Book versus Power

Studies in the Relations between Politics and Culture in Polish History

by Jacek Soszyński (Volume editor) Agnieszka Chamera-Nowak (Volume editor)
©2016 Edited Collection 358 Pages


This volume considers the various interactions between the culture of the book and politics in Polish history. Each of the fourteen authors deals with a different topic, chronologically starting with the beginnings of the early Piast monarchy in the 10th century up to contemporary times: for instance, E. Potkowski discusses the political ambitions of Duke Mieszko I and his descendants with regard to the introduction of early writing and reading in Poland; A. Kamler analyses the attitude of the Jagiellonian dynasty in the 1500s towards books and education; and D. Jarosz traces the changing approach of the communists towards book production and the promotion of readership in their attempts to persuade Polish society to accept their ideology.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Contributors
  • Abbreviations
  • Preface
  • The Book in the World of Politics: Early Literary Culture in Poland, 10th–12th Century
  • Papal Plenitude of Power and World History: Papal Political Ideology in the Chronicle of Martin the Pole
  • The Concept “rex illiteratus quasi asinus coronatus” in Late Medieval Cracovian Writings
  • The Jagiellons vis-a-vis the Book and the Education of the Nobility
  • The Polish Sejm Debating over a Work of History: The Case of ‘De bello Moschovitico’ by Reinhold Heidenstein, in 1587
  • The Jesuits as a Monastic Community Supportive of Secular Power in Reinforcing Catholicism in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, 16th–17th Century
  • Historiography as an Instrument of Politics in the 18th Century Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
  • The Polish Library in Paris, 1838–1893
  • Politics, Power, and the Batignolles School Library
  • Book, Press, and Book Market Research in the Service of Polish Government Agencies: The Institute for Scientific Investigation of Communism in Warsaw, 1930–1937
  • Books in the Hands of Stalinists (1948–1956): Policies, their Implementation, and Results
  • Communist Authorities, the Society, and the Book in Poland, 1945–1989: Mutual Relationships
  • Forbidden Books: The Polish Instytut Literacki in Paris and the Editorial Policies of Jerzy Giedroyc, 1946–1989
  • Polish Government Administration and the Professional Press Dedicated to the Book Market, 1989–2000
  • Index of Persons


AGNIESZKA CHAMERA-NOWAK, Institute of Information and Book Studies, University of Warsaw

JAN DZIĘGIELEWSKI, Institute of Historical Sciences, Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw

DARIUSZ JAROSZ, Institute of History, Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw

ANNA KAMLER, Institute of Information and Book Studies, University of Warsaw

JAROSŁAW KURKOWSKI, Institute for the History of Science, Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw

DARIUSZ KUŹMINA, Institute of Information and Book Studies, University of Warsaw

KRZYSZTOF OŻÓG, Institute of History, Jagiellonian University, Cracow

EDWARD POTKOWSKI, Professor Emeritus, University of Warsaw

JACEK PUCHALSKI, Institute of Information and Book Studies, University of Warsaw

IWONA PUGACEWICZ, Institute of Information and Book Studies, University of Warsaw

MAŁGORZATA PTASIŃSKA, Institute of Information and Book Studies, University of Warsaw

KATARZYNA SEROKA, Institute of Information and Book Studies, University of Warsaw

JACEK SOSZYŃSKI, Institute of Information and Book Studies, University of Warsaw

MAREK TOBERA, Institute of Information and Book Studies, University of Warsaw ← 7 | 8 →


← 8 | 9 →


AAN Warsaw, Archiwum Akt Nowych [Central Archives of Modern Records]
BJ Cracow, Biblioteka Jagiellońska [The Jagiellonian Library]
BN Warsaw, Biblioteka Narodowa [The National Library of Poland]
Dz.U. Dziennik Ustaw Rzeczpospolitej Polskiej [Journal of Laws of the Republic of Poland]—http://www.dziennikustaw.gov.pl/
EBIB Biuletyn EBIB [Bulletin of the Electronic Library for Librarians and Information Specialists]—www.nowyebib.info/
IPN Warsaw, Instytut Pamięci Narodowej [Institute of National Remembrance]
PSB Polski Słownik Biograficzny [Polish Biographical Dictionary], Vol. 1–, Cracow, Wrocław, 1935– ← 9 | 10 →


← 10 | 11 →


Relations between political power and the book—understood in the broadest sense, as encompassing all forms of governance on the one side and the author, copying scribe, publisher, printer, bookseller, librarian, and reader on the other—can assume very different forms, from patronage through subtle manipulation to brutal persecution, and in reverse from praise, through indifference or sarcastic ridicule to outright contention. Polish history is perhaps particularly abundant in all kinds of attitudes linking the persons and forces carrying authority and the people representing the written text. Thus, the authors of the articles making up this volume touch upon nearly all aspects of these complicated connections.

