This Marcin Kula's article was published in "Przeglad Humanistyczny", no. 5-6, 2006.
At one time, Jacques Le Goff introduced the term: "the long Middle Ages". Initially, many medievalists were taken by surprise. It turned out, however, that one can defend the thesis that numerous mental and social structures had - in fact - lasted much longer than the time-frame usually described as Middle Ages. Following Jacques Le Goff, I would like to attempt to introduce - half-jokingly, but half-serious - a concept of "the long October, 1956". I realize that this concept, too, will surprise many a historian. Nevertheless, although "October" had taken place already fifty years ago and more important events took place in recent years as well, many issues raised at that time have found their denouement only today.
In the first half of the 1950s, the Stalinist model of society was implemented in Poland, and the following fifty years were spent attempting to depart away from it. By delivering his "secret speech", Khrushchev - albeit inadvertently - delivered an irreparable wound to communism. The path away from Stalinism saw both accelerations and steps backwards; there were both calm times and dramatic situations; at one point a decisive step was made... but the past is not yet a closed chapter. This concerns science and education as well, starting with the almost intact structure of the Polish Academy of Sciences1
. Maybe a fundamental restructuring of the Academy's organization, spoken about more and more often, will become a true culmination of a great transformation in science, or at least an event symbolizing a basic fulfillment of this transformation.
Let us examine which issues in science were raised in 1956, and where they are today. Before doing that, however, it is necessary to mention a few reservations. Of course, my reflections on the subject matter will be limited to the humanities, and maybe even merely to history, as this is the discipline I am most familiar with. They will be - by definition - subjective and handicapped to the extent that it is difficult to trace people's true wishes and desires due to the curtailment of the freedom of speech in 1956. On the other hand, some demands, more or less met today, in 1956 were not even on the agenda yet. They were equally impossible to voice as they belonged in the domains beyond the limits of imagination. Some demands could have been voiced half-heartedly as well. The last reservation has to do with the conclusions of the present article. Even if the conclusions state that in some areas progress has been inadequate, this does not signify the author's negative overall evaluation of the essence of changes we have gone through. If the author remarks that some negative phenomena have sometimes been replaced by others, this does not preclude his appreciation of the fundamental change. Today, fictitious unanimity is no more demanded by anyone, and nobody is depreciated or repressed for its lack.
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One of the first issues raised in 1956 was an ideological corset imposed on the humanities. All over Poland, a slogan was voiced: "Thinking has a magnificent future!" In time, possibilities of free thinking have seen their ups and downs, as has the ideological corset in science. The evolution of the latter was rather peculiar. It has never been shed completely, and to an even smaller degree - negated. In theory, almost all of us were Marxists, or at least: "progressive" historians. Much like the corset, Marxism itself had been eroding gradually. Clearly, the censorship would have never allowed an openly anti-Marxist text to be published, but the authorities decreasingly needed "active Marxism" from us - they were sometimes satisfied with mere appearances. Even the "political reviewers" (called in to give their opinion on books to be published) were usually not too zealous, hunting for potentially "harmful" elements rather than expecting any concrete positive vision. Censorship itself became increasingly political, and less and less ideological. In fact, we knew less and less what Marxism really was. "Institutional Marxists" themselves did not know too well what it was. I remember a text written in 1968 by one of the regime's official economists: "It is true that we do not know where revisionism starts and where it ends, but we know what it is!"2
It would be difficult to find a more honest, albeit indirect, admission of ignorance as to what Marxism is.
In my opinion, during late communism there were practically no Marxists in Poland. Those who considered themselves and were considered as Marxists I would define as faithful daughters and sons of the Polish United Workers' Party, rather than the descendants of Marx. Even those historians who were highly-placed in the party - and we did have such colleagues - published work representing an eclectic and positivist vision of history rather than Marxist one, although certainly not putting in question the ideological principles.
