The history of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens is inextricably linked with the history of the Greek society. Named “Othonian”, “National” and “National and Kapodistrian”, the University of Athens has always been at the centre of public life and is among the institutions that had the most significant impact on the establishment of the Greek State.
In addition to being a leading scientific institution, the University has also been one of the most important influencers and exponents of the predominant ideology. It served as a major factor of social influence and mobility, and its graduates were employed both by the State and the private sector. Its scientific and research activities strengthened the economy and addressed social needs at many levels.The University has undertaken a variety of roles throughout its 180 years of existence, which were always of crucial importance.It provided a fertile cultural ground for the expression of the Great Idea (Megali idea). The concept of “Helleno-Christianity” was mainly construed in its lecture halls as a predominant ideology.
It sided with professors and students in tumultuous events of the Greek history: the Cretan Revolution, the Balkan Wars, and the Second World War. It experienced all major political conflicts, such as the overthrowing of King Otto, the National Schism or the Civil War. It took part in the revolt against King Otto, the Greek language question of the early 20th century, and in the demonstrations for the Cyprus dispute in post-war Greece.It suffered from the interventions of dictatorships, such as the ones of 4th August and 21st April.
Its path was eventful and often contradictory. Starting as a springboard for modern ideas –as demonstrated by the fears of conservative circles towards its creation– and a voice for the propagation of European and innovative perceptions, it was later converted into a bastion of the archaic form of the Greek language (Katharevousa) and a fervent opponent to the use of the modern vernacular (demotic Greek) in education, as well as an opponent to the reforms of Eleftherios Venizelos, in the late 19th and early 20th century. In all these moments, the University has always been in contact with the Greek Society, serving as a distinguished observatory for understanding Greek history through its very own history.
From the first moment of its foundation, the Othonian University contributed both to the staffing of the public and private sector and to the establishment and development of various scientific fields.
In the context of the Great Idea (“Megali Idea”), the University’s main “national mission” consisted in establishing and promoting the identity of the Greek Nation-State, as well as ensuring the cultural expansion of Hellenism. It was involved in the process of creating public and private institutions, addressing multifaceted social needs and performing State functions.
Furthermore, the University contributed significantly to the establishment of a coherent ideological and cultural identity among the populations comprising the Greek State.It offered fertile ground for the cultivation of key elements of predominant ideological currents: irredentism, “Helleno-Christianity”, defending the archaic form of the Greek language (Katharevousa) as a constituent part of the Greek national identity, Nationalism.
The University’s relation with the West —as reflected in its activities, its contact with other universities or the participation of its professors in international scientific life— was yet another fundamental pillar of its operation.
Over the years, the University of Athens has served as a centre of scientific research and investigation. Its curriculum introduced novel disciplines, scientific fields and teaching methods. The University contributed decisively to the consolidation and expansion of sciences into Greek society.
It nurtured new educational institutions shortly after their introduction in western universities, such as laboratories and research centres.
The University was and is in continuous dialogue with higher education institutions outside Greece: from the first professors who participated in international conferences, to the ERASMUS exchange programme of our days.
On the other hand, a significant part of the University’s activities was centred on satisfying social needs. From the Free Clinic (Astikliniki) of the 19th century, to the modern activities of University hospitals and refugee programmes, the University of Athens has always been at the forefront of welfare and healthcare provision.