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Research Team of the Social History of Poland in the 19th and 20th Centuries

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What kind of work is carried out by the Research Team of the Social History of Poland in the 19th and 20th Centuries?

Formally speaking, the Team was established by a decision of the Senate of the University of Warsaw of 22 September 2004, but in fact it had existed for a long time before that date. It was founded by Prof. Anna Żarnowska (1931-2007), who was followed as team leader by Prof. Andrzej Szwarc. As a group of the Institute of History staff and doctoral students we want to continue research into the history of social-cultural transformations in Poland in the 19th and 20th centuries, especially into modernisation and emergence of a modern industrial society during the partition period and in the Second Polish Republic, extending it to the post-WWII period, taking into account social-cultural transformations in the People’s Republic of Poland.

Like in the previous period, our studies focus on the links between modernisation processes and changes in the division of gender-related roles. Taking into consideration methodological inspirations of Western European and American research into social history and cultural anthropology as well as gender studies, we would like in particular to analyse the processes of creating equal opportunities in life for men and women, cultural transformations accompanying them, both in private and family life, and in the public sphere. One of the main fields of research is the emergence of a modern labour market and modern forms of community life organisation and their impact on the emergence of new social roles for women relating to an increase of the level of education. Our research also covers the effects of professionalisation of society and transformations in the standards of its existence. 

Gradually, what has become increasingly important in the Team members’ studies have been the cultural aspects of shifts in the gender-influenced division of labour (e.g. transformations of work culture, leisure time culture and daily life culture – taking into account the democratising impact of the modern urban space and popular culture using the mass media). These factors require thorough analyses, because they have had a considerable impact on creating equal opportunities for cultural progress over social and gender barriers.

Thus, the Team’s most important research objectives are: [1] to look for answers to questions about the specific nature of the forms, speed and mechanisms of the emergence of social, national, religious, civic, professional etc. awareness among men and women in society at a time of its accelerated modernisation at the turn of the 20th century, especially to reflect on how a sense of gender identity may have modified these processes; [2] to observe and analyse the social-cultural consequences of modern urbanisation in Poland at the turn of the 20th century (transformations of urban communities, emergence of the urban lifestyle etc.), especially from the perspective of gender studies; [3] to expand comparative approaches to include the analysed social-cultural phenomena, both in the Polish and in the European context.

During monthly Team meetings we discuss the latest research trends in social history and cultural anthropology in Germany, France, the United Kingdom, the United States and Russia (the major “schools” and their achievements in recent years). Analysing recent publications, we want to pay particular attention to new methodological proposals and possibilities of applying them to our research. In addition, we carry our an overview of recent achievements of historians of Polish society. There are also presentations of specific research projects, including fragments of doctoral and post-doctoral dissertations in preparation. 

