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Writing a History of History

by YPU Blog on January 8, 2015, Comments. Tags: history, holocaust, judaism, manchester, memory, museum, poland, Research, and Sociology

Introduction

Hi, I'm Janek and I'm a historian, sort of. I specialise in memory studies. I research how people remember the past and why the way they imagine it changes. You could say I write a history of history. After all, what we write as historians changes the perception of the past the most. You could also say that what I do is not history at all, that it's sociology or cultural science. It's very confusing, even for me!

But let’s pretend I'm a historian. After all, I did graduate in history from Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. Then, two years ago, I moved to Manchester to do a PhD here. I do memory studies and, in particular, I look at how the Holocaust was remembered in my home town, Krakow.

In Depth

But what does it really mean? One of my case studies is an old Jewish Town in Krakow. For years, it lied neglected but, in the past couple of decades, it has turned into one of the most popular and fashionable spots in the City. Think Castlefield. It's like Castlefield without the canals and with synagogues instead. In my research, I try to find some traces of Jewish heritage in this now fashionable area. I look at how the Jewish relics have changed over time and how they have contributed to making the place so popular.

My other case is the local history museum, like the Imperial War Museum. The History museum in Krakow has always had an exhibition about Jewish history, but, only a couple of years ago, it was turned into the most important part of the museum and its biggest attraction.  How did this happen? What did curators tell us about Jewish history at the old exhibitions and what do they tell us now? And my favorite set of questions: Why do we believe them? What do they do to back up the story they tell? How do they convince us that what they say is important?

The best part of my project is that it can actually make a difference. People often think that writing about the past is not important for the present; Scientists change lives, not historians. But with a project like mine it’s different. I get to talk to museum curators and  planners and show them my findings. So there is a good chance that next time when you go to museum in Krakow you will see an exhibition with my ideas in it!

Going Further

If you're interested in history museums: http://www.mhk.pl/ or here http://www.iwm.org.uk/.

And if you want to read more about the cool old Jewish District: http://www.krakow.pl/english/22663,artykul,zydowski_krakow.html