Peasants, professors, publishers and censorship: memoirs of rural inhabitants of Poland’s recovered territories (1945-c.1970)

Vickers, Paul Andrew (2014) Peasants, professors, publishers and censorship: memoirs of rural inhabitants of Poland’s recovered territories (1945-c.1970). PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

Due to Embargo and/or Third Party Copyright restrictions, this thesis is not available in this service.
Printed Thesis Information:


This thesis investigates the phenomenon of memoir competitions in communist-era Poland, focusing on contributions to them by Poles of rural origins inhabiting the lands – known as the Recovered Territories – acquired by the postwar Polish state from Germany in 1945. I explore the history of the memoir method in postwar Poland, the processes involved in producing published volumes of competition memoirs – including editing and censorship, and the use of these sources in communist-era and post-1989 sociological, historiographical and interdisciplinary studies. I focus on existing research both on the Recovered Territories, particularly Polish settlement of those lands and the development of new communities there, and also on postwar peasants’ lives, particularly where theories of social advance are applied. In this respect, this investigation adds to existing literature in social history on early postwar Poland.
My study also contributes to work in censorship studies by considering Polish censors’ approach to quite exceptional sources. Because in many cases original competition entries are available, it is possible to establish where editors, publishers and censors have intervened, something that is rarely possible with standard works of literature or academic scholarship produced under communism. I consider what strategies different scholars used in presenting published sources and circumventing restrictions imposed. Subaltern studies approaches to speaking and its critique of nation-centred historiography are, meanwhile, applied in investigating the intersection of peasant autobiographies, academic research, scholars and Party-state institutions and their discourses, as I consider how the published communist-era compilations of competition entries framed peasant writing, experience, culture and consciousness, and how these frames potentially conflicted with the authors’ own interpretations of their experiences and social reality.
This investigation also contributes to memory studies, a discipline whose approach to communist and totalitarian states is particularly problematic as many studies assume significant restrictions were imposed not only on publication but also on autobiographical memory expressed in usually unrecorded private and local spheres. I explore whether memory studies’ typical approach, based in notions of competing claims might also apply to Poland under state socialism. Bakhtin’s theories of dialogism prove useful in exploring the history of memory under communism, rather than the memory of it – as is commonplace today in oral history-based studies, for example.
It is in respect of censorship studies and memory studies that this thesis makes its most substantial original contributions to research.
My research draws on substantial archival research conducted in Poland, where I explored censorship archives in Warsaw and Poznań, Party and ministerial archives, and the Polish Academy of Science archive, since numerous memoir sociologists and rural sociologists were based there. I also used archives housing original competition entries, the main locations being: The Institute of Western Affairs in Poznań (Instytut Zachodni – IZ), the Institute of History of the Polish Academy of Science (Instytut Historyczny PAN – IH PAN) and the Museum of the History of the Polish Peasant Movement (MHRPL in Piaseczno, near Tczew). I consider published volumes alongside original sources where possible, although substantial losses have occurred to the store of popular autobiography.
Chapter 1 outlines the background of Polish memoir sociology and the main methods and theories used in this investigation, ranging from subaltern studies through Bakhtin to autobiography studies. Chapter 2 focuses on memory studies, including the field’s approach to communist and postcommunist countries, before outlining aspects of censorship studies relevant to this investigation. I end Chapter 2 on a case study of the memoir compilation Miesiąc mojego życia [A Month in my Life – MMŻ; (1964)] and its treatment by censors.
Chapter 3 explores recent English- and Polish-language historiography on the Recovered Territories, concentrating on, firstly, how historians have used the memoir resources in considering the early postwar years, and, secondly, how peasants are represented within the recent wave of works exploring Polish communism through nationalism and popular legitimation. I end on a case study of one particular memoir by a female settler to the new Polish lands, highlighting the value of the competition entries as thick descriptions.
Chapter 4 investigates the mainstream communist-era memoir movement where the leading analytical concept for approaching peasants and social change was ‘social advance’, developed from Józef Chałasiński’s prewar sociology. I explore how the nine-volume series Młode pokolenie wsi Polski Ludowej [The Young Generation of Rural People’s Poland – MPWPL; (1964-1980)] and other memoir-based studies approached peasants and the Recovered Territories, which were often framed as a site of quicker and more intensive social advance and urbanisation. I also explore the autobiographies of Poles who lost their homelands in the prewar eastern borderlands in the context of today’s assumptions that ‘repatriants’, as the eastern Poles were known under communism, were largely absent from communist-era publications.
Chapter 5 considers the academic sociology of the Western Territories, developed at IZ, and how materials from its 1956/57 memoir competition on settlers were used alongside fieldwork. I explore the sociological frameworks developed for analysing migration, settlement and community development, noting that some studies from the 1960s can today be considered forerunners of migration studies and memory studies. Chapter 6 specifically considers the publication Pamiętniki osadników Ziem Odzyskanych [Memoirs of Recovered Territories Settlers – POZO; (1963)], investigating original entries alongside published materials to explore editors’ and academics’ role in censorship, while also investigating how the volume was received in the press.
Chapter 7 explores the production of the four-volume series Wieś polska 1939-1948 [Rural Poland 1939-1948; (1967-1971)] by historian-editors Krystyna Kersten and Tomasz Szarota, who treated these previously-unpublished texts written in 1948 explicitly as historical sources, thus contrasting with previously dominant sociological approaches while also posing specific problems for censors as the editors employed a unique method of summaries in an attempt to make the entire set of some 1700 texts available to readers.
Exploring different approaches to memoir publication, I aim to illustrate the diversity of the published sphere in People’s Poland, while demonstrating the heterogeneity of ordinary Poles’ memories submitted to different competitions between 1948 and 1970. While the value of the archived sources should be quite evident, exploration of censorship and editing processes should demonstrate the value of compilations and indeed communist-era scholarship, which is often overlooked today. By avoiding totalitarian schools of historiography and memory studies, I aim to demonstrate that competition memoirs illustrated ordinary Poles’ agency within historical and social processes, while also stressing their agency over their memories and autobiographical narratives which at the same time were, as in any society, cultural and social constructs.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Poland, communism, censorship, peasants, autobiography, memoirs, sociology, memory studies, social history, forced migration, migration, Recovered Territories
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DJ Netherlands (Holland) > DJK Eastern Europe
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
H Social Sciences > HX Socialism. Communism. Anarchism
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Modern Languages and Cultures > Slavonic Studies
Supervisor's Name: Bates, Dr. John M. and Grossman, Dr. Elwira M.
Date of Award: 2014
Embargo Date: 10 December 2023
Depositing User: Mr Paul Vickers
Unique ID: glathesis:2014-4821
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 22 Jan 2014 12:38
Last Modified: 10 Dec 2020 08:23

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item