A Few Words on the Passing of Andrzej Wajda


On Sunday, October 9th, 2016, the 90-year old Polish film director Andrzej Wajda (pron: on-JAY vhy-duh) passed away. News of his death reverberated across cultural centers and news outlets worldwide. In his sixty year career, he directed and produced over fifty full-length films, was awarded with one honorary Oscar, one Palme d’Or, and was frequently nominated for Oscars and Academy Awards, particularly in the Foreign Film category. Considered to be the king of modern Polish cinematography, he was one of several Polish movie directors who formed the so-called “Polish Film School”, and one of the most prominent Polish film directors known worldwide, alongside the likes of Roman Polański, Agnieszka Holland, or Krzysztof Kieślowski.

In addition to his cinematographic contributions, Wajda was a politically engaged individual, known for his public support of the Solidarity movement, which opposed the communist authorities throughout the 1980’s. In June of 1989, he participated in the first partially-democratic elections in the Soviet Bloc in over forty years, won as a member of the Solidarity coalition, and served until 1991 as a senator in the first post-communist government. Despite his minute successes in protecting Polish art and cinema during the transitional period to free-market capitalism in the early 1990’s, Wajda ceased his political career and returned to directing films. Indeed, it is for his cinematographic contributions and successes that Wajda is most revered and celebrated. In short, one can argue that Wajda’s success domestically is due to the ability of his works and films to resonate with everyday Polish life and society of the 20th Century. This is most evident and highlighted upon by his own upbringing and experiences as both a young adult in Nazi-occupied Poland, and an adult whose career and works were constantly under threat by the communist authorities.

Wajda was born in 1926 inter-war Poland in Suwałki, a region in the northeast of Poland co-inhabited for hundreds of years by ethnic Poles and Lithuanians. In the mid 1930’s, his family moved to Radom, a city located halfway between Warsaw and Cracow in the center of Poland. His father, a captain in the Polish Army, was mobilized in early September 1939 as a result of the German invasion of Poland, never be reunited with his family again; captured and held as a prisoner of war at the conclusion of the September Campaign in 1939, Wajda’s father was transferred from German hands to the Soviets in April 1940, and executed by the latter during the Katyń Massacre.

During the war, a young Wajda attempted to continue his education by participating in the school system established by the Polish Underground, yet was forced to work due to the family’s dire financial straits. From mid-1942 to the autumn of 1943, the 16-year old served as a liaison officer in the Polish Home Army, the primary and dominant Polish anti-Nazi resistance organization. Following the infiltration of his battalion by the Gestapo, Wajda hid in Cracow for half a year until early spring 1944, only to learn that most of his compatriots were executed by the Gestapo.

Following Cracow’s liberation in January 1945, Wajda enrolled as a painter at the Jan Matejko Academy of Fine Arts. Since the early years of the war, Wajda was interested in and displayed talent in painting. His paintings – although lesser known compared to his cinematographic accomplishments later in life – were largely influenced by surrealism, and were largely representative both abstract and naïve art. However, by the late-1940’s Wajda grew increasingly interested in cinematography and film, and in 1949, he dropped out of the Matejko Academy. He moved to Łódź just south of Warsaw, and enrolled in the newly-established National Film School, subsequently graduating in 1953.

Wajda’s initial cinematographic amateur works were rather insignificant. In 1955, he produced his first successful film, simply known as A Generation. The film carefully balanced historical fact and complying with state-mandated socialist propaganda; it portrayed the lives of young Poles enlisted in the Polish People’s Guard – a communist resistance organization of historically small significance and combat experience – and the resistance they posed to the German occupation. Despite the fact that the film was well-received by English-speaking critics for its acting and filming, the film wascriticized by Polish émigrés living outside of communist Poland precisely for its historically inaccurate overemphasis of the influence of communist resistance in Nazi-occupied Poland. On the other hand, Wajda was not spared by the communist authorities either, who criticized the film’s deviation from state-mandated socio-realist representations of art.

The mid to late-1950’s proved extremely productive and successful for Wajda, who created and produced films almost every single year, nearly all themed on the Polish experience of World War II, particularly Polish resistance to the German occupation. For example, he broke through into the international scene in 1956 with Kanał. Kanał portrayed the heroic struggles, sacrifices, and eventual tragedy of the Home Army during the 1944 Warsaw Uprising. The film’s international success was highlighted through its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in France and being awarded with the Silver Palme d’Or.