In this situation, many topics could not be explored. Many issues were being omitted, or reported in a subdued manner. However, what was being published was not of as poor a quality as is often thought now (even if it would all have been written differently today).
Of course, one should pass a much harsher judgment on some areas of research, such as relations with "brotherly countries" (first and foremost the Soviet Union), history of communism, many aspects of contemporary history or history of communist Poland itself. In these areas, the political criteria (political, not Marxist) were being applied expeditiously until the very end.
It is superfluous to say that censorship no longer exists. The so-called "blank pages" have been filled in. What is interesting is that some of these blank pages appeared in entirely unexpected places. Many people knew from the outset, and with time an increasing number of younger people have come to know, that the official version of the Katyn massacre of Polish officers [murdered by the Soviets in 1940, the fact denied until perestroika] was falsified. Not many knew, however, about Jedwabne [massacre of the Jews by the Poles in 1941], or about the Polish treatment of German POWs after the war.
After the fall of communism, new historical research was published in fields which few could dream of back in 1956. Even if historical research of communism is still rarely done in Poland, despite a few notable exceptions, a lot has been achieved in the field of history of communist Poland. The opening of archives had paramount importance, even if it is not yet complete and even if access to Soviet archives is still limited.
One could pose a question whether new "taboos" or rules of "political correctness" have appeared, limiting our research of, for example, history of the Polish Catholic Church, patriotism, vision of anti-communist struggle, Poland's presence and place in Europe, etc. However, these potential inconveniences are not even comparable with those present under communism. After all, rules of "political correctness" are not being enforced by the censorship authorities or by the political police.
Communism craved syntheses. Even if, in practice, they did not have to be Marxist, there was support for publication of collective, supposedly synthetic works. In reality, one found very little synthetic thinking in those publications. Rather, they constituted anthologies of better or worse quality, or a sort of sacks labeled with names of research programs, into which everything at hand was thrown. All these activities resulted in fission of bureaucracy on the one hand, and a game of appearances on the other. Sometimes, however, valuable research managed to make its way into the sack, especially when a "retreat into detail" sometimes suited researchers quite well.
Today, new theories or even more courageous syntheses are hard to encounter. At least among historians, very few original syntheses are being elaborated. The profession prefers monographs. It is true that there appeared a number of rather successful works with a comprehensive approach to various periods, as well as some interesting work on the history of Poland, but it is Norman Davies, a British historian, who is the principal author of syntheses available on the Polish market. However, he meets with a smaller professional support than he should have. What is important is that in a majority of syntheses, the topic is presented around chronological axis, whereas issue- or problem-oriented syntheses are almost non-existent.
Evidently, in monographs one can also discuss important issues, not necessarily specific for periods under consideration. It is equally evident that there did appear a number of issue-specific syntheses, for example on the phenomenon of "Europe". Some of them are interesting. Future will show whether the next body of work, for example a growing body of work on European issues, will also prove interesting, or whether it will merely consist of a pap of facts, smoothed out according to political tastes. I would be also curious to see whether or not such "European syntheses" would be simply imported to Poland from foreign publications. Whatever the future brings, the fact remains that there exist relatively few issue-specific syntheses.
Professors who are most concerned with facts and who are cautious as far as generalizations are concerned, pass on these attitudes to their students. A good, positivist facts-lover who is acquainted with "all" sources has a much better chance of finding academic employment than a Master's or Ph.D. degree holder with imagination and broad horizons. My worse memories connected with professional life include: extremely facts-oriented questions asked a candidate in a doctoral studies interview in which I participated; almost entirely facts-oriented questions posed during one of my students' doctoral theses defense; a Ph.D. thesis review I heard once, where the reviewer reproached the author only for minor slips. Undoubtedly, it is better to have fewer rather than more slips, and Ph.D. candidates should know their ABCs. In my opinion, however, a reviewer should raise broader issues, whereas a note listing minor errors should be transmitted to the candidate for thorough use and corrections. True, it is possible that a thesis will merit no more than pointing out the errors, if it contains nothing but.
