Kersten's Foundation

Fundacja Kerstenów

Krystyna Kersten
 

The Kersten Foundation was established in 2011 with the aim of celebrating and commemorating the life and work of Krystyna and Adam Kersten.

My Adventure with Contemporary History

 Krystyna Kersten
  Translated by M.J. Kersten

Page 8

I know that all of the above has a very important meaning. However, in my case, in my adventure with the contemporary history – the written history! – it was not the dependencies, limitations and conditions that were most important. I could not even honestly claim that I was prevented from getting a promotion solely because of so-called “other than research” reasons. Naturally, the guidelines imposed from the outside also played some role; they marked the boundaries of my adventure. After all, the adventure began in the period of the most intensive alteration of contemporary history. Any publication of the period will show it. At the time of the most drastic pressures exerted on the academic community, the common belief in the community was that the period after the war could not be researched. It could only be a subject of more-or-less biased journalism dressed up as research.

If there were any chances at all to conduct research on the last decade (and I was convinced that I could) they were more than limited. Even I, considering my naivety and optimism as well as my identification with the ruling ideological and political order – not an insignificant matter – could not imagine academic studies of the political sphere. I thought and was right, however, that some processes could already be researched then. The processes that could be separated, i.e. socio-economic reforms and post-war migrations. Naturally, the essential condition was access to sources; at that time the files were kept in document storage.

The choice of rural settlements in Western Pomerania as the topic of my first work on post-war history was accidental, the result of two factors: the opportunity to begin doing research and the attitude of a newly fledged historian, who was transferred from the 15th to the 20th century and wanted to use the same rules of historical research that were instilled in her by her teachers.

I must admit that I was very lucky at the beginning of my career as a contemporary historian. I started work at the end of 1954, when the thaw had already started. My supervisor, Roman Werfel, secured broad access to source materials for me. I am petrified today when I think what my doctoral dissertation, or rather doctoral candidate’s dissertation would look like had it not been the changes occurring in Poland at that time. Then came 1956. I remember the heated campaign in this Institute, against falsifying recent history, “correcting” documents in the collections of sources and against pulling history into the service of politics and propaganda. I am in possession of a document from those times, a doctoral dissertation, written without any exterior pressures.

This dissertation which, by the way, was not published in a book form, even though it was accepted for publication (at this point the decision was based on reasons external to research), convinced me that it is possible to do research on contemporary history.  It convinced me that, despite the unquestionable specificity of work, a historian of contemporary history does not work in a completely different situation; he or she moves within the same professional field or at least can do so.

Admittedly, work in the Institute of History of Polish Academy of Sciences (Instytut Historii Polskiej Akademi Nauk) was a luxury. We did not have any directives or pressures, we were free to choose topics, being limited only by state censorship. However, this institutional freedom had another side. We did not get creative inspiration or supervision of our research, particularly at the beginning. The situation changed to some extent when, in 1962, Franciszek Ryszka became the manager of our unit and the team was created. Franciszek Ryszka, a pronounced liberal, still did not impose anything, believing in the principle of laisser travailler. But the intellectual atmosphere that he introduced broadened our horizons. His broad view of historical process, extensive interests, almost allergic reaction to particularism, Polo-centrism and national myth-mania, defined the research climate of the unit and also inspired a wonderful spirit of kindness, loyalty, tolerance and respect for different views and engagements.

 

Page: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

Source: Transcript of a lecture "Moja przygoda z historia najnowsza" given at the meeting of the History and Culture Section of the Fans of History Society (Towarzystwo Miłośników Historii), which took place on October 27th, 1986.