However, his successes in this time period culminated and were most represented by his 1958 film Ashes and Diamonds. The film received global fame and praise – as well as condemnation by the communist authorities domestically – for its portrayal of inter-ideological relations between the Polish non-communist and communist resistance movements in 1945 Soviet-liberated Poland. More specifically, Wajda negotiated in his film the difficult and often tense relations which existed in the immediate post-war time period between Soviet-backed communist sympathizers and non-communist Poles, who were weary and distrustful of their communist compatriots. The work is considered one of Wajda’s most prominent expressions of symbolism and romanticist cinematography, a genre of art that has been highly influential in the formulation of Polish tradition, culture, and the Polish Weltanaschauung.


One of the difficulties of outlining and describing Wajda’s successful cinematographic career was his constant production of and output of films. One may joke, but the truth is that in a good decade, Wajda would easily work on at least ten films. The sheer quantity of films produced is impressive, yet one must also take into consideration the politics of Polish cinematography and film business at the time. Specifically, one must be aware that Wajda’s films were often controversial, criticized, and held in “development hell” by the communist authorities. One such example is that of the 1976 film Man of Marble, whose manuscript was written and completed in the early 1960’s, yet was forbidden by the communist authorizes from production and filming due to its controversial theme and topic. Specifically, the film was one of the first in the Soviet Bloc that highlighted the failures and inadequacies of the communist system, as well as the hypocrisies of socialist authoritarianism and elitism. As a result, much of Wajda’s career – as was true with not only many other Polish artists, but the Polish population in general – was often held back and progressed at a snails pace due to political pressures from the communist authorities; although not impossible, social and economic mobility, however, was difficult to achieve for the common person if they were not Party members, not to mention if they had openly and publicly criticized the system and/or authorities at any point in their life.

Wajda will forever remain dear to Poles particularly due to his reanimation of pre-WWII Polish romanticism in a dull and tepid communist Poland, his relationship to Polish traditions and culture and his expression of patriotism, and especially his contributions towards embedding Polish martyrdom into Polish “pop-culture” through the medium of film, as well as its dissemination and popularization all over the world. Perhaps this is most evident in his 2007 film Katyń, which depicts the Soviet massacre of over 22,000 Poles in the spring of 1940. Polish military officials and members of the Polish intelligentsia were the primary victims of the 1940 massacre, and it remains a contentious matter in Russo-Polish history and politics to date. Although the film does not rival artistically the works of Ashes and Diamonds, Man of Marble, or Man of Iron (1981) – the latter having won the 1981 edition of the Palme d’Or at Cannes – it is the portrayal of an event that is considered to be exemplary of Polish martyrdom in recent Polish history.

It is also a monument to Wajda’s own father, one of at least 21,768 Poles executed in the jails of western Ukraine or the forests of western Byelorussia by the Soviets. Perhaps Wajda’s prominence and importance to Polish cultural life – and society in general – is because of his depiction of historical events that, in reality, have touched the lives of each and every Pole for the last century; the depiction of the Polish experience of World War II, the Cold War, and the communist regime, as it was truly experienced by the vast majority of Poles. For the most part, there has been no other individual that has been as vital in the reconstruction and portrayal of Polish experience, memory, and history, and whose works have been so widely disseminated and known since the romanticists of the 19th Century – Adam Mickiewicz, Juliusz Słowacki, Cyprian Kamil Norwid, Henryk Sienkiewicz, or Wincenty Pol, to name a few. In short, Wajda was the continuation of the Polish Romanticist legacy. Much like the 19th Century Polish Romanticists who experienced and expressed in their works the nature of life under foreign occupation/rule, Wajda and his works explored these very same facets in relation to communist authoritarianism, the latter as being something that is inherently foreign. Along with the sadness that accompanies his passing is a sense of loss and uncertainty – loss in the death of one of the few remaining representatives of Polish Romanticism, and uncertainty in who will continue its legacy.


Polish Cinema’s Finest, Cannes Film Festival, 1990. From left: Andrzej Żuławski (1940-2016), Andrzej Wajda (1926-2016), Agnieszka Holland (b.1948), Roman Polański (b.1933), Ryszard Bugajski (b.1943), Krzysztof Kieślowski (1941-1996). Photographer: Micheline Pelletier.


This blog post was written by Adam Staszczuk, a graduate history student at Villanova University. He is a student of European history, particularly modern Central European history with a specific interest in modern Polish history.

Individuals interested in reading more about Andrzej Wajda and his artistic work are highly encouraged to visit the biographical webpage compiled and written by Monika Mokrzycka-Pokora, accredited by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute. Please visit http://culture.pl/en/artist/andrzej-wajda


Hoberman, J. “Remembering Andrzej Wajda, Unflinching Observer of Modern Poland.” The New York Times, Oct. 12, 2016. Retrieved Oct. 13, 2016. Web. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/13/movies/remembering-andrzej-wajda.html?_r=0

Karol, Tom. “Letter: Andrzej Wajda obituary.” The Guardian, Oct. 14, 2016. Retrieved Oct. 14, 2016. Web. https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2016/oct/14/letter-andrzej-wajda-obituary

Lubelski, Tadeusz. Wajda. Portret mistrza w kilku odsłonach. Wrocław, Poland: Wydawnictwo Dolnośląskie, 2006.