It would be instructive to read the list of books that we or our students have read recently. I am afraid that the dominating items would cover narrow fields of our specialization and factography. I am equally afraid that if we tested who, among not only students but also mature researchers, has read the fundamental work in the humanities (let us assume that we would agree on the list), the results would be unsatisfactory. Few of us ask our students what they have read besides items on the reading list in a given subject matter. Even reading novels is not our forte: both the students', and ours - their professors.
This is not to say, of course, that the cause of this situation is communism's legacy. After all, all over the world, the enthusiasm for elaborating theoretical concepts and models has probably subsided, although there still come into being many syntheses of various kinds. I suspect that historians are not the biggest consumers of novels and more general books in the humanities. Rather, it is our colleagues from other fields who buy books on history.
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In 1956, there appeared strong calls for reestablishment of professional soundness in research, including in publishing and in the use of historical facts. The importance of history's ancillary fields was remembered. Still under communism, a lot has been achieved in this area. In general, publications of primary sources could "smuggle" a lot more through censorship and their amateur helpers than original historical work. While, for example, the censorship did not refrain too much from eliminating inconvenient sentences from translations of foreign work in the field of humanities, they were much more restrained in the case of historical primary sources. I remember when, in the early 1970s, I took part in the publication of a primary source text dating back to the late 19th century, in which there was a sentence describing Poland as a "pigsty Russky country". The publishing house editor merely looked me deep in the eyes and asked with concern whether this sentence was really there in the original. The sentence was left in, and the compromise consisted in not pointing the readers' attention, in the foreword, to its existence. As a result, I have not been able today to find this phrase in the thick volume, and I have quoted these words from memory (even from this surprisingly long-term perspective, the authorities' reasoning has turned out to be quite smart!)3
After the fall of communism, many very valuable and previously inaccessible primary sources were published, dealing in particular with history of communist Poland. Many publications were based on much more solid primary source foundations than had been possible before. Ancillary disciplines and the introduction to historical research gained a permanent place in history studies curricula. Unfortunately, the concept of curriculum implementation is most often traditional and hardly adapted to historians' needs. A historian's métier is often understood in too narrow a sense. Instead of opening horizons to other fields of the humanities which can be treated as historians' ancillary disciplines, and instead of teaching the students how to establish relationships or to acquaint the students with diversified contemporary primary source institutions, we still devote our time to paleography or genealogy. Meanwhile, knowledge of both fields can be needed by a tiny fraction of future researchers, not to mention all the graduates. Besides, paleography is much less needed now that the great majority of sources which it was used for reading have already been published. The knowledge of kinds of handwriting should form part of a broader education in interpersonal communication which would be useful both to historians and to people in general. I also think that these days, basic information about, e.g., the Chinese or Japanese alphabet is much more important to an educated person than information on the Carolinian minuscule.
Methodological reflection, or - in simpler terms - self-reflection on performing a métier, should be an integral element of professional soundness. Neither one, nor the other is Polish historians' forte, especially those from Warsaw who I happen to know well. Methodology as a discipline is pursued in few academic centers. History of historiography has been pigeonholed as but one of research fields, with no great influence on historians' thinking. The profession is, in general, rather pleased with itself. Too much so, I am afraid.
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In 1956 and later, bureaucratization of science was a great problem, most clearly exemplified by absurd planning. Science reflected the state of affairs present in all aspects of life. In 1956, many absurdities receded, to return gradually, at least in part. Paradoxically, even a welcome and desired evolution led to absurdities. At the History Institute of the Polish Academy of Sciences (PAN), where I worked, there was a moment when we "generated profit". The way it was done was that our "products" were "bought" by the PAN Academic Secretary, which changed literally nothing in our work.
