Ferocious Enemies and Noble Heroes: Images of “Us” and “Them” in Polish American Textbooks (until 1930s)  Add To Calendar

  • Date(s): Wednesday, 9/12 6:00 PM to Wednesday, 9/12 8:00 PM
  • Campus Address: Institute for the Humanities, Stevenson Hall


Organized by: Prof. Keely Stauter-Halsted
Sponsored by: UIC Polish Studies 

Ethnic schools have long played an important role in propagating profiles of „ideal” heroes and members of society among immigrant communities. In particular, school textbooks were frequently used to convey the messages adults wished to transmit to the younger generation. In this talk, I describe the contents of various textbooks assigned in Polish-American parochial schools, focusing especially on the invention of national mythology and the simplification of facts necessary to facilitate the transmission of cultural memory. School primers sought to establish group solidarity by also identifying common enemies. Yet, because textbooks published in the U.S. before World War I focused mainly on Polish realities and Polish history, they failed to help immigrants’ children acculturate to their American realities. Only after World War I did an American presence became more visible in primary school books. By the 1930s the Felician Sisters predominantly used textbooks written in the U.S.A. mainly by S.M. Cyryla (Magdalena Tobaka). These works featured schematically characterized heroes, and ideals that were alien to Polish-American children. The textbook, Polska, by S. Mary Cyryla, for example, featured an image of Poles and “other” nationalities in black and white terms. Foreign nations are depicted as cruel, monstrous, villain, pagan, barbaric, etc. “Us,” the Poles, are seen as brave, just, good, wise, honest, faithful, etc., they “have loved faith, country, and language” etc. Cyryla’s textbook tried to engender feelings of community by dividing the world into “us” and “them,” thereby provoking antagonism towards “them.” Polish personality traits were very much in keeping with the images and stereotypes Polish society had about itself. In constructing a positive and ideal self-image, it was useful for “others” and “strangers” to be depicted as “enemies.” “They” were described negatively by their religion and, more often, by their “spirit,” “intellect” and “behavior.”

Adam WalaszekAdam Walaszek is Professor of History in the Institute of American Studies and Polish Diaspora Jagiellonian University. Specializes in the history of Polish ethnic group in the U.S. and history of international migrations. Author of 5 monographs in Polish (among them Return migration from the U.S. to Poland after WWI[1983]; Polish workers, labor and labor unions in the USA 1880-1922 [1988]; Immigrants world. Formation of Polish Cleveland, Ohio, 1880-1930 [1994]; Migration of Europeans 1650-1914) [2007]; Poles in the Anthracite Basin in Luzerne County, Pa. (1753-1902) [2011]), edited and co-edited 10 books; author of over 150 articles published in Poland, and abroad. Between 1993-1996 Director of the Polonia Institute, Jagiellonian University, between 2008-2016 Director of the Institute of American Studies and Polish Diaspora; member of Editorial Boards of many scholar journals in Poland, Europe and the U.S.