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“Greek fever”: The Greek Revolution and the making of American philhellenism



“Greek fever”: The Greek Revolution and the making of American philhellenism


5 February 2021


"The role of American philhellenes of diverse backgrounds is well-known but little-explored with few exceptions (Earle 1927; Kaplan 1993; Repousis 1999; Hatzidimitriou 2002; Javavone 2017). The civilisational orientalist discourse in favour of independence drew on the tradition of the American Revolution and created a legacy that resonates to the present; beyond the public celebration of the role of Howe and other Americans in 2019, united states involvement in the Greek Revolution needs to be explored through a story of individual aspirations, commercial interests, foreign policy ambitions and Christian humanitarianism. this paper takes stock of findings and the writings of Americans who travelled, lived in Greece and wrote about the revolution, but will not focus on individual motives; the paper instead explores the rise of philhellenism and presents an overview of newspapers (through the previously untapped database of US newspapers “Chronicling America”), Senate and Congress discussions, to address the following questions: How did the dissemination of news about the revolutionary war form a public opinion that was supportive of Greek independence in the United States? How did newspapers report key moments and events in Greece? Americans who went to Greece wrote first-hand accounts that were then published and re-produced throughout the United States press, overwhelmingly in favour of the Greek cause and often against a more timid official US policy. In the 1820s the “Greek fever” was punctuated by the sailing of the “American Squadron” in the Mediterranean amidst concerns about piracy and was blemished by the scandal known as “Frigate affair” in 1826-27; both events were followed by an intensifying campaign to raise funds for a successful conclusion to the war. The role of individuals (Everett, Howe, Jarvis, Miller and others) is crucial, and the paper pays equal attention to how the news from the war front was reproduced in the United States, how it was embellished and to what extent this news formed a humanitarian discourse, a legacy for many other “missions” in the history of the United States ever since. The paper looks at the activism of certain agents who served in the military and were active in fundraising as public opinionmakers and amateur historians, to develop a more nuanced understanding and provide new approaches and interpretations to philhellenism in the United States as a transnational movement."

(Slightly modified abstract from conference programme)

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