As a result of the Great Transformation, at least at the University, we no longer fill in huge sheets of paper (we used to call them "canvases") where we would absurdly list our tasks and even more absurdly report on their fulfillment. That bureaucracy has been replaced by a different one, however. It is not lighter by any means. Reporting multiplies. Requests for financing are becoming more and more complicated. I have to say that, personally, I do my utmost not to submit grant proposals and not be bothered. I realize that I lose a lot by such an attitude - but I gain something as well. True, I no longer have to strive for grants like a young person who is only beginning to build her/his personal and professional future. It is also true that that, if forced, I would much rather deal with the new State Committee for Scientific Research (KBN) than with some Planning Office of the Polish Academy of Sciences of the old days. This change is worth something in itself.
Standardization of teaching was, and still is, an element of bureaucratization as well. For obvious reasons, it is better to deal with the current Ministry and the State Accreditation Committee than with the Science Department of the Central Committee or, even worse, with the Regional (Voivodship) Committee of the Polish United Workers' Party. However, I have an impression that - whoever you would approach - in this whole system there is a decreasing amount of space for a professor who, rightly or not, thinks that s/he has something to convey to the students (especially some of his/her thoughts and reflections!). In the humanities today, there is more space for sound craftsmanship than for artistry. Only few researchers, those considered outstanding and boasting a highly recognized academic record, can afford artistry. Of course, this does not mean that other researchers would be stoned for trying to follow a less conventional path, but they are not expected to do so. Rather, they are expected to develop the theses which have already been formulated by most outstanding specialists.
Paradoxically, contacts with foreign scientists and standardization of academic requirements bring with them certain dangers. On the one hand, stating that science is global and international contacts are necessary would be a truism. We have already experienced a "scientific ghetto" and fortunately, in the case of Poland, the curtain ceased to be completely sealed after 1956. In order to be called a specialist in a given field, one should meet certain general criteria and be acquainted with certain publications. However, if everyone - from Cape Roca to the Urals and, eventually, to Vladivostok - teaches the same material in the same way and reads the same books, it will bring about considerable negative consequences.
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In 1956, the issue of international contacts was being raised outspokenly. A slogan "Traveling educates!" - otherwise amusing in its banality although quite forceful - appeared and spread. One of the most positive aspects of the post-1956 changes was that we really did begin to travel abroad. Despite all the imposed travel restrictions, Polish social scientists found themselves in a much better position than their colleagues from "brotherly countries". In the case of historians, contacts with Paris were of utmost importance. First and foremost, they permitted us to avoid falling into provincialism which was threatening to engulf us. In simple words, travels to Paris and contacts with our French colleagues literally opened our eyes to the world. They allowed us to collect and bring back materials without which much of our work would have never been written. I would be less sure whether (or not) we made good use of these opportunities from the point of view of contacts or adopting methodology and turning to subject-matters studied at the time. Conservatism of the majority of historians in the world, as well as their methods, unchanged for centuries, are a different story altogether.
Since the fall of communism, our contacts with abroad have changed their nature completely. Surprisingly, in many cases our passion for traveling has subsided. A trip abroad is no longer such an attraction in itself - unless it takes us on vacation to a beautiful beach. Our western colleagues' insistence on maintaining contacts with us has eased off as well. We no longer need as much help as we used to, and, possibly, our attractiveness by dint of our mere existence "behind the Iron Curtain" has disappeared. The contacts have become ordinary, normal.
As far as current contacts with abroad are concerned, numerous travels by young people, including students, are a positive phenomenon. Once these young people become mature researchers, they will treat their presence in international circles as something normal.
It was thanks to our contacts with abroad, still at the time of communist Poland, that the field of universal history did not collapse completely. Anyway, our everyday usage of the term is erroneous, as it is used to denote history of countries other than Poland, rather than real universal history. Hence, some studies in history of other countries (if not in universal history) did come into being in communist Poland, and a certain number of interesting studies appeared after the fall of communism. We can expect that an increasing number of such studies will come into being in the future, which should be a source of joy, especially in a country which has long ago ceased to be a regional or global power and, consequently, cannot boast being in possession of a great amount of historical documentary materials about other countries.
