Great things are afoot in Polish Studies in 2010. Michał Paweł Markowski has just been named to the inaugural Stefan and Lucy Hejna Family Chair in Polish Language and Literature at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and will begin teaching there in August. He is currently the Director of the Centre for Advanced Studies in the Humanities and both founder and Chair of the Department of International Polish Studies at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland.
Markowski, who was born in 1962, is one of Poland’s leading scholars and public intellectuals and is the author of well over a hundred articles and more than a dozen books in Polish, including the seminal study of Witold Gombrowicz, Black Waters: Gombrowicz, World, Literature (Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2004), which was nominated for the Nike Award in 2005 (and should really, really be published in English…); and Polish Modern Literature: Leśmian, Schulz, Witkacy (Universitas, 2008), which is an indispensable introduction to Polish modernism; as well as books on Nietzsche, Derrida, and literary and cultural theory, among other subjects.
Prof. Markowski has also hosted a cultural tv show on Polish Television and is a regular contributor to the weekly Tygodnik Powszechny. He has been a visiting professor at Harvard and Northwestern University and is deeply familiar with the landscape of American academia. More importantly, he possesses a refreshing and inspiring breadth of thinking and a rare capacity for moving between disciplines and establishing both conversations and the structures to sustain them (the Department of International Polish Studies at the Jagiellonian University is just one example). This truly is wonderful news not just for Polish Studies and Chicago, but for the increasingly integrated study of modern European literatures and cultures in North America.
2010 will also see the third International Conference in Polish Studies, held at the University of Michigan on September 16-18, and hosted by the Copernicus Endowment for Polish Studies. Previous editions of the conference were held at Indiana University (2008) and the University of Toronto (2006). This year the focus is on interdisciplinarity and cross-cultural approaches, as the Call for Papers indicates; and the following excerpt from it provides a useful reflection on the state of Polish Studies today:
The field of Polish studies in North America has been utterly transformed over the past decade. There are now more people than ever studying Polish language, literature, culture, history, society, and politics, and the overwhelming majority of them entered the profession after the fall of communism. With this new generation of scholars have come new forms of scholarship. The broad cluster of methodological and theoretical innovations collected under the rubric of Cultural Studies has brought to light a range of previously unexplored topics and introduced to our work a heightened degree of self-reflexivity. Work on gender and sexuality, for example, has not merely introduced new analytical categories and new themes, but shifted the way we understand the broad narratives of Polish history, culture, and society. Although Polonists have a long history of working across disciplinary boundaries, the vectors of interdisciplinarity have been shifting in recent years to bring together perspectives that were not always in dialogue. The moves towards comparative work and a new focus on transnational processes have not so much eclipsed Polish studies as forced us to critically examine the concept of the “Polish Nation” and to re-conceptualize it in more productive ways.