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The Tsakopoulos Collection: A treasury of Greek civilization

Photo of Angelo TsakopoulosAn intellectual’s playground and a scholar’s delight, the Tsakopoulos Collection for the Study of Hellenism–one of the largest collections of its kind in the country–is moving to Sac State where it will be readily available for use by scholars, students and the community. Named for its benefactor and steward, Angelo Tsakopoulos, the collection’s depth and diversity reflect the care and investment that he has made in the library over nearly 20 years.

This is a love affair of the heart,” Tsakopoulos says, thumbing through the Peloponnesian Wars by Thucydides in Classical Greek. Surrounding him are rows and rows of books on the history, politics, culture, religion and many other aspects of ancient to modern Greece and the surrounding area. There are even some paintings and artifacts. If it is in writing and is Greek, or of Greek descent, there will probably be reference to it in this collection.

Painting: by Mehri Yazdani, The Race II, 1988, mixed mediaThe collection is a veritable treasure including some rare books from as early as the 1500s. These include two volumes from 1559 and 1560 that are among of the earliest commentaries on Homer’s Odyssey, written by Eustathius, a Byzantine bishop of the Greek Orthodox Church. From 1541 there is an edition of the Greek New Testament edited by Desiderius Erasmus. There is also a superb collection of cartography of the Mediterranean region from the 16th century forward, and ancient dictionaries.

Tsakopoulos and his daughter, Eleni Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis, decided to transfer the collection, valued at several million dollars, to the University, he explains, because, “My daughter and the Board of Directors decided the library might be better used in association with a major learning institution. We did a national search to determine where best to locate it.” With a gleam in his eye, he recounts the wooing by academics from several East Coast universities who promised many things. But in the end, his alma mater became the recipient as he and his daughter thought that this collection should stay on the West Coast in the capital of the fifth largest economy of the world.

Photo of Book from the collectionHis daughter says, “My feeling was that these (East Coast) institutions are already rich in classical resources. It would be wrong to remove the collection from Sacramento just because we have fewer scholars here who would take advantage of it. In fact, it is only by making the collection broadly accessible in the region that we can hope to encourage more people to elect this field of study, or to come to our region to pursue it.”

Henry Chambers, chair of the Sac State history department and a professor of ancient history, is extremely pleased by the acquisition. He feels it will bring many new academic opportunities to students as well as stronger ties with the large Hellenic community in the region. He also believes that the integration of this academic resource into a university assures its long-term survival as a significant resource.

Chambers said the collection will strengthen the already excellent master’s program in history and humanities.

Photo: Model of 5th century B.C. Greek trading vesselThe attraction of international scholars who will use the facility and who may be available for campus lectures will also benefit the academic life of the campus and the community. Chambers says, “The collection and the center have been able to attract world class scholars. Moving this resource to campus moves it up another notch. We have the unique programs of the Center for California Studies, the joint doctorate in public history and this center, which will bring eminent scholars to this University. This is a substantial thing for the improvement of the visibility of the University and the history/humanities departments.”

Numerous scholars throughout the world already have relied on the center for academic research. They include Nicholai Todorov, the first non-communist prime minister of Bulgaria, who spent a year researching, writing his memoirs and writing about his country.

The collection began in 1985 in Los Angeles with professor and scholar Speros Vryonis. Tsakopoulos recounts that then-State Senator Nick Petris introduced him to the professor, and their association and the collection began to grow from there. One of the primary additions was the archival collection of Basil Vlavianos, publisher of the Greek American newspaper Ethnikos Kyryx (National Herald) from the 1930s to 1990s. Since then other prominent collections have been added through donations and purchases. Eleni Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis notes that the “Center will make a substantial donation to fund qualified students to continue the ongoing study of the Vlavianos collection.”

“We needed a library like this to provide a place for scholars to do their work and to get factual and accurate information,” Angelo Tsakopoulos says. As one of the primary backers, he was instrumental in enlarging the center and eventually moving it to Sacramento in 1989. Over the years 30 major academic publications have emerged, as have national conferences and a wealth of scholarly lectures on various aspects of the Greek and Eastern Mediterranean world.

For the past 12 years it has been housed in a spacious building in Rancho Cordova. In the next few months it will move to the third floor of the University Library.

The center takes an expansive role in collecting the culture, with the primary academic emphasis on the study of ancient, medieval and modern Greece. But because of the enormous influence of Greek culture throughout the world, the collection also includes materials of the areas encompassed by the empires of Alexander the Great, the Byzantine Empire and the Ottoman Empire.
The center has had on staff over the years experts in Byzantine Greece, Homeric Greece, Greek-Turkish relations, Persia and the Ottoman Empire. Visiting scholars have added expertise in other related areas including Cyprus, Georgia and the Pontic Greeks.

Nearly all of the 70,000 volumes plus archival materials have been catalogued and arranged in subject area collections that provide something for everyone, including Greek cooking, comic books, and the arts. It also includes the entire published acts of the Greek Parliament from 1832-1860 and from 1898 to the current, probably the most extensive such collection outside of Greece.




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