Research topics continued and suggested by Team members include:
1. Modernising transformations and social awareness (assessment of changes in various groups, classes and regions, taking into accounts generational and gender identity). Landed gentry, bourgeoisie and intellectuals vis-à-vis nobility traditions in the second half of the 19th and the early 20th century. Elements of post-nobility culture in new social groups.
2. The emergence of social and regional auto- and heterostereotypes (ideas of the rural community about people living in urban areas, intellectuals’ ideas about workers and peasants, ideas of people living in Galicia about people living in the Wielkopolska province etc.).
3. Wars and political upheavals as well as revolutionary situations vis-à-vis social modernisation processes in Poland (the effects of the January Uprising, the 1905 Revolution, the First and Second World War etc.).
4. Territorial mobility and social mobility. Migrations, resettlements, travels and tourism as factors of cultural amalgamation (turn of the 20th century).
5. Communities and associations – primarily taking into account the gender studies aspect. The role of political, social and economic organisations as well as informal influential associations (including social circles) in an era of democratisation, urbanisation and industrialisation (political parties, trade unions, cooperatives, educational and cultural associations as factors of social restructuring and adaptation, and will to participate in the changes and manage them, as well as their impact on transformations of the culture of community life and of social conventions). Comparisons between Poland and Germany, the United Kingdom, Scandinavia and Russia. 
6. Demographic effects of modernisation. Increase in the birth rate, life expectancy and changes in the biological parameters of Poland’s population (19th-20th centuries). Transformations in family structure, division of roles in the family and culture of family life.
7. Clientelism in Polish society in the 19th century (comparisons between the first and the second half of the century, comparisons between regions and partitions). Crisis and durability of bonds stemming from the vertical hierarchisation of society. Old and new forms of “patronage-based” relations (lord-servant and employer-employee, leader’s authority in traditional and new political associations, changes in the relations between clergymen and the faithful etc.).
8. Daily life of various groups in society and technical progress. Transformations of social norms, values and models in the private and public sphere of daily life.
9. The beginnings and development of mass culture – as an effect and factor of social transformations. Changes in the lifestyle in big cities at the turn of the 20th century. The role of new forms of entertainment: popular press and publications, cinema, sports shows etc. and the emancipation of youth, women, poorer social groups. New social role models. 
10. Directions and results of social policy of the partitioning states, the Second Polish Republic and the People’s Republic of Poland (as compared internationally). 
11. Violence in the social landscape at the turn of the 20th century. Jewish communities vis-à-vis violence.
12. The impact of hunger, death and migration on social behaviour during the First World War.
13. Social-cultural aspects of tobacco smoking in the 19th and 20th centuries.
In addition to monthly meetings, every year the Institute of History holds one-day seminars dedicated to the memory of Anna Żarnowska, designed as a combination of methodological and historiographic reflection, and new research proposals. So far, there have been five such symposia referring to problems studied by their patron: 1. “The city – space and people” (24 Semptember 2008), “Research into social structure – yesterday and today” (24 September 2009), “The family and family life as a research problem” (23 September 2010), “Collective memory in historical research” (22 September 2011), “Ordinary life and ‘extraordinariness’ in historical research” (27 September 2012). In September 2013 the seminar will focuse on “Concepts of ‘collective portrait’ in historical research”. 

The Team also organises methodological conferences the themes of which go beyond the history of the 19th and 20th centuries, e.g. “Historical research into old age and old people – concepts and methods” (23 April 2009), “Microhistory and regional history” (15 April 2011).

Members of the Team have been taking part in a multi-annual project, financed by the National Science Centre, the aim of which is to carry out a comprehensive analysis of transformations of the position of the elderly in various social groups (also from the perspective of historical demography), to analyse the forms and institutions of care and social policies, and to reconstruct the changing images, ideas and stereotypes of old age. Two conferences, featuring foreign speakers, have already been organised as part of the project: “The elderly in the family and society in Poland between the 18th and the 20th centuries (a comparison). Demographic and cultural aspects” (Institute of History, University of Warsaw, 9-10 February 2012) and “The elderly in the family and society in Poland between the 18th and the 20th centuries (a comparison). Changes in the assessment of the value and prestige of old age and youth in the 19th and 20th centuries” (Institute of History, 30 January-1 February 2013). About 30 papers were delivered during each of the conferences; expanded versions of the papers are being prepared for publication. 
Members of the Team collaborate with academic centres and scholars from outside the University of Warsaw, who deal with social history in their work (especially with the Institute of History, Polish Academy of Sciences, Jagiellonian University, Adam Mickiewicz University, University of Wrocław, University of Gdańsk and the Jan Kochanowski University of Kielce).

An important part of our work concerns exchange of teaching experiences associated with the “Social history” course at the Institute of History (members of the Team conduct classes as part of the course).

At the moment, members of the Team, which is open to all IH staff and doctoral students interested in the social history of Poland in the 19th and 20th centuries, are: Prof. Jerzy Kochanowski, Dr Michał Kopczyński, Prof. Jolanta Sikorska-Kulesza, Prof. Maria Nietyksza, Prof. Grażyna Szelągowska, Prof. Andrzej Szwarc (coordinator),  Dr Błażej Brzostek, Dr Dobrochna Kałwa, Dr Agnieszka Janiak-Jasińska,  Dr Artur Markowski as well as doctoral students: Mgr Michał Janik and Mgr Jakub Zapała. Dr Katarzyna Sierakowska (Institute of History, Polish Academy of Sciences) is its regular collaborator.

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