughout the semester, we build our own sense of global diasporic Melbourne, thinking about what it means to live in a global city and how our global city is connected to multiple sites across the world that enhance our sense of civicness, our sense of what it might mean to be a global citizen.
Finally, I also teach a mandatory subject for History honours students. Here, these budding young aspiring historians get a sense of the making of the globalised world, and how we got to this super-connected, interconnected moment. They will recognise that perhaps this is something that doesn’t necessarily originate from say the connectivity of the Internet that has been brought about in recent times. We point them towards thinking about how global connections changed and shifted over time and the contemporary salience of what it means to think about history in a global context. We encourage them to think about the relevance, say, of the students’ individual honours projects, which are often, and necessarily so, very nuanced, specified pieces of research, and to think about how almost any type of historical critical analysis can be attached to global phenomena. Again, I think that allows us entry into thinking about what it means to be a global citizen, to have a responsibility to the world at large.
That’s really interesting. In terms of the connection between ethnicity, diaspora and nationalism, one aspect that I don’t think we’ve really talked about that much yet is the contribution of colonialism and how it intersects with these identities and practices. So just concentrating on the dynamics of Greek migration to Australia, your work is at the intersection of these forces, historical studies of migration and colonialism. Do you reckon you could talk us through this relationship between Greek migration and colonialism?
Yeah, sure. It’s something that I should say I’m still thinking through, and I perhaps will be thinking through it for quite some time. I’ll explain why.
The history of migration to Australia has been presented as a kind of celebratory story of migrant contribution to the nation. That is, the story of different groups coming to Australia is often presented as part of a narrative of struggle and success: the migrants came, laboured, worked hard and then became good Australians.
That story is so separate from the broader, I would say, global dynamics of colonialism and settler colonialism – a particular form of colonialism in which people leave with a sense that they’re leaving to stay somewhere else.
When we think about this framing of migration and particularly in relation to Greeks and Greek migration to Australia, we start to get a sense of how people of non-Anglo background who have experienced varying degrees of hostility – they’ve experienced racism – climbed the steep labour ladder of social mobility. But then, at the same time, they’ve always been positioned as ‘hyphenated’, as being somewhat removed from some sense of what a ‘quintessential Australian’ might be.
This perpetuates a story of migrant contribution – that migrants come to colour in and mix up and diversify the Australian story. But always this is removed from the broader story of colonialism – the British came to Australia, the British colonised Australia, but there isn’t much room for thinking about where the story of non-Anglo migrants, non-British migrants, belongs in that broader story of Australian settler colonialism.
When we think about Greeks, and my research has led me to enter this area of inquiry, we start to think about the different cultural nuances or cultural specificities that’s part of the story of settler colonialism. We can think about how framings of Greece – what I like to call ‘ideas of Greece’ or notions of Hellenism – have co-contributed to the so-called ‘civilising mission’ associated with Britain’s global empire.
We can think about architecture and material culture, columns, you know, classical motifs, ways in which Greece is kind of reused and presented as a means to lay claim to this land. At the same time, we can think about how Greeks play into a certain type of possessive colonial mentality, buying property, identifying with whiteness, playing into notions of respectability and class that situate themselves as archetypal model ethnic groups that could be emulated and mirrored by other groups who come here from other parts of the world.
So, there’s a double-pronged aspect to this that’s worth considering. On the one hand, how do you tell the story of migrant contribution to Australia – the story of diversity, the story of multiculturalism, the story of transcultural encounter, the story of interaction? How do you tell this story, while also recognising the heavier and I would say more politically salient stories of colonialism? Conversations about these questions are happening in contemporary Australian society at this very moment. We’re about to go in tomorrow to Australia Day or Invasion Day. For some, this day represents a perpetual wound that exists within how Australia grapples with its sense of colonial inheritance. I think that there’s a way that we can cross-marry, if you will, cross-pollinate these two different historical narratives to come up with a stronger sense of how migration and colonialism share quite a close history.
