History of Community Archiving in Poland

The aim of my talk is to show the specific Polish grass-root archival activism, that comes from the tragic history of the country, that during the 20th century experienced the Nazi occupation, the Russian “liberation” and the repression of socialism. Archival activism, in the form of community archives, started in Poland for good after 1989, when Poland became a fully independent, democratic country. At that time some grass-root civil groups engaged in various social actions could legalize their activity by establishing a foundation or association, which was impossible in the former period of communism. That scenario happened in two community archives, that at present are the biggest and most influential ones in Poland – the KARTA Centre Foundation and the General Elzbieta Zawacka Foundation: the Pomeranian Archive and Museum of the Home Army and Women Military Service. In this talk I will briefly present their history and archives. The main thesis of the talk is that archival activism has a reason. In the Polish case there are especially two experiences of the 20th century that have influenced (and still influence) the grass-root archival activities; these are WWII and communism. However, among the multitude and variety of community archives in Poland, there are also initiatives documenting history and life of communities and answering to an interest in social history or microhistory. In my talk I would like to use Pierre Nora’s terms such as “democratization” of history, decolonization and “acceleration” of history – terms that can explain reasons for creating community archives.

Magdalena Wisniewska is a Master of Arts in archival science and records management and a PhD student at the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun, Poland. Currently she is preparing her doctoral thesis concerning oral history in Polish archives. Her research interests also include community archives, archival theory and new approaches to archives.