Historisches Seminar
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The Frontier of Western Civilization. Polish Émigré Scholars and the Imagination of Eastern Europe in Cold War America

Dissertationsprojekt von Kai Johann Willms

Betreuer: Prof. Dr. Martin Schulze Wessel

 

The beginnings of the Cold War posed a challenge to political decision makers in the United States: Until World War II Eastern Europe had been a marginal field of research in American academia. In order to overcome this lack of expertise, new institutes and research centers for Eastern European Studies were established and generously funded. Since there were only few domestic experts, émigré scholars from Eastern and Central Europe constituted a vital human resource in this field. Many émigré scholars gratefully accepted these career opportunities, but they did not confine themselves to the role of knowledge suppliers for American politics; in many cases they pursued an agenda of their own. Already during World War II Polish émigré scholars founded research institutions and created transnational networks in order to promote their own historical narratives and mental maps within the public spheres of the Western world. Drawing on the expanding research on the significance of migration for the production and circulation of knowledge and ideas, the project analyzes the role of Polish émigré scholars in the US as agents of a cultural transfer: What influence did they exert on the American image of Eastern Europe in the context of the Cold War? To what extent did they adopt, while assimilating into American society, ideas and knowledge from their new environment? How were the émigré scholars’ activities perceived in Poland before and after 1989? By pursuing these questions, the project contributes to a better understanding of the role of intellectual border crossers at the time of the Cold War and at the same time reflects on the epistemological question how the scholarly production of knowledge is shaped by the writer’s social context.