In one of your recent articles you suggest that Australia’s conception of whiteness was in some ways connected to a British fascination with Greece. I think this is quite interesting considering that since dispossession, one of the ways whiteness has been delimited in Australia is through the construction of non-whiteness, which at times included Greek settlers and others. How did this seeming paradox contribute to Australian conceptions of whiteness and nationhood, in your view?
There are several aspects to this. I’ll start with the idea of Greece and how that relates to the story of Australian whiteness in its transnational context. The idea of Greece in the Western imagination, and by extension in the making of the Australian nation, has this unique foundational core to it. That is, Greece is situated as the originator of Western civilisation. So, the desire to create a racially homogeneous society in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century in Australia was partly tied to a connection, a perceived transhistorical connection, to this ancient Greek ideal.
How, then, were modern Greeks and other people from the Mediterranean viewed within the border regimes and making of white Australia? Here there are many conceptions and words that are thrown around that I think are largely based on presumption rather than historical evidence.
Greeks and Italians were allowed to come into white Australia during the early twentieth century. However, Syrians and Lebanese people were not – they were considered part of ‘Asia’, while Greeks living in modern Greece were not. So, there is something to think about when considering the legal framing of whiteness and immigration – of who constituted or passed as ‘white’ and, by extension, freely move in and out of Australia. In other words, as someone who could pass as the ‘right type’ of racial subject that Australia wanted. But then, once these people, Greeks and Italians, say, come to Australia, even though in small numbers compared to the postwar period, they are questioned on the ground and on the everyday level as being white-but-not-white-enough – white, but racially distinct from other whites.
So, the paradox is quite interesting to think about in regards to your question. The paradox that I see, that stems from Marilyn Lake and Henry Reynolds’ book Drawing the Global Colour Line, is along these lines: If you believed in race science at the time, which our politicians and early public servants very much did, they believed in the idea that there were separate distinguishable human groups, right? Which we know now is a falsehood but, nonetheless, they believed in this race science, and they thought, how could you have a free and equal, fair society if you let in lower subtypes? Because they would be unequal to your superior race.
For me, the story of people from the Mediterranean region who literally tested, disrupted, made messy the politics of whiteness offers an interesting way to think about the operations of this paradox and how it evolved to create a sense that particular groups were more or less Australian. Those from Britain could be deemed ‘Australian’, while other groups who come here, although naturalising and self-identifying as naturalised British subjects in White Australia, become ‘hyphenated Australia’. They become Greek-Australian, Greek-Italian, and there’s something to think about there in relation to an interesting philosophical concept developed by my colleagues at La Trobe, Toula Nicolacopoulos and George Vassilacopoulos, about what we might call the ‘perpetual-foreigners-within’. And, so, I think it’s interesting to think about race formation and the contestability of the language of whiteness – about who’s white and not white. But also, about how this contestability evolves and shifts over time, shifting who can lay claim to a particular form of Australian permanency – that is, living here and belonging here, while also constantly negotiating their lives alongside their sense of their family’s historical trajectory.
The transhistorical dimension of this weird sort of fascination with ancient Greek culture as the birthplace of democracy or whatever example that politicians at the time were forwarding, seems particularly interesting because, I mean, it was no longer a historical reality – it was almost a temporal fiction at that point. Greece at the time wouldn’t have resembled ancient Greece at all. Yet for some reason that was a fitting reason to elevate them to the status of, I guess, not quite white, or something like that?
Here we also need to think about the relationship, not just to the ‘idea of Greece; that I mentioned and how that has very strong connotations to Enlightenment Europe, this move away from religious ways of thinking to some rational sense of thinking that took thinkers back to ancient Greece. The other point to consider is the role of the making of modern Greece in the Western imagination. Greece becomes a nation in the nineteenth century, fights a Revolutionary War against the Ottoman Empire, and Britain, France and Germany in particular play a role in the making of modern Greece. There’s this interesting way to think about this region in the world as an axle point, as a teetering place between Orientalised and Occidentalist worlds, an ‘East’ and a ‘West’, the separation between ‘white Europe’ and something else. It’s an interesting region to think about when we think about how people who grew up within these worlds identify with the politics of race that so firmly amplifies itself in the settler colonial Anglosphere – in places like north America and Australasia. How do these people – who are leaving worlds that are caught up, literally, in the demarcation between a particular world and another world – negotiate their lives into these settler colonial spaces?