Mokrzycka-Pokora, Monika. “Andrzej Wajda – Biography.” Culture.pl, January 2016. Retrieved Oct. 13, 2016. Web. http://culture.pl/en/artist/andrzej-wajda

Mondello, Bob. “Filmmaker Andrzej Wajda Dies at 90, Celebrated Resistance to Authoritarianism”.

National Public Radio, Oct. 11, 2016. Retrieved Oct. 13, 2016. Web. http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/10/11/497569055/filmmaker-andrzej-wajda-dies-at-90-celebrated-resistance-to-authoritarianism

–. “Andrzej Wajda. Official Website of Polish movie director.” Prószyński Media Sp. Z o.o. in collaboration with Andrzej Wajda. 2011. Retrieved Oct. 13, 2016. Web. http://www.wajda.pl

Reflections on Brexit: Why Brexit is in the EU’s Interest

Tumultuous times have engulfed Europe. The European Union, a product of over seventy years in the making, appears to be threatened by internal rebellion. Last week, the European Union member-state Great Britain announced that it would be leaving the European Union, the first member-state to do so in the EU’s history. A referendum in Britain concluded Thursday night with approximately 52% of voters in favor of “Brexit” – a play on “British Exit” from the EU – with the remaining 48% of voters voting against it. The results of the referendum were long unknown leading well into the night that Thursday, with the majority of exit polls predicting the “Remain” vote to be victorious. However, the nation, and indeed, the whole world was shocked Friday morning to learn that “Remain” had succumbed to “Leave”, and that Brexit had become a reality.

At this time, it pointless to determine what former Prime Minister Cameron and his cabinet had done incorrectly to allow for such a situation to arise; it is too early for historians to study the historical implications of Brexit. What is worth noting, however, are the forces which influenced Brexit, and where Europe stands both today and tomorrow as a result of it. It would be foolish to fail to comment on the enormous surge in popularity of right-wing populism within the last several years, not just in Great Britain, but the European Union in general. While Brexiters such as Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson argued in favor of protecting British national and political sovereignty (which are detailed in Jessica Chrisman’s article), anti-immigration sentiments also played a significant role in the Brexit propaganda campaign leading up to the referendum.  All throughout Europe today right-wing populists such as Brit Nigel Farage, Frenchwoman Marine Le Pen, Dutchman Gert Wilders, Pole Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Hungarian Viktor Orban, or Czech Milos Zeman manipulate their constituents growing fear of foreigners – especially with the recent Syrian refugee crisis in 2015 and 2016, which overwhelmed EU institutions and humanitarian efforts – to advance their own political agendas. They argue that the European Union is unable to maintain peace, stability, and security within its own borders, and that it is contributing to the demise of Western Civilization. Instead of surrendering and centralizing institutional capabilities to the European Union, these so-called “Eurosceptics” would rather maintain their abilities to govern within their borders unhindered by EU legislation.


One does not have to go far amongst the Eurosceptics to find those who see a growing centralized EU power only as an extension of German political power. Particularly eastern and southern EU member-states view the European Union as an extension and projection of German power in a post-WWII Europe. The Greek Crisis of 2014-2015, led first and foremost by Chancellor Angela Merkel and her German diplomatic leadership, was viewed by many Eurosceptics as a projection of German political dominance within the European Union, preventing a Greek exit while enacting strict oversight of domestic Greek economic policies. Not only have both put the European community at odds with one another, but both have allowed the European Union’s greatest military threat to manipulate the European political scene in his favor: Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

Both the Greek Crisis and Brexit have played into the hands of Putin. Leading a proxy war in eastern Ukraine, Putin requires that the European Union be divided and unable to put forth a united opposition, and weak enough so as to be unable to put forth a formidable one to his own imperialistic endeavors. Both the Greek Crisis and Brexit have riled up Eurosceptics and pinned more than one member-state against another, often the southern and eastern against the western. Additionally, it also worth noting that the events following the announcement of Britain’s exit from the EU have failed to hinder further political damage within the EU, and only exacerbated Putin’s gains. The weekend following the Brexit announcement, a ministerial meeting was assembled by the French and Germans to discuss the future fate of a 27 member-state EU minus Great Britain. Surprisingly, only western EU member-states were invited, including France, Italy, Germany, and the BeNeLux. The remaining twenty or so member-states of the EU did not receive invitations to join in on the discussion. Shocked and playing into the stereotype that Germany dominated the EU, a counter-conference was called for Monday by the Poles, and included all the member-states of the Visegrad Group, as well as the Spanish and Austrians. It is rather unimportant who said what during these meetings. What matters, however, is that the very first response of the European community to Brexit was a divided and ruptured response. Not only does that play into Putin’s narrative of a divided, weak, and incompetent European Union, it also does not bode well for the EU’s narrative of unity, integrity, and solidarity. Oddly enough, however, it may prove beneficial for the European Union and European unity to allow Britain to exit.

