Heritage in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
PI: Katarzyna Kuras
The research group is going to focus on reflection on the phenomenon of heritage in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and will integrate Polish and foreign researchers around this topic [the first of the four ‘I’s: internationalisation]. We are guided by a broad definition of heritage, which may be perceived as both the baggage of the past, and the treasury of the past in the present – in both cases including elements of difficult, troubled, or, on the contrary, splendid heritage. The group’s objective is to produce publications [the second of the four ‘I’s: integration] developed using the means of different research disciplines [the third of the four ‘I’s: interdisciplinarity] and addressed to a wide audience. In order to do this, we want to use a combination of two different notions of heritage, an approach that has not been applied so far in studies of the history of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth [the fourth of the four ‘I’s: innovation].
Reflexion on Heritage in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
In the pre-modern world in general, and in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in particular, the heritage of the past was omnipresent, with this presence taking two main forms. On the one hand, the inhabitants of the Commonwealth had to cope with the regionally, historically, and ideologically diverse traditions brought into this complex organism (immanent heritage), while on the other hand they had to constantly tame the baggage of the past through narratives, borrowings, and selection (emergent heritage). The constant transformation of immanent heritage into emergent heritage conditioned the connectivity of the present with the past and opened up the prospects for the future.
This process in fact ensured the very continuity of the complex structure of the Commonwealth, which, with its underdeveloped structures of a militarised and bureaucratised state, was held together mainly by republican ideas and practices, constantly reincarnating and being transformed. This can be seen perfectly, e.g., in the political discourse, where the creativity of the authors of narratives about the past could set the same elements of it in the context of divergent visions, e.g. royalist or republican. A similar ambivalence could apply to any elements of the past: the Cossack revolt was for some a rebellion against legal authority, while for others it was an act in defence of the Orthodox faith; the liberum veto was for some a pupilla libertatis, while for others it was a defect of the parliamentary practice, which required reform.
Opportunities and challenges, yesterday and today
Successful ideas, stories, and models of behaviour could wing their way through subsequent generations, but they could also prove to be either a burden hindering necessary change, or a challenge to be met in order to face new tasks. Their lives did not end with the partitions of the Commonwealth. However, we are less interested in these late reminiscences, and more interested in how the still-existing Republic dealt with its own heritage, how the established narrative and performative traditions weighed on current events, and in what ways attempts were made to use this difficult or splendid heritage for current purposes and actions. We want the experience of the past to thus become part of the present, and thereafter facilitate the imagining and modelling of the future.