The book is organised chronologically. It begins with an account by Edward Potkowski of the beginnings of written culture in Poland in the tenth century, which started with the Christian conversion of the country at the politically motivated and executed order of the first historical ruler of the Polans, Duke Mieszko I. Medieval themes are continued by two other texts, the first of which, written by the author of these words, is related to the Chronicle of Popes and Emperors by a Dominican friar from Silesia, Martin the Pole (d. 1278), a curialist and representative of the political ideology of the papacy during the times of its political apogee in the thirteenth century. The latter article, by Krzysztof Ożóg, discusses the development among fifteenth-century intellectuals in Cracow of the important concept of the necessity of education for the ruler. During the later Middle Ages, this concept was epitomised by a witty maxim “An uneducated king is no more than a crowned ass”.

The reader will find four texts concerning early-modern history. Anna Kamler presents the attitudes towards the book and education of the Jagiellons, the descendants of Grand Duke Jogaila (Polish: Jagiełło) of Lithuania who through the marriage with the Angevin princess Jadwiga, heiress to Polish throne, in 1386 became King Władysław II of Poland and founder of the Jagiellonian dynasty. At the end of the fifteenth century, the members of this house possessed the thrones of Lithuania, Poland, Bohemia, and Hungary, and ranked among the most influential dynasties in Europe. The article shows how in the sixteenth century, education became an important requisite of the upper strata of Polish society. The article by Jan Dzięgielewski discusses an episode of the second interregnum (1587), when an account of the war against Muscovy by Reinhold Heidenstein became a bone of contention between two major political factions scheming for power in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Moreover, as Dzięgielewski concludes, this ← 11 | 12 → controversy most probably had a very important impact on further development of early-modern Polish historiography. The next article, by Dariusz Kuźmina, recounts the endeavours of the Jesuits as proponents of the Catholic monarchy in the Commonwealth. This new monastic order, introduced to Poland in 1564, conducted its efforts through education of young noblemen and through publishing religious books. Within the latter activity, there appeared the most influential translation of the Bible in the history of Polish literature by Jakub Wujek SJ. In the seventeenth century, these Jesuit policies turned out to be very successful. The last article in this sequence is the discussion of printed editions of historical sources in the first half of the eighteenth century by Jarosław Kurkowski. The author, in his erudite study points out various politically motivated roles of such publications, aimed at boosting national morale during times of foreign dominance in the Commonwealth and at searching for political reform.

The two articles dealing with nineteenth-century history are both devoted to Polish émigré cultural institutions operating in Paris. After defeating the November Uprising (1830–1831), the Tsarist authorities introduced Russification as their chief policy in the Russian partition of Poland. Thus, not only politicians and soldiers, but also numerous poets and writers found themselves in exile in Western Europe, chiefly in France. In this way, for nearly half a century Paris became the capital city of Polish culture, with such personalities as the poets Adam Mickiewicz and Juliusz Słowacki, the historian Joachim Lelewel, and the composer and virtuoso pianist Frédéric Chopin. Naturally, the Polish intelligentsia could not function without cultural institutions, and soon various initiatives were undertaken to organise such centres, usually in the form of cultural societies and libraries. The articles by Katarzyna Seroka and Iwona H. Pugacewicz treat the most important of these, the Polish Library in Paris, which was connected with the conservative faction of Prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski, and the Batignolles School Library, which was tied to the democratically orientated wing, respectively.

All five articles dealing with the twentieth century are in one way or another related to communism. The sequence begins with an account of the activities of the Roman Catholic priest Father Antoni W. Kwiatkowski and the Institute for Scientific Investigation of Communism he set up and directed in Warsaw during the interwar period. Jacek Puchalski, the author of the article, follows the activities of Father Kwiatkowski and in particular the bibliographic research conducted at the Institute with the aim of more effectively countering of the communist propaganda in Poland. Puchalski also notices the relations of the Institute with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and various state services of a policing character, active in countering communist subversion in Poland. The next article by ← 12 | 13 → Agnieszka Chamera-Nowak takes us to postwar Poland, already dominated by the communists, to discuss the role of the book in the policies of the Stalinists (1948–1956), their efforts in controlling book production and distribution, and the development of a library network, to create a powerful propaganda system capable of turning the Poles into “new socialist people,” and the final collapse of this scheme. The author of the following article, Dariusz Jarosz, treats the same subject, but within much wider chronological limits. Jarosz attempts to give an overview of the history of the book in communist Poland from the early moments just after the Second World War until the collapse of the system in 1989. And so Jarosz follows the totalitarian endeavours of the Stalinist period, the apparent rationalisation of the system under Władysław Gomułka (1956–1970), its abortive modernisation during the Edward Gierek regime (1971–1980), the uneasy interlude of the First Solidarity (1980–1981), and the gradual disintegration of the book system under the military leadership of General Wojciech Jaruzelski (1982–1989). Małgorzata Ptasińska takes the reader once again to Paris and Polish émigré circles. From her article the reader can learn about the editorial policies of Jerzy Giedroyc, head of the Instytut Literacki, the publishing institution which revived the splendid nineteenth century traditions of cultural work for the mother country from the outside. Giedroyc—a politician, publisher, and author at the same time—managed to create an institution that not only influenced émigré cultural and political life, but also affected developments in Poland under communist domination. The volume is closed by an article authored by Marek Tobera that introduces a completely different tone. Tobera deals with the problems facing the Polish economy during postcommunist reconstruction of the 1990s, namely the reintroduction of the market economy into book production and distribution. He follows this process on the example of the specialised press devoted to book market issues, and discloses to the reader how problems of the reentry into the world of free market forces were gradually replaced by even greater ones connected with monopolisation, globalisation, and the introduction of the Internet.