That is quite the bold claim considering up until this point, the author of this essay has been pointing out the European Union’s weaknesses which allowed for the Brexit situation to come about in the first place. There is a saying, however, that one’s misfortune can be a blessing in disguise. Let us assume that the remaining 27 member-states of the European Union apply themselves whole-heartedly and consolidate their efforts to implement a coherent and steadfast reform to the institutional superstructure, which would address the EU’s shortcomings and concerns that allowed for the Brexit situation to come about in the first place. This is, hopefully, a far more realistic outcome than an en masse divorce of subsequent member-states. Assuming that the abovementioned premise of a unified European response to the Brexit crisis is true, the EU, more or less, will be able to determine the repercussions of a member-state leaving its ranks. In other words, the EU will finally have a case-study to revert to and dissuade future member-states from leaving. Assuming the premise that Britain will be politically and economically worse off outside the EU than within, the EU will be able to point to the British case-study for future events.

There is an evident weakness to the abovementioned scenario. One may refute it by highlighting that it rests on the premise that member-states will be worse off outside of the EU instead of being a part of it. One can state that we cannot be certain that Britain will fare worse off, and that Britain’s political and economic resurgence is just as viable and plausible an outcome as its demise. The author of this essay must concede that this is absolutely true. However, like any good historian who must come to a conclusion where there is a lack of information, one must utilize available evidence to infer the most probable conclusion. Therefore, the author of this essay would argue that it is necessary to determine what is being done to assuage the negative economic and political consequences of Brexit within Britain. By doing so, a more extensive description of the situation is produced with greater evidence available for analyzing Britain’s post-Brexit reaction.

Within hours of the Brexit announcement, the British and global markets had spiraled into chaos. The Financial Times, Bloomberg, and the London-based The Times informed that within one day after the referendum, over $2 trillion in equities had evaporated. The British pound noted the largest single day drop against the dollar, from $1.50 to $1.37 by early Friday morning, dropping as low as $1.30, and rebounding to $1.34 at the time of writing this essay. The value of British banks dropped a fifth Friday morning, slightly regaining yet still maintaining a 10% deficit at the time of writing this essay. Additionally, Standard & Poor’s downgraded Britain’s rating from Triple-A to Double-A, while economists predicted lower economic growth for 2016 not exceeding 1.0% of GDP, and an economic recession for 2017 and 2018. Overall, approximately $3 trillion of losses worldwide can be attributed to the Brexit announcement. The exact financial and economic losses are not readily available due to the recent and simultaneously vast nature of the event, however, economists agree that the economic instabilities remain despite relatively minor rebounds in the fifth day in post-referendum British markets.

The turmoil created by the Brexit announcement did not leave the British political scene unscathed. Following the Brexit referendum, Prime Minister David Cameron announced his resignation, directly linking it to the Brexit referendum’s outcome, implying an end to the Conservative Party’s leadership. The opposition Labour Party, likewise, was not spared turmoil when leader Jeremy Corbyn had dismissed members of the Labour shadow government for supposedly colluding a coup against him. In subsequent days, at least 22 out of the remaining 30 ministers within the shadow government resigned from their positions. Internal battles for power followed en suite in both political camps, complicating the search for decisive leadership. As a result, neither the Conservatives nor Labour could put forth a candidate to lead Britain during this chaotic and tumultuous time. The void in the political vacuum has allowed for controversial individuals such as Nigel Farage or Boris Johnson to step in and exacerbate the political instabilities of British politics. Anti-immigrant sentiments and attacks increased following the Brexit referendum, particularly against Eastern Europeans. And perhaps, in a twisted fate of irony, MP Brexiters such as Daniel Hannan conceded post-referendum that much of the migratory regulations constricting immigrant flows as promised by the Brexiter camp would be unattainable, exacerbating accusations of deceitful promises utilized to garnish support for Brexit. As a result, there has been a growing call since Friday for a second referendum to veto the legality of the Brexit referendum.  The unfortunate matter of the fact is that the Brexit camp has been primarily unproductive in preparing for nor relieving the negative consequences brought about by Brexit. The chaos and the lack of organization within Brexit politics is inductive of economic instability and turmoil. In other words, there are little to virtually no arguments available for Brexiters to imply that Britain will be better off outside the EU. Instead of hitting the ground with boots running, the Brexit camp has squandered viable time and resources only to prove that it had been dishonest with its voters.

