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The Past in the Present

The Construction of Polish History


Robert Traba

What do we remember from our national past and why? What are the dangers of history being (mis-)appropriated by politicians? Past in the Present provides a critical analysis of recent disputes over Polish historiography. The author uses theories of collective memory as a guideline, and the Polish-German borderlands as his leitmotif. Western academic currents and long-standing (and often forgotten) Polish intellectual traditions serve as backdrop. Throughout his work – with topics ranging from Golo Mann and Stefan Czarnowski to the «other side of memory» and the «political cult of the fallen» – Traba advocates modernization and «polyphony» in the construction of a new Polish history.
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Chapter 5: Golo Mann: A Turn Toward Narrative History and an “Obsession with Germany”


There is one book that deserves more than a brief discussion, and the need for a broader analysis of this work stems from several things: The author’s extraordinary personality, his way of telling history, and the momentum of historical narrative that he offered readers almost half a century ago in his Deutsche Geschichte des XIX. und XX. Jahrhunderts.

One cannot have a neutral attitude toward the work of Golo (actually Gottfried) Mann. I myself have gone through fluctuations that range between fascination (when, in 1990, I studied his image of German history for the first time) to near rejection (when I realized that my own understanding of history was going in a different direction). Today I have found a certain balance in my views, though I have not lost the emotional relationship with his work: Golo Mann is simply worth reading, even if it triggers ambivalent reactions.

I. Determinants

The essence of what distinguishes Golo Mann from other historians is found in his particular synthesis of history and literature. For Mann, Friedrich Schiller - whom we in Poland associate almost exclusively with the great dramas of the “Sturm und Drang” period - was the unsurpassed genius in this kind of writing, and Schiller was - from Mann’s perspective - the author above all of Geschichte des dreißigjährigen Kriegs (1790-1793), a work published in Polish just over 40 years after the German original. Using his own historical method, Mann built for himself a...

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