In March 2016, a 1 day seminar to launch the Ioannis Kapodistrias Digital Archive was held at the University of Athens Historical Archive. The conference, fully funded by the John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation, sought to provide historians and observers with a digital archive of the life and work of Ioannis Kapodistrias, who was the first Governor of modern Greece and an important figure in Greek independence.
The John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation was established in 2005 to continue the legacy of John S. Latsis, a successful Greek businessman, and entrepreneur who had immense success in the shipping, oil, financial and credit industries. John S. Latsis was a benevolent man who supported the Greek community in times of turmoil and natural disaster. Upon his passing away in 2003, the Latsis family – his wife Henrietta and three children (Margarita, Marianna and Spiro Latsis) – established the Foundation with an aim of continuing the patriarch’s legacy and kindness. The Foundation has taken on many programmes since its inception, and funding the Ioannis Kapodistrias digital archive is part of its work in preserving Greek history and culture.
In an age where technological advancement is having a major impact in the field of humanities, the digital archive sets to overcome past challenges in collecting and storage of material regarding Ioannis Kapodistrias. As part of the collection, more than 13,000 documents, including images, photographs, personal items, and painting, from the General State Archives in Corfu were digitally copied and uploaded to the archive. Research and scholarship material was also included in the archive.
The life of I. Kapodistrias
Ioannis Kapodistrias was born in 1776 in Corfu, which is found in the Ionian Islands. At the time of his birth, the islands were under Venetian rule. His father’s family had migrated from the Gulf of Venice (Slovenia) and his mother’s side came from a noble family in Cyprus. They migrated to Corfu after Crete was invaded by the Ottomans.
When he was in his early 20s, Kapodistrias studied philosophy, medicine, and law, and in 1797, started working as a doctor in Corfu. When Russian and Turkish forces briefly invaded the island, Kapodistrias was made the chief medical director of the island’s military hospital. It was during this time that he also established a medical organisation. When the Ionian islands gained independence to become the “Septinsular Republic”, he was named one of the two ministers who ruled the islands. Soon, he was elected unanimously as the Chief Minister of State. In this position, he focused on education and helped organise the public sector, all while uniting the islands against foreign powers.
When the French regained power in 1807, the island republic was broken up. Kapodistrias had moved on to work for Alexander I of Russia, and in 1813, was named an unofficial Russian ambassador. His main task was to help Switzerland to free itself from French rule. He was successful in this task, and after seeing the country gain independence and neutrality, Alexander I made him a joint Foreign Minister of Russia.
Back home, the Ionian islands had been taken over by the British, and Kapodistrias worked on behalf of the islanders to gain freedom. He had little success in this, but much of his work was to come during the Greek War of Independence. When he failed to get the support of Alexander I in Greek independence matters, Kapodistrias took a leave of absence and moved to Geneva to support the Greek revolution.
It was while in Geneva that Kapodistrias learned that a newly-constituted Greek National Assembly had elected him as the head of state. He toured much of Europe to drum up support for independent Greece, and in January of 1828, he arrived in Aegina. What he found was a war-ravaged country that was bankrupt, in discord and dire need of proper systems of governance. Among his first acts as Governor was to sign the peace treaty that effectively ended the war and negotiate the country’s new borders.
A new Greece
As the country’s first head of state, Kapodistrias was focused in ushering reforms for his nation. He is credited with keeping diseases like typhoid, cholera, and fever under control by implementing a quarantine system; introducing Greek currency, implementing local administration; and establishing military accord. He is also recognised as being the leader who introduced potato cultivation in the country in an effort to improve nutrition and raise standards of living.
Kapodistrias’ work helped bring Greece into the modern era, and much has been told of his legacy. By funding a digital archive, the John. S. Latsis Foundation is aiming to ensure as much of his story is celebrated in the digital age.