With far-reaching cries from within all strata of British society for a second referendum – particularly among British citizens in Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well as the London metropole –  the EU is in a more comfortable position than it is made to seem. As long as right-wing populism is curbed and unity within the EU is maintained, the EU will weather this storm, as it has man in the past. The EU, however, must overcome its own complexes and truly begin acting as a unified bloc, with each member-state resisting the temptations and manipulations of outside forces. As for the British, it appears that they have only realized now the true value of the EU after having lost it. The large surge of British voters demanding a second referendum, as well as calls for Scottish independence and Irish reunification as members of the European Union, have for the first time in many years and crises made, quite ironically, the European Union desirable; in the process of a member-state leaving the European Union, the European Union has become much more desirable for that member-state. It is now the European Union’s turn and duty to solidify this into axiom. In other words, if one’s to prevent future rebellions, one must prove to those who rebel that their actions are disadvantageous to their own interests.

Brexit is in the European Union’s interest.


Adam Staszczuk is the author of “Reflections on Brexit: Why Brexit is in the EU’s Interest”. He is a history graduate student at Villanova University, concentrating in European history with specific interests in Modern Central Europe, particularly Poland.  He can be contacted via email at astaszcz@villanova.edu 

Things I Wish I Knew From The Onset: A Minor Guide For First Year History Graduate Students Straight Out of Undergrad

The aim of this blog post is to share with any prospective history grad students the things I learned from my experience as a undergrad student transitioning into a graduate history program during my first semester. I’m going to write about things I wish I knew going into my first semester at Villanova, and I hope that future history grad students will pull a few lessons out of this blog post and make their transitions easier (at my expense, haha). Also, a note to the reader: this blog entry is informal. Informal and humorous but informative (hopefully, no promises). Also, the views and opinions, suggestions and recommendations expressed in this blog post are solely the author’s own personal beliefs, and not representative of Villanova University, the Villanova University History Department, nor any of the other contributors to the Historically Speaking blog.

I’d like to start off by saying that in hindsight, I realize how well you settle into your first semester determines how the remainder of your graduate studies go. In short, the student you become your first semester dictates – mostly, with a few exceptions such as studying for comps – what kind of student you will be for the remainder of grad school. There aren’t many semesters in grad school to begin with (assuming you’re not in it for the long haul, or no unforeseen events negatively affect the timeline of your graduate studies), so it’s pertinent that you transition efficiently and somewhat quickly.

So the first thing I would like to say to future first year history graduate students is that studying history in graduate school substantially differs from studying history in undergrad. Quite an obvious statement, I know, but there’s more to this. Studying history as an undergrad is largely a matter of learning and remembering facts, names, events, etc. It does not require of you to think much about the sources or the author or origin of the facts that you acquire. It can be argued that graduate school teaches you how to think like a historian.

There’s more to each history book than the thesis and main arguments. It’s pertinent that you learn to not only read the narrative of the book, but also learn to read the dedications and acknowledgments, the endnotes/footnotes, the bibliography, and the index. While you would most probably not even take a glance at these in undergrad, these are as important for a history grad student as anything else in the book. There’s a lot you can learn from knowing what sort of sources the author used, what archives the author utilized in their research, whether or not the author utilized sources native to the country of origin (you wouldn’t exactly want to read a history of the American Civil War solely based on Soviet archives, would you now?).

Now, there are plenty of aspects of studying history in grad school that you will have to pick up on your own on the go (there’s simply too many to list), but there are some vital questions worth knowing from day one to help with your transition. Some of these questions seem basic and self-evident, but they can really help with reading “in between the lines”. Most of the questions that I am about to introduce will really help with studying and approaching schoolwork, but they can definitely be expanded and utilized in your own projects, especially when applied to studying your own sources. (Also, I’m omitting questions like “what is the thesis of the book?” or “what arguments is the author trying to make?”. I’m assuming you’ve figured out to ask those types of questions already, otherwise you’d probably not be in grad school to begin with)

1) Who’s the intended audience of the text? Simple question, but often you can tell a lot about the author and their personal biases based on who the intended audience is and how the author approaches them. (Hint: read the Introductions and Dedication/Acknowledgment pages). Are there political undertones to the author’s writing style? If the text you have at hand is a primary document, what’s the purpose of its existence? (Yes, we know, to inform, but inform who? Why? What are the implications of the intended recipient of this document acquiring the knowledge that the document-author is attempting to convey?)
2) What are the sources? Does the author utilize known archives or sources, or are they more obscure? Are there sources or archives utilized by the author that you would not expect to be used and are surprised by them? If so, what makes them so unexpected? Are there sources that you know of but are surprised to see that the author did not utilize in their research? Why could that be? Does the author attempt to be as precise and descriptive with their sources, or is the author somewhat vague? Like I said, there are many things the sources (read the endnotes/footnotes and bibliography!) can tell about the book and the author, and there are many questions you can ask of the sources to give you an idea of the author’s methodology.