The preparation of such a volume as Book versus Power in the English language encompassed numerous decisions, which were neither easy nor necessarily good, although the editors strived to make optimal choices from the point of view of the reader. A translation always incurs such decisions, and each one is arbitrary.

It was decided that all first names, although the majority of them have English equivalents, will be left in Polish. Hence, the reader will have to go through tonguetwisting pains of coping with Andrzej instead of Andrew, Kazimierz instead of Casimir, or Jerzy instead of George (pronunciation guidelines can be found on the Internet). But on the other hand, the reader will easily be able to find additional ← 13 | 14 → information, particularly on the web, and without danger of equivocation. The few exceptions to the rule of using Polish first names are the already established in the English-language historical literature names of the kings like John Albert (Jan Olbracht) or John II Casimir (Jan II Kazimierz). For obvious reasons, the form Frédéric Chopin is used instead of Fryderyk Chopin, which would be more appropriate in Poland.

It has also been decided to use two Polish terms in original, instead of their English equivalents: “szlachta” (pronounced “shlahta”), which designates Polish nobility, and “Sejm”—the Polish parliament (pronounced just like the English adjective “same”). These terms have not been translated because they refer to strictly Polish cultural, social, and political phenomena, in the case of which the use of English counterparts could be misleading. But, I will not venture into explaining their specificity, since it would involve lengthy essays; the interested reader is referred to numerous publications treating the subject (e.g. by Norman Davies).

This volume originated during discussions at the Centre for Book Research of the Institute of Information and Book Studies, University of Warsaw. Originally, it was supposed to present the scope of works conducted at the Centre, but it soon turned out that while chronologically these works span the Middle Ages with the twentyfirst century and create the appearance of comprehensiveness, in fact they leave too large chronological gaps completely uncovered. Hence, it was decided to invite several scholars from other institutions, authorities in their fields, to submit contributions to fill in the voids, at least partly.

Finally, I would like to thank the coeditors of this volume who generously advised me all along, and helped in preparing the book for print, and whose patience I have strained more than once. My gratitude is due to Dr Agnieszka Chamera-Nowak who unwearyingly dealt with many tedious editorial tasks, and to Professor Dr Dan Embree who spent many an hour correcting the deficiencies of my English. I am deeply indebted to them both.

Jacek Soszyński ← 14 | 15 →

Edward Potkowski

The Book in the World of Politics: Early Literary Culture in Poland, 10th–12th Century

I. Latin literate culture and the book entered Poland during the tenth century, accompanying the introduction of Christianity as the official religion of the state. Until that time, pre-Polish society lived in the world of oral culture, transmission of ideas by word of mouth, and collective memory, amassing tradition and knowledge in this way only. On the other hand, Christianity was a “religion of the Book”. Its basic doctrinal, moral, and social principles were contained in sacred writings, which were the vehicles of divine revelation. The Scripture, or the Holy Bible, accompanied by a formidable number of explanatory texts, was indispensable to understanding sacred revelation, and for implementation of the requirements of the Christian religion in public and private life. Books were also necessary for the fulfilment of the divine service, praising God in appropriate words. In the case of the Western Christianity, the appropriate linguistic form was Latin.

Thus Christianity, which changed the Mediterranean world in late antiquity, brought Latin literary culture to the new societies, which comprised medieval Europe.1 ← 15 | 16 →

II. During the Middle Ages, Christianisation of a region in Europe was an act of politics. It depended on the decision of the ruler and the governing elite. This was the case with the Merovingian Franks in Gaul, where the decision was made by Clovis I, with various regions in Germany and Scandinavia, with the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of the British Isles, with the Central European states of Bohemia, Poland, and Hungary, and finally, with the Lithuanian Duchy at the end of the fourteenth century.2

The introduction of Christianity in Poland, including the Latin literary culture, was the result of a conscious choice and of planned action on the part of Duke Mieszko I, and the group he led. His decision was taken for several important reasons, among which political calculations played the leading role.