Surprisingly, after 1956, numerous research centers appeared which studied the history of Africa and Latin America. The intensity of this research has diminished after the fall of communism which - paradoxically - confirms as well that our field has become more "ordinary". Only under those specific conditions, in communist Poland, could so many people be interested in topics so far removed, but - sometimes - such topics could have constituted a simple form of spiritual escape. Nowadays, under current conditions, these fields can find it hard to develop intensively. Nevertheless, one would not want them to disappear completely or to be studied strictly as an addition to their respective fields of philology. One would also want to see Polish historians analyzing local history in a context of history of other countries, including those quite removed geographically. Contrary to common beliefs, and those of my numerous colleagues, one can find there a lot of comparable and even inspiring issues. Unfortunately, the profession is not going in this direction, quite on the contrary. It would be difficult to study issue-oriented history without making comparisons, including with faraway places.
There was an insufficient amount of research on universal history under communism, as is the case now and, most probably, will be the case in the future. In this case, the profession's attitude does not favor creativity, either. In general, it is much more preoccupied with fighting imperfections than with supporting courageous initiatives. It takes courage to write on universal history, much like it takes courage to write history of Poland that would be different from stories merely glued together, or to write any issue-oriented synthesis. We, experienced historians, do not inspire this courage even in young people who are, theoretically, more courageous. Rather, we clip their wings; we expect them to toil painstakingly over any given monograph.
It would be difficult to deny the importance of conducting detailed research, although broad and daring reflection is needed as well. Much in the same vein, it would be difficult to question a need for soundness, but exaggeration in anything tends to have negative effects. An author is often incapable of placing his/her monograph (however in-depth it might be) in a wider social context and in the context of comparable issues which were present in other periods and geographical locations. There exist, of course, exceptions to the rule, although a fear of encountering criticism due to failure to read this or that particular item is enormous. However, one cannot write a broad and ambitious work by dint of having read "everything". One cannot avoid making some errors, either.
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A great call for self-government resounded in 1956. It could be heard all over the country, also in the scientific circles. Quite a lot was gained in this respect only to be lost afterwards. The final outcome was ambiguous, as in many other areas of the "superstructure" (note for the younger generations: this is an outdated Marxist term!). Namely, although the situation in communist Poland was better compared to the other "brotherly" countries, the Party apparatus continued to do whatever they pleased using both formal and informal channels. After the fall of communism, the self-government model was adopted by most of the scientific organisations - and that was where the hard part began. In the new reality, managing science and its institutions is a huge task for a professional manager. There are extremely few persons who combine the scholarly with the managerial talents. If they are talented scholars, managerial functions would be a waste of their time. Besides, holders of various university positions are appointed to specific terms of office; this is a disputable solution in terms of management. When all is said and done, those who are best acquainted with both the provisions and the school's practice are the clerks. The holders of different positions come and go, while the office staff stay on.
The structure of, particularly, larger universities shatters both the possibilities and the advantages of self-government. No Faculty Council composed of one hundred colleagues from hardly interrelated institutes can possibly operate efficiently. The same can also be said of a council that lacks all the technical facilities that are used by the Parliament, state administration or business, and is not naturally divided into different groups (which would facilitate its functioning to an extent). To make things even worse, such council has to, or at least believes it does, deal with incredibly petty matters, many a time of the routine kind. One would be wrong to suppose that the council actually decides on such matters. Even if it votes on dozens of them, their very multitude prevents such total control. On the other hand, the council notoriously lacks the time to discuss the truly important matters.
Hardly any evolution can be brought about within the framework of such self-government, and there are both good and bad sides to this situation. The structures of science are extremely inert. On the one hand, this ensures its continuity and stability. On the other hand, though, all branches of sciences should respond to the changing reality and needs.
As I see it, it would be advisable to increase the involvement of professional managers in the management of science, and at the same time to hold back the noticeable decrease of importance of scientific societies.