3) Who’s the author? This ties in with the first point. You can tell a lot by who the author is and what their past experiences are with the subject matter. Is the author writing about a subject that they have experienced and lived through? Is the author known for previous instances of biased research and publications? Has the author been trained in a particular school of thought? How does the author approach this subject? This is quite an important question to ask especially when researching your own interests and work. Let’s say that you’re researching an aspect of the Holocaust. You’d be pretty skeptical to use a text written by an author who is a known Holocaust Denier, am I right? Likewise, this same point can be extended back to the second point regarding sources. Does the author utilize controversial sources, or sources authored by controversial individuals? What is the application of these sources by the author? In other words, you’d be skeptical of an author’s arguments when they’re held up by pseudo or questionable sources.

4) Who’s the publisher? A very important question when researching your own projects. You can tell a lot by the type of book you’ll be reading simply by looking at the publisher. If it’s some sort of university press, it’s probably an academic text of adequate quality that probably is a reliable text to utilize in your own research and work. Personally, I’d stick to these. If it’s a big commercial publisher that also lists “how-to” books or cook books in the “recommended books from this publisher” page of the book, ehhhhh…. it might be an informative and an entirely factual text, but you would not want to use it as your main source for a project you’ll be working on. Likewise, books published by commercial publishers tend to be less…… verifiable. If you’re reading something and the author makes a controversial claim but there are no footnotes, endnotes, or bibliography that you can check to verify the source of this claim, have a look at the publisher. It’s more than likely that it’s a commercial publisher whose sole purpose is to sell, sell, sell – not to contribute to nor invigorate the discourse of the particular subject/topic at hand.

If I could summarize the differences between studying history as an undergrad and as a grad student using a metaphor, it’d be something like this: If studying history was like learning a language, then studying history as an undergrad would resemble learning the vocabulary of a foreign language, whereas studying history as a grad student would resemble learning how to use the vocabulary to form coherent sentences and achieve fluency. In order to be fluent in a foreign language, you sort of have to think like a native speaker. You can’t be using American idioms to get a point across in another language. (Well, technically you can, but it probably wouldn’t make much sense to whomever you’re speaking with) The same goes with studying history in grad school. You have to start asking questions a researcher would ask.

Remember, a historian isn’t just someone who knows a lot of facts. Laypeople tend to forget, but history is a heavily research-orientated field. A historian’s strength is not the ability to memorize large amounts of information and facts and regurgitate them on command, but rather, the ability to think analytically to identify relationships between people, events, locations, and ideas throughout time and space. To put it metaphorically for a second time, history is one big murder case and we, historians, are the Sherlock Holmeses (or whatever the plural of Holmes is). It’s a literal mindset, it’s how we view the world. But how exactly do we view the world? More on that in a little bit towards the end of the post.

Let’s continue. My second tip for incoming history grad students is: don’t be intimidated. Who are we kidding, you definitely will be intimidated by your peers and professors. But don’t be. You have no reason to be. First of all, understand that you would not be in graduate school if someone did not realize that you are smart. You have the wits, you have the knowledge, you’ve proven it with your work as an undergrad, someone noticed it here in Villanova when you applied, they liked what they saw, and now you’re here. So when you’re in the situation where you feel like your peers are a league ahead of you, that you don’t belong here because you’re not smart enough, understand that you’re wrong about that. The truth is that there are things that others know better than you, however, there are things that you know better than other people.

Second, don’t be intimidated by your professors. Okay, maybe just a tiny bit (haha). It’s true, they know a lot more than you. You should not be intimidated by your professors, but rather, impressed and inspired. I can vouch that the professors at Villanova do not bite, and I haven’t heard or seen a professor chew a grad student (…yet). What I have seen, however, is students being intimidated by professors’ advice and corrections. Understand that unless you continue on to earn a doctorate, you will probably never be in such a unique situation where you will have the attention and full aid of nationally-acclaimed professors. They are here to help us, students, not to belittle us.