At least from the beginning of the tenth century, the Polans, and their Gniezno based dynasty—the Piasts, step by step enlarged their territory, thus collecting the Polish lands. During the reign of Mieszko I (ca. 960–992), the boundaries of his state found themselves near the confines of the German kingdom, the rulers of which, since 962, were Roman emperors—i.e. they presided over the most important institution in the Christian world. The emperor was responsible for defending the Christian faith, and was obliged to support the Church in its missionary activities. In early medieval practice that meant widening the sphere of ← 16 | 17 → influence of the emperor-king of Germany, and inflicting political subservience on the baptised peoples.

On the south, Mieszko’s realm bordered Bohemia, which was united by the Přemyslids from Prague, and which entered Christiandom earlier than the Polans. In the mid-ninth century, the duke of Bohemia conquered Małopolska and Silesia, which some time later were incorporated into the Polish state (Poland and Bohemia would compete over these lands for centuries to come). Hence, in the middle of the tenth century, from the south and the west, the Polish state faced Christian Europe, which worshiped one God, praised Him with Latin prayers and with Latin liturgy, and considered the emperor and the pope to be the supreme powers. Since one could not hope to find refuge from this world in the familiar forests, it was necessary to find a place in it for the Polish state.

Baptised in 966, Duke Mieszko I gained equal status with the other princes of Christian Europe. This enabled him to conduct effective international policies, and participate in European power plays. Otto I accepted him as an ally of the Empire, as the Saxon chronicler Widukind put it—as a “friend of the emperor” (amicus imperatoris). Being an imperial ally and Christian ruler, Mieszko assumed the responsibility for missionary activities both within his own country and among his pagan neighbours. Through these policies, the Poland of Mieszko I was excluded from the influence of the Saxon Church, and from subordination to the metropolitan see of Magdeburg, created by Otto I for the Slavonic lands in 968.

Christianity was a monotheist religion, with a seasoned centralised administrative organisation. In contrast to numerous tribal cults and various local deities, Christianity, with its belief in one God and uniform doctrine, offered additional internal binding useful to for the young state, which was still being shaped by the Piasts. An efficient centralised church organisation assisted the strengthening of the ducal power. “Still in the process of consolidation, the state, which combined territories of different traditions” observed the Polish historian Jerzy Dowiat “could not afford to decline the use of such an important instrument of influencing the society, or at least of its upper strata, as a single religion and uniform organisation, tied to the monarchy, and subordinated to it.”3 The importance of this new structure is demonstrated by the creation in the year 1000—on the initiative of the Polish ruler—of the ecclesiastical province of Poland, with the archbishop of Gniezno presiding over it. At the same time, new suffragan ← 17 | 18 → dioceses were established in the recently incorporated territories: in Cracow for Małopolska, in Wrocław for Silesia, and in Kołobrzeg for Pomerania.

The Christian clergy—bishops, priests and monks—fulfilled important tasks within the state created by Mieszko I and his successors. Not only were they preachers of the new religion, but also lieutenants, diplomats, and advisors of the duke. Until the end of the thirteenth century, i.e. the time when ecclesiastical reforms were finally introduced, Polish rulers effectively designated candidates for the bishoprics. Usually, they elevated to these positions trustworthy and tried collaborators. Moreover, Christianity introduced into Polish society a new, coherent system of religious concepts and ideas, important for the supra-tribal monarchy. These ideas were alien to the pagan cults, which failed to come up with a system sacralising ethical and social norms, comparable with the Christian one. Christianity, similarly as the Roman, and other antique cultures, sacralised monarchic power. It also stabilised the system of social structures, claiming that full vindication of social demands will come in the eschatological perspective, in the afterlife.

And finally, Christianity introduced Latin into Poland, the language of its doctrine and liturgy. This language, which the Poles learned as a foreign tongue, was also the vehicle of contact with the accomplishments of the European culture, both in antiquity, and in the Middle Ages. It enabled the reading of texts, which explained the surrounding world better than the traditional pagan ideas. Moreover, Latin provided the instrument of contact with contemporary cultural and political centres, with the papal curia and the imperial court, and with the courts of other rulers in Christian Europe.4


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2015 (September)
History of Poland History of Lithuania History of the book
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2015. 358 pp.

Biographical notes

Jacek Soszyński (Volume editor) Agnieszka Chamera-Nowak (Volume editor)

Jacek Soszyński is Professor of History at the University of Warsaw. His field of expertise is medieval historiography and the history of ideas during the Middle Ages. Agnieszka Chamera-Nowak is Assistant Professor of Library Science at the University of Warsaw. She specialises in the history of the book in the early modern period and the twentieth century.


Title: Book versus Power
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359 pages