13th Conference June 11-27, 2015

Intensive and lengthy discussions on textbooks and monographs often continued during the visit to some of the most beautiful historical monuments, which allowed invited foreign scientists to familiarize themselves with the latest achievements of Polish humanities. To a large extent, it was possible owing to the participation in the seminar works of the most outstanding Polish specialists from the Polish Academy of Sciences and several Universities (University of Warsaw, Jagiellonian University, University of Wrocław, University of Gdańsk and others).

Discussed texts:

  • Doris Bergen, War and Genocide: A Concise History of the Holocaust, Rowman & Littlefield
  • Nicholas Breyfogle, Eurasian Environments: Nature and Ecology in Imperial Russian and Soviet History, University of Pittsburgh Press
  • Paul Brykczynski, Primed for Violence: Murder, Antisemitism, and Democratic Politics in Interwar Poland, University of Wisconsin Press
  • Robert Frost, The Oxford History of Poland-Lithuania, Volume I: The Making of the Polish-Lithuanian Union, 1385-1569, Oxford University Press
  • Pieter Judson, The Habsburg Empire: A New History, Harvard University Press
  • David Mason, A Concise History of Modern Europe: Liberty, Equality, Solidarity, Rowman & Littlefield
  • John Merriman, A History of Modern Europe: From the Renaissance to the Present, W.W. Norton
  • Alexander B. Murphy, The European Culture Area: A Systematic Geography, Rowman & Littlefield
  • Joshua Cole, Carol Symes, Western Civilizations: Their History & Their Culture, W.W. Norton
  • Zbigniew Wojnowski, The Near Abroad: Socialist Eastern Europe and Soviet Patriotism in Ukraine, 1956-1985, University of Toronto Press
  • Serhy Yekelchyk, Ukraine: Birth of a Modern Nation, Oxford University Press

Examples of discussed publications

The first work under debate was a textbook planned for the fourth edition. A History of Modern Europe: From the Renaissance to the Present by John Merriman was a well-known book not only on the American but also on the English-speaking academic market. John Merriman had already introduced many changes and additions proposed by the conference experts to the previous two editions. This time, experts drew the author`s attention to the issues of Polish religious tolerance, the status of the Jewish population in Poland, and the manner of presenting the history of Russia and the Soviet Union, two totalitarianisms of the 20th century.

The experts recognized many virtues of the popular textbook entitled War and Genocide: A Concise History of the Holocaust by a well-known specialist on Holocaust, Doris Bergen. This textbook is to be used by thousands of students interested in the issues of World War II and the Holocaust. The discussion was conducted on the image of Polish society and its fight against German occupation, the role of the Home Army, and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

Another discussed work was a book written by young scientist Paul Brykczynski, based on a doctoral thesis entitled Primed for Violence: Murder, Antisemitism, and Democratic Politics in Interwar Poland. The theme of the book is the murder of the first president of the Republic of Poland, Gabriel Narutowicz — a problem often analyzed in Polish historiography, while in English historiography only marginal so far. A potentially important position of this book on the American scientific market could be explained by its vivid language and strong thesis. The experts suggested that the political situation should be presented more broadly after the Second Republic of Poland regained independence, and the role and position of Józef Piłsudski as well as the relations between the National Democracy, the PPS and Piłsudski must be emphasized. Particular attention was paid to issues of national minorities (other than the Jews) and tensions between the Polish majority and the Ukrainians, Germany, as well as the USSR and Weimar Republic.

Serhiy Yekelchyk`s Ukraine: Birth of a Modern Nation is a widely used university textbook that has been translated into Ukrainian, Russian, Polish and Japanese. An international group of experts paid special attention to the assessment of importance and role of Poland and Poles in the making of modern Ukraine.

All the experts were very satisfied with the announced new edition of Western Civilizations by Carol Symes and Joshua Cola, in particular the unprecedented stretching of the ‘West’ concept to include our region. This year`s discussion on the textbook was a continuation of the previous debates. This text is particularly useful for accomplishing the purposes defined by the project. On the one hand, it is a textbook with a very large range, reaching students of many fields and often constituting their main source of knowledge about the past. On the other hand, the new authors, surprised by our history, are particularly open-minded, and indeed eager to introduce as many changes as possible, including, above all, a wider account of the history of Central and Eastern Europe and Poland. The announced changes included the correction of some inaccuracies and, above all, a wider consideration of the Central European theme and its incorporation into the history of the West. Hence, they remove the impression that this part of the world is of marginal significance for European history, or even that it has long remained outside the scope of European civilization.

