14th Conference June 12-28, 2016

Considering a decade of experience in organizing the project, fourteen previously organized conferences, and high-quality, reasoned discussions of the guests with the experts, it can be safely said that we are “reclaiming” Poland’s rightful place in great processes and historical events. Expanding contacts with major publishers that control the publishing market and the publication of academic textbooks allows our project not only to introduce changes beneficial for Poland, but also to increase noticeably the number of books that present Poland’s perspective on history and geopolitics.

We would like to emphasize that the project’s achievements were appreciated by Dr. Jarosław Gowin, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Ministry of Science and Higher Education, who honored the participants with a visit during the first day of the Conference. In his speech, in addition to emphasizing the importance of the project for the popularization of our history abroad, he devoted special attention to the foreign publishers of books written by Polish historians.

Discussed texts:

  • Gershon Bacon, The Jews of Modern Poland, 1772-2000, University of California Press
  • Wilson Bell, Stalin's Gulag at War: Forced Labour, Mass Death, and Soviet Victory in the Second World War, University of Toronto Press
  • Serhiy Bilenky, Imperial Urbanism in the Borderlands: Kyiv, 1800-1905, University of Toronto Press
  • Siobhan Doucette, Books Are Weapons: The Polish Opposition Press and the Overthrow of Communism, University of Pittsburgh Press
  • Arpad Klimo, Remembering Cold Days: The 1942 Massacre of Novi Sad and Hungarian Politics and Society, 1942-1989, University of Pittsburgh Press
  • Anna Muller, If the Walls Could Speak: Inside a Women's Prison in Communist Poland, Oxford University Press
  • Felicia Rosu, Elective Monarchy in Transylvania and Poland-Lithuania, 1569-1587, Oxford University Press (UK)
  • Kathleen Smith, Moscow 1956: The Silenced Spring, Harvard University Press
  • John C. Swanson, Tangible Belonging: Negotiating Germanness in Twentieth-Century Hungary, University of Pittsburgh Press
  • Lynne Viola, Stalinist Perpetrators on Trial: Scenes from the Great Terror in Soviet Ukraine, Oxford University Press
  • Joshua Cole, Carol Symes, Western Civilizations: Their History & Their Culture, W.W. Norton

Examples of discussed publications

Western Civilizations is an academic textbook used by all the best English-speaking universities around the world. In order to revise the textbook thoroughly, which is indispensable after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the enlargement of the European Union, a previously neglected part of Europe has been introduced: East Central Europe. Discussions on the new text drafted by the authors began in 2013. The authors decided to radically change the previous structure of the book by introducing previously ignored countries, like Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and other countries of the region. Therefore, they took account of the areas extending between the Baltic and the Adriatic, and restored the right place for the significance of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

During the discussion on the manuscript of Felicia Rosu entitled Elective Monarchy in Transylvania and Poland-Lithuania, 1569-1587, experts conducted a long and thorough analysis of the manuscript, which should be commended for expanding knowledge about the Commonwealth. All the experts expressed their satisfaction with the fact that the author`s crucial findings, based on long archival studies and excellent knowledge of literature, will enrich knowledge about Poland, Hungary and all of East Central Europe. Suggestions were mainly related to bibliographic supplements.

The experts carried out a serious and prolonged analysis of Anna Muller`s If the Walls Could Speak: Inside a Women's Prison in Communist Poland that deals with political prisoners in Poland in the period 1945-1956. The book will certainly offer significant insights into the times of Stalinist terror, and it incorporates an element of gender studies into its narrative. The work has an interdisciplinary character, in which psychology, anthropology and history play the dominant roles. The experts suggested developing topics related to the political situation in 1945-1947, and drew attention to the differences between the first Stalinist period (1944-1953) and the period of 1953-1956.

Siobhan Doucette`s manuscript titled Books Are Weapons: The Polish Opposition Press and the Overthrow of Communism was prepared on the basis of the author’s doctoral dissertation. The book met with praise and acclaim, and, at the same time, a lively discussion ensued and suggestions for additional refinements were proposed. This book has a different significance for the Polish and American reader. The book shows the extent of social involvement in the underground publishing movement. The reader will undeniably realize that the movement did not consist solely of scattered groups of young enthusiasts. After several years in secrecy, it came to light as a 10-million Solidarity union. The meeting was honored with the presence of Wojciech Fałkowski, an activist of the opposition and underground publishing movement.