And perhaps most importantly, talk. Both in class and outside. I admit that my first semester I was one of the quiet ones in class. It did not suite me well, and I think I hindered my own transition into grad life. In my view, the earlier you take command of your own voice, the quicker the transition, and the quicker you settle in into grad life. After all, with class sizes ranging from half a dozen to just over a dozen students, grad classes are primarily discussion-based. I should not even have to mention that participating in class discussions is a large chunk of your grade in every single course you will take. Also, talk with your peers. Other grad students are your best sources for finding out information about school life. Second-year grad students are especially helpful with information regarding the history program, courses, professors, etc. Also, the history department at Villanova is particularly well-connected when it comes to program deadlines, campus events, and extracurricular activities. So talk with your peers because its important to have a social life, which brings me to my third tip.

Have a social life. If you just graduated from undergrad and are moving to a brand new city to start grad school – Philly and Villanova in this case – than here’s my tip: do not sit at home all day and do homework. For the first few weeks, make some friends, go into the city, see what the city has to offer and learn your neighborhood (assuming you’re not a native of the region). However, within the first month or so you will come to the conclusion that there’s only some many times you can walk around the city and your neighborhood before you get to know it relatively well and get bored of it. That’s why I recommend finding things to do outside of schoolwork to occupy yourself with. Pick up a hobby, join an intramural league – or what I highly recommend – pick up a part-time job.

Yes, studying will consume a lot of your time, but not as much as you think. People (especially second year grad students) make it sound like all you will be doing from 8am to 10pm every single day is studying, reading, and researching. It’s simply not true. I must concede that there will be weeks where you’ll have lots of work to do, but it’s never a“mission impossible” type of scenario. Believe it or not, unless you have other obligations, you will spend more of your semester bored than actually occupied and doing schoolwork. In my opinion, it’s best to be constructive with your time, particularly by picking up a part-time job.

First, you’ll be occupied, and therefore, not bored. That’s a good thing, trust me. Second, you’ll be making some money. If you’re straight out of undergrad, you’ll still have the energy of an undergrad. You’ll want to enjoy the city’s nightlife during the weekends, spend time with friends, go to a Villanova basketball game, etc. For all of these activities, money is sort of a must.

On the other hand, you most probably have student loans to pay off coming straight from undergrad. Picking up a part-time job is a perfect opportunity to begin paying off your student loans. Assuming you were a recipient of government subsidized and unsubsidized loans, it’s best to start paying off your unsubsidized loans as soon as possible out of undergrad. The interest on your subsidized loans will not accrue since you’re still in school as a grad student (make sure your loan provider is notified of your continued education). However, the interest on your unsubsidized loans continues to accrue, and paying it off first will save you money in the future. For legal purposes, I would like to take the time right now and mention that I am not a financial advisor and that you should consult a legal financial advisor and your loan provider before you make any decisions. (See, I even underlined it and made it bold so you can’t argue it’s not noticeable)

And the last point I would like to make is that in my opinion, it’s kind of the mature thing to do. Unlike in undergrad where all you have to care about is going to class and getting good grades, grad life is sort of the in-between step from undergrad into actual adulthood (yes, we were all legally adults in undergrad but how many of us actually acted like adults?). Acquiring a job helps with paying for your expenses (especially if you’re renting an apartment or paying for grad school out-of-pocket). It also forces you to adopt a relatively mature lifestyle and forces you to learn to manage your time. Which brings me to my fourth point.

Learn to manage your time. Assuming no unforeseen emergencies occur, grad school and grad life is very expectable. In other words, it’s very difficult to be caught off guard and surprised about schoolwork. Grad school in general requires a good amount of reading, time, and effort, but it’s easily manageable. Everything you need to know about your upcoming semester is in your syllabus, and usually the sole major assignment is a 20-page essay or so at the end of the semester (check your syllabi for exact details). Most of the semester is relatively calm up until that last month or so of classes when students scramble to research and write that final essay. That is why I highly recommend that as a grad student, you learn to manage your time by starting your final project early while things are calm (who am I kidding? Most people will read this their first semester and laugh it off, only to return to it their second semester and admit that I was right. Mark my words). Doing so will save you tons of stress, anxiety – and most importantly – sleep. Additionally (and this may seem contradictory, but) one of the reasons I recommend picking up a part-time job is because it literally forces you to learn to manage your time. I mean, there are grad students who have full-time careers and families to take care of (hats off to them). A part-time job limits the overall time you have available for schoolwork; never to the point that you’re barely finishing up with schoolwork on time, but just enough that you have to schedule things in advance. So if you haven’t taught yourself how to manage your time properly in undergrad, now is your time to do so for graduate school and real adulthood.

Now, here is a warning: what you are about to read is MY personal opinion. I admit, this whole blog post is largely based on my own experiences and opinions, so don’t feel like you have to follow everything or anything that I say (especially where I was talking about paying off students loans. Seriously, talk to a legal financial advisor and your loan provider before you make any decisions).

