Poland: No Longer the Loser

More than two decades ago, Adam Zamoyski wrote a history of the Poles and their culture. As a major revision of the work is published, he reflects on the nation’s change in fortune.

The 1970s did much to change the way history was viewed, written and taught, but while old assumptions were undermined and the range expanded to include everything from witchcraft to gender studies, old perceptions died hard. Study was still compartmentalised in political units, occasionally regions, and only the more important ones were deemed worthy of attention. Importance was measured on a traditional scale: qualifying states were those that won wars, built up empires, expanded their economies, developed industry and put in place robust institutions – those deemed successful in 20th-century terms. The Holy Roman Empire was held up to ridicule, the German empire that took its place was treated with respect. The yardstick was tangible achievement and in this view of the past as a march of progress there was no room for losers.

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