An Israeli scholar Gershon Bacon undertook a difficult task of writing a short history of the Polish Jews, The Jews of Modern Poland, 1772-2000. The nature of this work, a complete novelty on the English-language and Polish book market, was highly praised by the experts. The discussion on the concept of “Polish Jewishness”, with a reminder of the Polish roots of all the Russian Jews, was very interesting. At the end, author thanked his reviewers for the comments that will certainly influence the final shape of his synthesis.

Arpad Klimo`s Remembering Cold Days: The 1942 Massacre of Novi Sad and Hungarian Politics and Society, 1942-1989 can serve as a model for the method of researching and presenting “incidents” resulting from racial or ethnic hatred. Based on diligent archival research, the author presented the massacre of the Serbian and Jewish population in Novi Sad by the gendarmerie stationed there in January 1942, the circumstances of the investigation against the initiators of the crime, and an analysis of the place this massacre holds in national consciousness. Interesting remarks on the need for comparative treatment of these issues were raised by experts from Hungary and Poland. It was suggested that the author introduce additional details regarding the period of World War II and present the Belgrade-Budapest dispute as well as issues of memory. The book will serve American students as the best compendium of Hungarian 20th century history.

Serhiy Bilenky`s Imperial Urbanism in the Borderlands: Kyiv, 1800-1905, impresses with its chronological scale, source basis, broad comparative background, and innovative treatment of the object. The processes of urban modernization provide us with a sense of the universally European and at the same time imperial nature of the changes. Demographic, social, linguistic and political changes enable for the author to analyze the mentality changes of the inhabitants of Kiev and indicate the beginnings of the modern Ukrainian nation. The experts initiated a discussion on the usage of the term “Ukrainians” from the beginning of the 19th century and the role of Polish communities in the history of Kyiv. Responding to the reviewers’ comments, the author expressed his gratitude for important remarks which he promised to take into account in the final version of the book.

The work of John Swanson, Tangible Belonging: Negotiating Germaneness in Twentieth-Century Hungary, focuses on the German minority in Hungary in comparative perspective, using the experience of Poland and other Visegrad countries. The author’s research on the fate of the Swabian minority in the areas around Pécs, subject to politics and technological as well as ideological changes beyond their control. The author`s observations and analyzes will have impact on further research of this topic in East Central Europe.

Wilson Bell`s Stalin's Gulag at War: Forced Labour, Mass Death, and Soviet Victory in the Second World War shows the role of the Gulag in the victory over Hitler`s Nazism. The book focuses on the Gulags of Western Siberia, though its conclusions lead the author to make broad generalizations. All the reviewers emphasized the fact that book is based on impressive research material. The experts suggested that the author show the connection between the rapid increase in the number of prisoners during 1940-1941 and the Soviet aggression, and include Poles into the presented structure of prisoners. Animated discussion concerned the issues of Stalin's modernization. Wilson Bell warmly thanked for the remarks and promised to take them into account.

Lynn Viola, the author of Stalinist Perpetrators on Trial: Scenes from the Great Terror in Soviet Ukraine, belongs to the group of the most prominent North American Sovietologists. She does not attempt to condemn the Soviet system and its creators, leaders and performers, but rather to study events with emphasis on their causes and effects. The experts highly appreciated the work of the author; suggestions related to the issue of the Polish minority in the USSR and the treatment of Polish affairs were made.

Engaged discussions with reviewers took place over Kathleen Smith`s Moscow 1956: The Silenced Spring. It is a most readable one-year history, focusing on culture, psychology and everyday life. The book reflects the atmosphere and climate of the moment of de-Stalinization. The experts suggested that more attention should be paid to the assessment of the events by Russian dissidents and the majority of “ordinary” society. It is advisable to show the gap between the described propaganda of those days and the actual situation.

During the Conference, guests visited the Romanesque monastery in Czerwińsk, dating at the beginning of the 12th century, the residence of the Salesian Order with very valuable Romanesque and later works of art. Guests were treated to refreshments prepared by the Prior of the Monastery and the Priest of the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Consolation, Fr. Łukasz Mastalerz. Over the meal, the guests discussed the history of the place and its significance in the history of Poland with their host. A two-day visit to Płock enabled guests to learn about this city important for the history of Poland. Father Stefan Cegłowski, Płock Cathedral`s rector and art historian, showed the guests around the Cathedral and the Diocesan Museum. The group also visited the Museum of Mazovian Jews (former Synagogue) and Małachowianka — the oldest school in Poland, founded in the 12th century. The guests visited the Płock Science Society and Zieliński Library, where the early printed books were made available. In Hungary, our permanent expert, Endre Sashalmi, provided guests with a tour of one of the oldest Hungarian cities, with a university founded in the 14th century and many other monuments, and the surrounding area.