Posted on 26 May 2023 in bulletin, digital humanities, fieldwork, history

OpenEleusis: Crafting Digitalised Representations of Eleusina’s Industrial Culture

In this contribution to Bulletin 27, Io Chaviara, Danae Karydaki, Michalis Kastanidis, and Regina Mantanika introduce OpenEleusis, an interdisciplinary digital platform that maps the cultural history and living memory of the city of Eleusina.

Io Chaviara, Danae Karydaki, Michalis Kastanidis, Regina Mantanika

Image in public domain. See the original image here.

Βάρδα φουρνέλο! [Alert, explosion!]

Very often, we heard this phrase from the loudspeakers in the middle of the day while hanging around as children in the neighbourhood. In the hearing of it, we had to get indoors as it signalled extractions were about to take place in the nearby mountain [quarry]… If you walk around the area, even nowadays, and you take a closer look at the terraces in some houses, you can still observe the added layer from the dust that, over the years, became cement. (From a discussion with people from the local association of people from the island of Symi, February 2023.)

Sometimes you could see outside the window of the house, and it was as if it was snowing [the dust from the explosions]. (From a discussion with people from the local association of refugees from Asia Minor, October 2022.) 

Eleusina is a city on the outskirts of Athens that hosts various industrial activities. It is a place where various transitions have taken and still take place: from rural to industrial societies; from “native” to refugee towns; from neighbourhoods inhabited by workers to areas where workers merely commute. Compared to the other towns of the region, Eleusina stands out as it captures a double symbolic character: a “contemporary” centre of industrial development and, at the same time, a region of special archaeological interest. This double symbolism shapes the particular space and time of Eleusina and is reflected in the daily life of the people who live, work, or transit the city.

Although Eleusina is internationally acclaimed for its ancient past, being the site of the Eleusinian mysteries during antiquity, its largely neglected modern history that is intertwined with the gradual industrialisation of the area from the late nineteenth century onwards is very intriguing. From small-scale industries for soap and wine production that were established in 1875 and 1900, respectively, to the creation of the defense industry PYRKAL and the cement industry TITAN in the early twentieth century and the coming of the greatest steel industry, oil refineries, and shipyards in the post-war period, Eleusina became one of the most rapidly industrialised regions in Greece. And this development could not but also affect the population of Eleusina; internal migrants from the islands and other places came to Eleusina to find a job, while refugees from Minor Asia and Pontus were also placed in Eleusina. For the best part of the twentieth century, almost every family in the area had a member working in an industrial environment. A second radical change comes with the shutting down or relocation of the factories in the 1990s as well as with the transformation of the working conditions in the twenty-first century, when employees no longer needed to live in Eleusina and could either commute from Athens or work remotely.

Who are the people of Eleusina?

Workers, individuals of different social groups and origins, who have been—and still are—part of the industrial reality and economy of the city (employees, petty traders, small-scale artisans, traditional craftsmen and craftswomen, etc.).

How do we reach out to them?

Through the various ethno-local associations[1] that are very active in the Eleusina community we are looking for stories around the daily life of those working and living in the industries. Our hypothesis, from the field research conducted so far, is that the existence of so many associations in a small area is the result of the migrant mobility that composes the industrial landscape of the region. More than 10 associations continue to be active until today and play an important role in the life of Eleusina.  To name just a few, there are Associations of Epirus, the island of Corfu, the island of Crete, Asia Minor (refugees), Pontus (refugees), the island of Symi, the island of Chios, the Dodecanese islands, Thessaly, and the Peloponnesians of Eleusina.

In 1955, the “Elaiourgiki—Central Cooperative Union of Olive Oil Producers of Greece” was founded in Eleusina. Many people arrived in the 1960s in Eleusina from the region of Rethymno in Crete… The one brought the other and most of them found a job in Elaiourgiki… (From a discussion with people from the local association of Cretans in Eleusina, April 2023)

For some of us our grandparents and for others our parents arrived in Eleusina from the island of Symi, looking for work in the industry. As they knew how to swim, and they were not afraid of the sea, they all worked in the port area. Many industries were using parts of the port area and this is where people from Symi were working. (From a discussion with people from the local association of people from the island of Symi, February 2023.)