A Concise History of Modern Europe:  Liberty, Equality, Solidarity by David Mason is a glorious exception among English-language textbooks due to the treatment of the former Soviet bloc area as an integral part of Europe. The experts suggested extending some issues: the importance and role of religion, the Soviet-Polish war of 1919-1920, The Constitution of 3 May 1791, the partitions of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The author sent warm thanks to all experts for the opportunity to learn much more about our history and historical artifacts.

The European Culture Area: A Systematic Geography is a collective work edited by Alexander Murphy, and intended for students who want to learn about Europe in one course. It is to some extent an abridged, but well-thought-out lecture of European Civilization. The authors, presenting Europe in historical development, have not forgotten about demography, agricultural development, climate changes, industrialization, and the changing religious map. They presented views on the area and scope of “Europe” and “European” concepts evolving over centuries. The importance of religion as a determinant of Europeanness, as well as East and West dichotomy through the Church of Rome (Western) and Orthodox (Eastern) were given prominence in the discussion.

Further debate concerned the manuscript The Habsburg Empire: A New History by acclaimed authority in the field of history of the Habsburg Empire, Pieter Judson. The draft can therefore be treated as an attempt to synthesize his previous research. A very lively discussion was caused by his underestimation of national movements while emphasizing the permanence and strength of general loyalty to the Austrian monarchy. The issues of Germanisation and Magiarisation — Austrian and Hungarian language policy — sparked a heated dispute among the participants. It is important to emphasize the issue of geographical and historical naming; the author welcomed the experts` comments on this issue. Pieter Judson, after the discussion, thanked the experts and said that because of them, it would be a completely different text than originally intended.

During the discussion on collective work Eurasian Environments: Nature and Ecology in Imperial Russian and Soviet History edited by Nicholas Breyfogel, the experts drew attention to the focus on Siberia, the Arctic, and Far East and Central Asia, and suggested that it be extended to the Baltic areas, Belarus, Ukraine, Bessarabia, and Poland, especially when discussing Stalinist policy towards minorities.

Zbigniew Wojnowski`s The Near Abroad: Socialist Eastern Europe and Soviet Patriotism in Ukraine, 1956-1985 provoked a very lively discussion. Not only did it attempt to explain the mentality of today`s Ukraine, but it also showed the mechanisms of Moscow`s influence on the Ukrainian identity. The Kremlin’s playing the “Polish card” is undoubtedly extremely interesting, so it is understandable that experts suggested that it should be translated into Polish as soon as possible. The experts suggested expanding the discussion on patriotism and national awareness to the role of the intelligentsia, as well as broadening the source base of the book to include Polish, Czech, Slovak and Hungarian historiography and journalism.

Robert Frost`s The Oxford History of Poland-Lithuania, Volume 1: The Making of the Polish-Lithuanian Union, 1385-1569 is to be continued and published in two volumes. Robert Frost, as one of the five greatest foreign historians of Poland, Scandinavia and East Central Europe, knows Polish perfectly well, having spent many years in Polish, Belarusian and Lithuanian archives. In the first volume he undertook a difficult task to describe the relationship between the Crown and Lithuania and, simultaneously, the history of these two countries over two centuries. Robert Frost is not burdened with stereotypes (politely referred to as historiographic tradition) of any national historiography (Polish, Lithuanian, Belarusian or Russian). The author pointed to the complex character of a state, which cannot be compared with the contemporary unitary state.

Conference participants visited several cities which are important for the history of Poland. Our trip to Lodz and visiting palaces, factories and housing estates built by Poznański, Scheibler, and Herbst, showed a multicultural city. The Polish “Manchester” made a great impression on the authors. A visit to Olkusz and the reconstructed castles of the Jura Krakow-Częstochowa, the Eagles’ Nests Trail, helped to challenge the myth of the then technological backwardness of Poland: a country of a cheap grain, backwardness and widespread poverty. The castles were built in the 14th century during the reign of Casimir the Great. A visit to Lviv allowed our foreign guests to better understand the multiculturalism and multinationalism of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

During the conference, the guests also visited the Documents Access and Archiving Office at the Institute of National Remembrance and met with the Director of the Office, Dr. Rafał Leśkiewicz and the Deputy Director of the Public Education Office, Dr. Władysław Bułhak.

Letter from Alexander B. Murphy
Letter from Susan McEachern