Life-Writing Competitions in Interwar Poland

Wednesday, 7 November 2012, 4:30pm - 6:00pm, IWM library
In her presentation historian Kathrine Lebow will discuss the extraordinary impact of memoirs by “ordinary” people (workers, peasants, the unemployed) gathered through life-writing competitions in Poland between the two World Wars. Thousands of such memoirs were written, and hundreds published, at the behest of Polish sociologists, whose unique approach to the collection and analysis of personal documents emerged from transatlantic scholarly exchanges during and after World War I. Within Poland itself, the popularity of memoir competitions exceeded all expectations, generating a grassroots culture of life-writing and an eager reception by the reading public. Lebow will explore how this social science method evolved into a highly politicized civic discourse in the 1930s, presenting powerful challenges to exclusionary practices in Polish politics and society. In doing so, she will place the story of Polish “social memoir” against the backdrop of the 20th-century preoccupation with “everyman narratives,” pointing to their shifting deployment over time in a wide range of cultural, legal, and scholarly discourses.

Katherine Lebow is a history scholar; currently she is IWM Visiting Fellow (July – December 2012).