Expert Debates on Contemporary Writing about the History of East-Central Europe

The Polish History Museum is hosting expert debates held in the context of the 17th edition of a conference/scientific seminar entitled ‘Recovering Forgotten History. The Image of East-Central Europe in English-Language Academic and Text Books’.


The meeting of scholars has been organised by the Foundation for Civic Space and Public Policy on a regular basis since 2006. The project’s main objective is to counteract the dissemination of untrue information about Polish history in western historiography. As Prof. Andrzej Sulima Kamiński, a historian at Georgetown University and the conference originator has said, ‘the idea is to improve on what is written in American textbooks and monographs of university publishers about East-Central Europe, first and foremost Poland understood as the territory of the first Commonwealth’.

Prof. Kamiński has underlined that Anglo-Saxon historiography has for long been strongly influenced by German and, after the Second World War, Russian historiography. As the researcher sees it, turning to Russian historiography is understandable given the political situation in the course of and after the Second World War.  

‘In Anglo-Saxon historical, political, but primarily cultural literature, Russia occupies a positive place. Over many decades, it had been an example of a good and well-arranged world. Currently, this has broken down, yet Russian historiography, pre- and post-revolutionary as well as contemporary, is treated very seriously. What is more, at each good American university, its Russian history faculty has eminent lecturers,’ the historian has said.

According to Prof. Kamiński, also the Germans have managed to set up institutes dealing with Germany’s history and literature at best American universities. ‘We the Poles were present at American universities after the Second World War thanks to the fact that many eminent historians found themselves in the US during the war, where they worked at very good universities. Yet that generation has already died out, there is no-one like that anymore now. The Poles do not comprehend why it is necessary to found faculties dealing with Polish history. We would like very much to be seen positively, yet we fail to do anything specific in that regard,’ Prof. Kamiński has said.

The conference attendees include authors and editors of English-language history textbooks for college students. Debates with the invited guests are also attended by experts – historians from Poland and, depending on the thematic scope of a given textbook, from elsewhere in East-Central Europe. As Prof. Andrzej Kamiński has said, one important aspect of the project is editors’ pre-notification of manuscripts and textbooks being prepared for a successive edition before they are published. Experts can then suggest changes and amendments in their contents, particularly extensive additions concerning the history of Poland and the region. Professor Kamiński has said that there have been cases of books not going to the print at all as a result of such discussions.

The Polish History Museum, which has in recent years hosted the project’s participants on  numerous occasions, has been the its partner from the start.
‘This conference is one of the most interesting and possibly most effective ways aimed at changing Poland’s image and history as it is seen abroad. The conference brings to Poland best historians, mainly from Anglo-Saxon countries, dealing not just with the history of Poland but also the region of Central Europe, and sometimes even entire Europe. They talk with Polish historians, which offers a chance of presenting the Polish point of view as well as influencing a change of opinion and many stereotypes that exist abroad,’ PHM Director Robert Kostro has said.

One of activities of the Polish History Museum is promoting Polish history abroad. For it to be effective, the institution uses various tools such as mobile and online exhibitions, different lectures or educational programmes delivered by the museum abroad.

‘One of such tools is also contacts with best historians. It is exactly seminars like the one we co-organise that are a very good means of telling our story to those shaping new generations of college students in the US or generally in the western world. After all, American universities have a great impact on shaping western but also international elites,’ Mr Kostro has added.

This year, the seminar will feature debates on ten publications, concerning Poland’s both 20th-century and earlier history. The attendees represent publishing houses from the US (Macmillan, Bedford/St. Martin’s Press, Cambridge University Press, Indiana University Press, University of Pittsburgh Press) and Canada (McGill-Queen’s University Press, University of Toronto Press). In 2006–2018, 99 books were critically reviewed and the changes suggested by the experts taken into consideration. This year’s edition of the conference/seminar will last until 21 June.

Anna Kruszyńska (PAP/dzieje.pl)

Background photo: Andrzej Sulima Kamiński, Professor at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, the originator of the project entitled ‘Recovering Forgotten History. The Image of East-Central Europe in English-Language Academic and Text Books’. By Małgorzata Kowalczyk / PHM

2019-06-11