OpenEleusis, work in progress

Credit: Io Chaviara et al.

OpenEleusis is a cross-disciplinary collaboration among researchers from anthropology, history, visual arts, and information science for community-based research in Eleusina. It seeks to map the industrial culture and memory of the city as represented by locals, workers, and school students in order to produce a digital blueprint touching upon three interconnected aspects: a) a publicly accessible searchable database with archival and audiovisual material, including oral testimonies, that will be returned to the community and will serve future researchers through the tools of digital humanities; b) stop-motion animation documentaries produced by school students through oral history tools; c) an ethnographic documentary film focusing on stories of Eleusina’s industrial landscape.

OpenEleusis attempts a multisensory representation of what we conceive as the industrial culture of Eleusina. We approach this latter element as the result of interaction between people, physical spaces, and non-material elements. We aim to represent this interaction through words, images, sounds, feelings, smells, tastes, and symbols. 

I still remember how we used to play in the steel mill sewage, when we were kids. (30-year-old resident of Eleusina, March 2023.)

Credit: Io Chaviara et al.

After a long walk in the area covering the old defense industry of Pyrkal; our team together with two locals ended up harvesting wild asparagus. They are growing as part of the dense vegetation surrounding what has remained from the buildings, the memories and the inflammable and explosive material [2] of an abandoned munitions industry. (Field trip to Pyrkal, March 2023).

Credit: Io Chaviara et al.

Building no7a, workers 70, Explosives 1200 kg, Pyrites 2500, Credit: Io Chaviara et al.

Crafting methodologies: Community-based research, a multilevel challenge

The principal aim of our project, as well as its greatest challenge, is to craft digitised representations of Eleusina’s industrial culture that would respect the community. We seek, in other words, to trace, listen to, and shape the mosaic of different stories of the people and the places of Eleusina. 

We also seek to map, collect, organise, digitise, and create entries and tags for the database for any material related to Eleusina’s industrial culture, from archives retrieved from industries, institutions, unions, collectives, associations, as well as individuals. Such material includes pictures, letters, diaries, administrative documents, maps, press cuttings, and pre-produced audiovisual material, as well as oral testimonies. 

In the ethnographic research, we are focusing on a micro-scale through participatory observation, in-depth biographical interviews, and focus groups. As mentioned above, the oral testimonies that will emerge from the ethnographic research will be included in the publicly accessible digital archive of our project, also serving as a tool to preserve the memory of the community.

Central to our project is the making of an ethnographic film. Archival and ethnographic research will inform and will be informed by documentary cinema. The latter constitutes a research tool in its own right as well as an artistic product. The aim of the documentary film is to capture the experience of our coming together with the people of the city and to record the different stories—past and present—of Eleusina by focusing on different aspects of the industrial, labour, feminist, immigration, and urban history of the city.  

Beyond our research, we seek to engage with the Eleusina community in two more ways. Firstly, we will offer oral history seminars to the locals, so as to familiarise them with the tools of oral history in case they wish to form an oral history group and explore the recent history of their city, especially from the perspective of industrial culture. Secondly, we will organise a summer school for children 8-14 years old in the public library of Eleusina. There, students will be trained in oral history and stop-motion animation techniques so that they can create stop-motion animation documentaries themselves in which Eleusina’s stories will be represented through the locals’ narrations.

The challenge of working together with the community and returning to the community 

Our work aims at being returned to the community, which is one of the biggest challenges so far. The digital archive will be publicly available and accessible. The documentary film aims at disseminating the stories of Eleusina to the world also through digital means. The students’ stop-motion documentaries are purposed to narrate the stories of Eleusina through the eyes of the younger generation.

We do not claim, of course, that this process comes with no limitations. An inevitable challenge that emerges from the synergies of social sciences, humanities, and visual arts with information science requires a methodological adaptation that produces new ways of thinking about representation, designing analytical categories, and, last but not least, reflecting on transdisciplinarity. 