I might wrap up here by saying that I think it’s also interesting to think about the local control, the localised dynamics, if you will, or the regional dynamics, when we think about human movements in relation to the racialisation that occurs in settler colonial society. For example, I mentioned that my mother born in British Cyprus – Malta was a British colony in the Mediterranean, Gibraltar is still held by Britain in the Mediterranean, the Ionian Islands which are now part of Greece, were once Venetian and then were part of the British Mediterranean.
People who came here from these regions in what has been described at the British Mediterranean had a well-versed understanding of the British imperial world. They had a certain understanding of the types of hierarchies and categories and languages that were circulating across this imperial world, and they used this to their advantage once settling here. They used this to situate themselves as respectable, required settlers that were nonetheless distinguishable from, and proudly so, from the British core populace. So, I think it’s important to think about, then, what we could think of as the transcoloniality intersecting with transnational movements, and how that affects how people choose to situate themselves and start to call Australia home.
Fantastic. So, I’ve got one more question, and it tries to draw out the methodological implications of your work and some of these questions that you’re asking. It’s about the transnational turn in history. The transnational turn has expanded both the scope and scale of historical research but, in a certain sense, histories of migration have always been eminently transnational. So as a historian of migration, ethnicity and diaspora, could you comment on how this revolution in historical thinking has influenced you as a scholar?
Sure. As I mentioned at the start, as a student, I accidentally found myself in a subject that was largely based on a book that has been an exemplar of transnational history, Drawing the Global Colour Line. That book’s approach, which charted the transnational evolution of whiteness and immigration restriction, also did something for me to think about how we might reinterpret the migrant histories that I talked about earlier. How do we reinterpret the story of migrant contribution to have a more contemporary salience to people’s lives? Transnational history allowed this opening to start to talk about movements and flows, connections, modes and nodes, places and spots that allow us to draw the lines of connectivity that have shaped our world today.
But I would like to say that there’s been a lot of critique of transnational approach because since this term first emerged people have started to ask: well, this transnational move away from the nation, does it disrupt national history?
It also asks us to question, then, how does the term apply to a weird country like Australia that has essentially a long history of British colonialism, that gets swept up into a new type of national formation, right? The settler nation. Is that transnational history? Is it transcolonial history? Is it intercolonial history? If we’re talking about connections, say between New Zealand and Australia, or if we’re talking about connections between Australia and South Africa, you know, are these transnational? In what ways are they intercolonial histories?
This leads me to get to thinking about regionalism and how we use terms to describe regions. Something useful that the transnational turn has allowed me to do is to start thinking about, well, what constitutes the Mediterranean? What does it mean when we talk about the Pacific? What does it mean if I talk about the Levant, the Eastern Mediterranean? What does it mean if I talk about the Balkan Peninsula? What does it mean if I talk about North Africa? What does it mean if I talk about, you know, northern Australia as being a distinctly separate geopolitical social space when compared to southern Australia?
For me, as a migration historian, whether we use the terms transnational, regional, Oceanic, global, the point is that this all allows us to explore encounter, connection, mobility, movement, with historical specificity in mind. It allows us to connect, say, Port Said in Egypt to Port Fremantle in WA. It allows us to have better conceptual framings that perhaps do us a good service in enabling us to craft histories that better emulate the diversity of our contemporary reality today.
In 2023 Andonis is teaching the SHAPS undergraduate subject Migrant Nation: History Culture Identity (HIST20091), and The Long History of Globalisation (HIST40037) for the History Honours course.
You can read more of about his work on the topics covered in the interview in: ‘Border Barbarisms’, Albury 1902: Greeks and the Ambiguity of Whiteness, Australian Journal of Politics and History 64.4 (2018): 529–543 and Migrant-cum-Settler: Greek Settler Colonialism in Australia, Journal of Modern Greek Studies 38.2 (2020): 447–471.