What is just as important from the viewpoint of self-government (and of the functioning of science in general!) is existence of scientific authorities. The problem is that, at least within the humanities (but perhaps in other branches as well), a true authority must be not only a good specialist but also a personage of a great calibre. In 1956, many great authorities were still active, a considerable proportion of them having gained their standing during the war and occupation. Today, the number of scholars with more than just a specialist's authority seems to be smaller. The years between 1956 and today, which involved many ambiguous situations were probably hardly conducive to the emergence of great numbers of such persons. On the other hand, the absence of personages, who might be seen as potential candidates for monuments, may well testify to an advantageous phenomenon of peace and prevalence of routine. Heroes are usually born in dramatic times; therefore, we should perhaps settle for mediocre authorities instead of experiencing times out of the ordinary.
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In 1956, the issue of relationship between science and society was raised. Stalinism operated based on a triple division: the Academy was to deal with research, the universities were to teach, while specialized journals and organizations providing lecturers were to popularize science. Luckily, this division was eventually questioned. With time, the intellectuals' alliance with the "working masses of towns and villages" (so stated the 1952 Constitution!) contributed to the fall of those who thought they had been contributing to happiness of the masses. In the new situation, the question about the degree of the humanities' separation from real life still remains topical.
I have to admit that I am not happy about scientific discourse being mixed with the political one in some of the newly emerging works - even if they are both equally difficult to define. As historian, I do not volunteer to implement any "historical policy ": I see my role as that of researcher who should reflect on the results of his research and produce possibly convincing works, and not to go in for any kind of politics.
I have to admit that I am hardly enthusiastic about high-ranking state officials getting post-doctoral degrees. Even though some of them may have prepared good theses, the post-doctoral degree is to me the confirmation of a career other than the one they follow. I also have to admit that I am amused at the ever bigger number of high-ranking state officials who - as under Communism, but luckily no longer with the support of the PUWP party apparatus - turn out to be professors (which is quite easy to achieve, as many private higher schools like to employ big names, often hoping not only for publicity but also for access to such persons' knowledge and experience).
All of this annoys me; but I was truly infuriated to hear from a fellow historian that her academic group luckily did not worry about the issue of "blank pages ", quite well-known in its time, and chose instead to go on deepening the research and increasing the requirements in their own field, a rather exotic one for that matter. I am not quite sure whether such turning your back on all social interests can be seen as the perfect solution - although I do realize that researchers can hardly be expected to change their fields of operation at a speed typical of a daily paper journalist.
What we value above all is our own many years' work on the subject of our choice; at the same time, we tend to bridle at non-professionals invading our field. We seldom realize that this extreme focus on our own field may result in a specific art for art's sake - outputs the purpose of which can hardly be guessed. I do not hesitate to say that we should take pleasure in the fact that our work finds readers. I would not like us to play only the part reserved for us by Gianlorenzo Bernini, who decorated the tomb of Urban VIII with the sculpture of a historian writing the book of history and shown as the Angel of Death4
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The issue of advantages of the interdisciplinary approach to social sciences was raised in 1956. From then on, also today, things have been trending in precisely the opposite direction. Even territorial divisions between individual branches of sciences sharpen. In the past, many of Warsaw-based humanists worked in the Krakowskie Przedmieście Street, and many of them frequented one and the same club in the Kazimierzowski Palace. Today, otherwise happily, different university buildings have cafes of their own. Yet Fernand Braudel knew well enough what he was doing when he organized the common Maison des Sciences de l'Homme with its ground floor cafe.
Nowadays, direct contacts between all of us are no longer possible - there are simply too many of us for that. Worse still, also the intellectual contacts cannot be maintained. Attempts at keeping them up consist in organization of gigantic faculties with individual branches still not really co-operating with one another, and result in what might be called pseudo integration. Seminars and lectures outsourced to specialists in other branches within various faculties, as well as marginal PhD examinations, often turn out to be a bad solution - mainly for the reason that hardly anybody (on either side!) put their heart and soul into them. It is not for the bookbinder to make a project interdisciplinary if such interdisciplinary nature has remained merely a theory.