Yet, our intention is to include the community as much as we can and craft these different stories of the industrial culture of Eleusina in such a participatory way so as to leave its legacy in the cultural capital of the city. That way, our purpose is to allow the community to combine the retention of control over their material with provision for its long-term preservation. Finally, the novel interaction between the community and the digital representation of their stories can be the object of a follow-up study regarding the intervention of digital representation in memory construction.


[1] These are associations composed of internal migrants from different places in Greece who during the twentieth century came to Eleusina to work in local industries. For instance, immigrants from Crete formed the Cretan Association of Eleusina where they meet, organise balls, share their traditional food, etc. They are called ‘ethno-local’ associations because they brought something of their ethnic identity to Eleusina and they are still, one century later, very attached to this identity.

[2] A major operation of decontamination of explosive materials is about to take place in the area covering the old Pyrkal industry. 


Io Chaviara is a visual artist and social anthropologist interested in visual culture, history, humor, politics and national identities. She is a PhD Candidate in Social Anthropology at the Panteion University of Athens. Chaviara’s artworks and documentaries has participated in exhibitions and festivals internationally. She has been awarded the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Artist Fellowship by ARTWORKS (2021). She has published peer-reviewed articles in academic journals and edited volumes. She has received scholarships towards her research from State Scholarships Foundation-IKY and H.F.R.I. The Hellenic Foundation for Research and Innovation.

Danae Karydaki is a historian interested in the psy-sciences, gender, institutions, oral history and social history, in the context of post-war Greece. She has served as a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Thessaly (2020-2022) and the Research Centre for the Humanities (2018), and a teaching fellow at the University of Athens (2019-2021). She received her PhD from Birkbeck, University of London, where she was also a teaching assistant (2013-2016). She has edited the volume Leros in the Spotlight and on the Margin: History, Politics, Psychiatry (Psifides: 2020) and her monograph History and Psychoanalysis in the Columbus Centre: The Meaning of Evil is forthcoming from Routledge (2023), while she has also published peer-reviewed articles in academic journals and edited volumesShe has received awards and scholarships towards her research from the State Scholarships Foundation-IKY, the Onassis Foundation, the Ioannis Latsis Foundation, and the Arts & Humanities Research Council, UK.

Michalis Kastanidis completed his studies in the Department of Industrial Management and Technology at the University of Piraeus, then studied production documentaries at the Obsevatorio de Cine and in 2009 he completed his postgraduate studies in Visual Anthropology and Ethnography Documentary at the University of Barcelona (Antropologia visual – Universitat de Barcelona). Since then he has worked on many film and television productions as operator and editor. His film, Feeling of a Home, co-directed with Io Chaviara, has been distinguished in numerous festivals in Greece and abroad and has been used as an educational tool in educational institutions in Greece and abroad. Their latest film Crafting Futures in co-production with the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. was selected in the official program of the Thessaloniki International Documentary Film Festival. He is the producer of the in-development feature film “Kalikantzarous” co-financed by Creative Europe Media and the Hellenic Film Center. In recent years he has been teaching film classes to children and young people, and the creations of his students have been distinguished and awarded at the Olympia International Film Festival for Children and Young People. Constitutes founding member of the production company Fabula Productions.

Regina Mantanika is a social anthropologist interested in migrant mobility and settlement, the evolution of institutions, urban exclusion and social geography. She has served as a post-doctoral researcher at the Department of sociology of the University of Crete (2020-2022), a teaching fellow at the Hellenic Open University (ΕΑΠ) (2020-2022) and at the Department of historical and cultural studies of the University of Vienna (2018-2019). She is currently a teaching fellow at the Department of Balkan, Slavic and Oriental Studies of the University of Macedonia in Thessaloniki. She received her PhD from Paris7 Diderot University Sorbonne Paris Cite. She has published peer-reviewed articles in academic journals and edited volumes in English, French and Greek. She has received scholarship towards her post-doctoral research from the State Scholarships Foundation-IKY.