Kulczycki Book Prize in Polish Studies

2018 Citation Recipient


Lisa Jakelski

The 2018 Kulczycki Book Prize was awarded to Lisa Jakelski for Making New Music in Cold War Poland: The Warsaw Autumn Festival, 1956-1968 (University of California Press)

Making New Music in Cold War Poland makes an important contribution to Polish Studies at the intersection of three fields: musicology, cultural diplomacy, and cultural history. Lisa Jakelski presents an intricate and compelling story of the establishment and first decade of the Warsaw Autumn festival, marking a key cultural shift away from socialist realist doctrine of the early 1950s. Instead of rehearsing stereotypes about communist authorities and repression of cultural forms, Jakelski grapples with political indeterminacy and the pluralism of meanings as the festival organizers negotiate with mid-level bureaucrats, and the Polish Composers Union exerts its power to change policy from within the system. This book maintains a careful balance between attention to detail and fine-tuned characterizations (showing an impressive immersion in archival material), and Jakelski’s patient construction of a broader framework for analysis. She explores and critiques concepts of “backwardness” and “modern” with subtlety and skepticism, and manages to talk about a highly elite phenomenon in a way that makes larger claims about the general history of the PRL, as well as the geopolitics of the Cold War.

Honorable Mention: Robert Blobaum

Title: A Minor Apocalypse: Warsaw during the First World War (Cornell University Press)

Though dealing with only one five year period in one city, A Minor Apocalypse transforms the way we think about the entire expanse of modern Polish history. Even as Blobaum emphasizes the horrific suffering endured by Varsovians during WWI, he manages to break out of the framework of national martyrology, giving voice to a range of figures who had been silenced by the conventional framework for understanding the years leading up to Polish independence. At the start of the book we discover that Varsovians were by no means committed to independence or hostile to Russian rule, and as the war progressed the national cause was far from the front burner for the city’s residents. By recovering the voices of ethno-religious minorities, women, and the poor, Blobaum casts a much needed light on the quotidian struggle to survive, as food supplies dwindled and diseases spread. Since the First World War concluded with the establishment of an independent Polish state, the misery of the war itself has faded from public consciousness. Thanks to A Minor Apocalypse, that will no longer be the case.