History started to be taught at the Kraków University in the first half of the fifteenth century, almost 100 years after the Studium Generale (as the University was then called) was established by King Casimir the Great and over a decade after it was re-founded by King Vladislaus Jagiello (in accordance with the last will of Queen Jadwiga).
We owe the addition of history to the programme of studies to Jan Dąbrówka, who was a lecturer in the Faculty of Liberal Arts, one of the University’s four faculties. In the course of the following centuries, history was in the background of various studies and did not gain the status of an independent discipline. This changed at the end of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In 1776, following a reform of the University carried out by Hugo Kołłątaj, history (and geography) became part of a faculty named the Academy of Fine Sciences.
The partitions of Poland made further reforms impossible but did not interrupt the University’s work. At the same time, despite playing a key role in the life of the Free City of Kraków, in terms of prestige the University fell behind its younger sister in Vilnius. The decisions which were crucial for the University were made several decades later.
With the wave of socio-political transformations introduced by the Austrian monarchy in the second half of the nineteenth century came new opportunities for the University, including historical sciences. Paradoxically, it was during the period of partitions, very difficult for the Poles, that the Chair of History was formed at the Jagiellonian University. The main goal of this unit, created in 1860, was to teach the history of Austria in accordance with the Austrian wishes.
However, the situation was dynamic; a year later the Historical Seminary was created and in 1869 a new unit was established – the Chair of Polish History, unique in partitioned Poland. It was headed by Józef Szujski, one of the prominent members of the conservative Stańczycy political faction. The creation of a modern, for those times, approach to Polish history must be credited to Szujski as well as other outstanding historians, such as Michał Bobrzyński, Stanisław Smolka and Stanisław Krzyżanowski.
The following years, both while Poland was partitioned and after it regained independence, clearly show the Kraków historical school was one of the most important and active institutions on Polish lands.
The University’s friends were not the only ones aware of this fact – its enemies were as well. Teaching at the University was suddenly interrupted by the outbreak of World War II. It was then, on 6 November 1939, that 183 Polish scholars were arrested and taken to the Nazi German concentration camp in Sachsenhausen and then Dachau. As a result of the Sonderaktion Krakau operation, the University was closed down and forced underground.
After the German occupation of Poland ended, the University returned to work in the very difficult reality of the Polish People’s Republic. Under Stalinism, the University’s autonomy was taken away and each discipline pursued at the University underwent ideological indoctrination, which was opposed by the majority of the professors. History was scrutinised particularly closely, as from the Communist Party’s point of view it had the potential to become the most dangerous discipline in the post-war reality. We should remember, however, that during this period the University’s structures were also regulated, which contributed to creating the contemporary form of the Institute of History.
Beginning in the academic year 1945/46, history was taught in the Faculty of Humanities. In 1952, the Faculty of History was created, but it only lasted until the autumn of the following year, when it was incorporated into the newly-established Faculty of Philosophy and History.
On 24 April 1970, as part of an organisational reform of the Jagiellonian University, the Institute of History was established in the Faculty of Philosophy and History. Several departments and sub-departments were created in the Institute. The library, opened in 1873, is also an integral part of the Institute of History.
After the political transformations carried out in 1992, the Faculty of History was re-established; its largest organisational unit is the Institute of History (which is also one of the biggest institutes in the entire Jagiellonian University). The first dean of the new Faculty was Maciej Salamon, and the current one is Stanisław Sroka.
The first director of the Institute of History was Józef Gierowski, who was followed by Antoni Podraza, Józef Buszko, Michał Pułaski, Mariusz Markiewicz, Wojciech Rojek, Piotr Franaszek, Stanisław Sroka, Sławomir Sprawski and the current director – Piotr Wróbel.
The Institute of History continues to be one of the most important and recognised academic centres in Poland.
[…] Apart from grand balls, there were also smaller gatherings, especially on St. Nicholas Day, held in our Department [of Ancient History, housed in the Palace Under the Rams in the Main Square in Kraków], which had a bigger room. I especially remember one such gathering on St. Nicholas Day, during which Anna Gąsiorowska played the role of an angel [distributing gifts] and Jerzy Turowicz played Santa Claus; they later got married. It was a custom that during such meetings students could speak freely, within some boundaries, of course, and they made some innocent jokes about some of the professors, which was welcome by the others. And I remember one little joke going around: Who wears Professor’s Konopczyński’s clean collars? I should add for the benefit of contemporary readers that at that time collars were not sewn onto shirts, but detachable. Professor Piotrowicz was also a subject of jokes; he was drawn as a Roman Caesar, wearing a gown and with long leg hair. A student was lying at his feet and the professor, like Caesar, with his thumb pointing down, was sentencing him to death – that is, a “fail”. When this drawing was circulated, Professor Sobieski called out: “A spitting image of Piotrowski!”, which was, of course, received with laughter. Another time, Professor Kutrzeba, the rector, during students’ protest which temporarily closed down the university, received a tray with a key made of chocolate. Such were the antics in those times. […]
Józef Wolski, Kraków przede wszystkim, Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Jagiellońskiego, Kraków 2002, ss.45-46.
In front row, seated (from left to right): Ludwik Piotrowicz, Władysław Konopczyński, Stanisław Kutrzeba, Władysław Semkowicz, Roman Grodecki.
In back row, standing (from left to right): Józef Wolski (first), Jan Dąbrowski (fourth).
In 2010, the staff of the Jagiellonian University Archive began the University Memory Project. Its goal is to record the memories of our University’s employees, which constitute the “collective memory” of our community. The dozens of accounts collected so far include memories of retired employees of our Institute.