The degree to which the contacts have been severed is sometimes truly amazing. In several recent sociological works on the transformation and its effects in Poland, in the context of discussion of the decades of communist Poland, I could hardly find any references to books written by historians. The reader is referred to works by other sociologists pronouncing on the same topic (quite a case of self-service!). In a school that calls itself interdisciplinary, one of my Ph.D. students who is writing a thesis on the modern social history has been criticized for working on a project that, on account of being historical, was supposedly useless for analysis of the here and now and allegedly contributed nothing to the general sociological or anthropological knowledge.
Many a time, I offered for publication the works by my younger colleagues who went beyond the historians' traditional areas. Most of the reviews prepared by specialists in those other areas were merely hatchet jobs. Of course, it is also possible that the authors of those works threaded the unfamiliar ground in an utterly unprofessional manner, or that their language was incompatible with that of the other fields. Yet even if that was indeed the case, was telling them not to make wild claims in an unfamiliar field really the best solution from the viewpoint of integration of the humanities? Let me formulate this question even more forcefully: was there really nothing of defense of their own backyard in the reviewers' attitude?
I was once told by a colleague from what was supposed to be an interdisciplinary institute that historians should not invade the area of the modern history of culture: they should mind "their own business" (whatever that might mean). On another occasion, editors of an interdisciplinary journal made me provide my article with a subheading stating that I was a historian (why not just a humanist?). I also heard a representative of another branch of science in CK criticizing a historian's interdisciplinary work, which the speaker considered faulty within his specific area. He had not even read the piece - he merely questioned me as the reviewer, as if assuming that none of what we historians might have to say about his field could ever make any sense. Of course, most of the historians are by no means friendlier in their attitude to specialists from other branches.
It is beyond question that an interdisciplinary work cannot possibly be pointless from the viewpoint of not only its main field, but also any other branch of science. To put it even simpler: no work is absolutely pointless. One should bear it in mind that "There's only a thin red line between the sane and the mad"5
The institutional divisions between branches of learning are rather like the Berlin Wall. In view of my own attempts at breaking them, I am a pessimist here. The matter seems highly resistant, and I expect the effects of this situation to be adverse. Natural sciences, where the consequences of the researcher's work are directly verifiable to a greater extent, have already been made aware of the negative aspects of too advanced a specialization (see medicine!).
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There is hardly anything to say about contacts between the humanities with other branches; even though, I am afraid that as historians, we tend to pronounce in a most amateurish way on many matters that fall within the scope of such branches, and to merely overlook many other issues. Interestingly, on the other hand, the humanities have joined science as well as the natural and technical sciences in an area that is hardly promising: that of bureaucracy. The present formalized criteria of evaluation of our work have been borrowed from colleagues representing these branches, with no consideration to the specific nature of our field of research.
Publishing abroad should of course be promoted; however, historians of Poland can hardly hope to publish as much of their work abroad as a decent physicist is expected to. Not even the top historian of Poland can be expected to be quoted as often as a good physicist. Globalization may one day result in a situation where the world at large would take interest in the history of Poland and vice versa; that day, however, is still to come.
Publishing in English deserves to be promoted; however, as far as the humanities are concerned, publications in Polish contribute significantly to the culture of Poland and the Polish nation. Publishing in English should be promoted, but a Polish historian of China would be happy to have his work published in Chinese.
Also, publishing of articles deserves to be promoted. The proportion of articles among a researcher's publications should grow, and will probably grow indeed also in the humanities; thus our professional journals will be required to evolve significantly. The fact remains, however, that in the humanities books are considered much more important than articles for a researcher's academic record. At the same time, though, they are sadly underestimated by the reviewing circles (for the sole reason of the lesser importance of book publications in the natural and technical sciences).
Publications appearing on professional forums should be valued highly. However, one should also bear it in mind that the division into professional and popular works is bound to be less clear in the humanities compared e.g. to atomic physics. Some of our works, those of importance included, will always be published in books and journals other than the specifically professional. Even the articles we publish in the daily press or weekly magazines can many a time be seen as important contributions to our achievements.
It is a matter of course that a Ph.D. thesis or just any book should be reviewed by a competent person - yet in our case, the reviews that I consider the most interesting are those written by persons who researched the same issue in another area, with respect to another period, or in another historical context. Alas, such reviews are extremely few; nowadays, with everything becoming standardized, they are likely to be banned altogether from doctoral and post-doctoral studies. As a result, we will get further boring reviews with other specialists in one and the same particle of the historical reality pointing to the author's insufficient erudition or research material - and nothing more.
On the whole, I believe that it would be reasonable to consider other aspects of unity of sciences than merely the automatic standardization of evaluation criteria.
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To me, not even sensational discoveries such as the discovery of the skull of Copernicus (2005) or of the burial ground of Admiral Arend Dickman6
(2006), both of which received some coverage in the press, are actual scientific discoveries if all they boil down to is the fact that a handful of bones was found. In many cases, I have my doubts as to the scientific nature of factual documentation - although I am far from denying its value. What I want is issue- or problem-oriented, where the researcher
either considers a case from a broader perspective,
or reaches broader conclusions,
or verifies a thesis that is relevant not only for the case under analysis,
or treats the fact-finding activity as ancillary to the issue under examination,
or, above all, attaches importance not exactly to a specific case but to the problem of which that case is a fragment, example or illustration.
Issue-oriented history can hardly be practiced without reference to other branches of learning: the researcher is bound to enter their field of interest when either expanding or reaching generalizations. The truth is that we the historians have relinquished a great lot of the more general questions and answers to our colleagues. In a way, their lack of interest in our detailed problems is our own fault.
It is such issue-oriented history, and not one based on facts and chronology, that seems to be the most promising path towards integration of history with other branches of learning - the integration needed, in my opinion, both by those other branches and by ourselves. Already at the level of the school curriculum, the focus should be shifted from periods to problems. The students should also be offered a much greater dose of knowledge from the neighboring fields, and that knowledge should be positioned closer to the center than is the case today. We all know that as the twig is bent, so the tree grows... After all, this grave observation applies not only to the bad but also to the good tendencies, potential ones included.
A post-graduate student of mine has recently given up an interdisciplinary seminar dominated by non-historians. He said the classes had made him feel inferior ("I could hardly understand what they were saying, and whenever I dared to speak, I made a fool of myself "). Yet that particular student is by no means a fool; he probably just lacked the knowledge and experience from other areas of knowledge. Would it not be worthwhile to make the likes of him feel better?
The University of Warsaw
the Leon Kozminski Academy of Entrepreneurship and Management in Warsaw
the article was published in "Przeglad Humanistyczny", no. 5-6, 2006
I have, at one point, developed this issue in my column entitled "Stalin is Within Me and You" ("Stalin jest w Tobie i we mnie"), Newsletter IH UW, 2002, no. 25, pp. 10-12.2.
Quoted from memory.3.
Kula W., Assorodobraj-Kula N, and Kula M. (eds.) Letters from émigrés from Brazil and the United States, 1890-1891 ("Listy emigrantów z Brazylii i Stanów Zjednoczonych. 1890-1891"). LSW Publishing House, Warsaw 1973.4.
Norman Davies, Europe. A History ("Europa. Rozprawa historyka z historią"), Znak Publishing House, Kraków 2004, p. 615.5.
An old Midwestern saying, motto of a book by James Jones. Jones, James. The Thin Red Line ("Cienka czerwona linia"), KiW Publishing House, Warsaw, 1984.6.
Defeated the Swedes in the battle of Oliwa in 1627."The Year 1956" - main page