Whereas I am quite confident that most of my peers will agree with me on what I have written so far, I am also quite confident that what I am about to write will produce to a certain degree some consternation and controversy. I do not expect anyone reading this blog entry to agree with me on each and every single comment and tip I have introduced so far into this discussion, and I maintain that belief with what I am about to write. Therefore, if any of my peers or professors agree or disagree with my upcoming statement, I encourage them to continue this discussion in the comment section or with a blog entry in response. That being said…

You know how you had that one topic or maybe two which you really enjoyed studying throughout your life and ignited that initial interest in history, and they became your go-to topics for research and history projects in undergrad? Yeeaaahhhh, don’t do them in your first semester of graduate school. I’ve put some thought into this throughout my first year as a graduate student and I’ve come to two conclusions. First, there will be moments when you will be questioning your decision to go into grad school. There will be moments when you will be questioning your decision to study history in the first place. There will be moments when you will be anxious to the point of infuriation. You do not want that moment(s) to be while researching your favorite historical subject or topic. It will ruin it for you, and you will never approach that topic with such enthusiasm and interest as before. There can be nothing less damaging for a historian and their work than a loss of interest in their work.

In my opinion, the problem with researching your favorite topic your first semester at grad school is that most likely you will be approaching it the very same way you’ve approached it in the past at as an undergrad student, and to put it lightly, it will not suffice in grad school. You cannot do undergrad work in graduate school and expect a similar outcome. Professors expect more from you, and you ought to expect more from yourself. And this brings me to my second conclusion, and perhaps the most important conclusion.

Do not go to your go-to subject for a history project in grad school before taking the Theory and Methods course. I’ll be blunt with you. Yes, this course is difficult. Yes, it can be frustrating. Yes, it is even more so coming straight out of undergrad. But the honest truth is that you will not learn what you need to learn to succeed in grad school and to succeed as a historian by pushing this course off to the future. I highly recommend taking this course your first semester, because in hindsight, I must admit, that I would not be learning as much and as efficiently without learning the theoretical aspects to history as offered by this course.

Remember earlier in this post how I wrote that in order to be a historian, you need to develop a proper mindset – a historian’s mindset? A historian’s mindset is being able to view a historical topic or subject through a different perspective to provide alternative interpretations that need not agree with one another, however, altogether provide a more holistic understanding. What the Theory and Method course teaches are the various theoretical approaches to interpreting history. Different theoretical approaches identify different areas of interest, highlight different attributes, that help to explain and interpret a particular historical topic or subject. This might all sound like one big Russell’s paradox, but the truth is that there is no one sole definitive understanding or interpretation of history. As long as there is substantial verifiable evidence, no interpretation is absolutely wrong. A historian’s mindset, in essence, is being open to all verifiable explanations, or alternatively, having sufficient verifiable evidence to posit one’s own explanation. A fundamental question a historian asks – and a question the Theory and Methods course introduces you to – is “what best explains this historical topic?”

I would like to end by returning as to why I discourage using your go-to historical topic or subject from undergrad for any projects that will be required of you during your first semester at grad school. I’ll be straightforward: you will be approaching your topic as you always have because you haven’t taken the Theory and Methods course and you won’t be utilizing the full range, full scope, full spectrum of possible theoretical approaches to analyze your topic. When you’ll be required to put in a large amount of effort at the end of each semester to write a 20-page paper, at least try to gain a new understanding of your topic. What’s the point of putting so much effort into something you’ve already done in the past, when you can put that same amount of effort to use and learn something new? (This last point can be extended to anything in life, really. If you absolutely have to do something, do it in a way so that you come out of it having gained something in the process).

In conclusion, I hope that at least someone somewhere read the whole blog post, actually made it to the end, and gained some insight for what they’re about to undergo from someone who just underwent it. In the end, grad school is just like any other level of schooling you’ve entered in your life; what you gain out of it and what you earn is dependent on the work you put in. There’s no magic formula, but hopefully these tips will be helpful and make someone’s transition a tiny bit less stressful and a tiny bit more easier. Last tip, don’t end your essays with “in conclusion”.

GLAM-Wiki: A Case for Wikipedia

Too often one hears in class that Wikipedia is unreliable. True, there are hundreds upon hundreds of entries within Wikipedia that contain false information, and therefore, exclude Wikipedia as a reliable source.  Its primary use is often associated with quick searches or as an aid in creating preliminary bibliographies for future projects. But what if people, including historians, have been using Wikipedia incorrectly? Wikipedia is more than just a source for easily accessible information for the masses. For historians it can be a source for authentic primary and secondary documents from all over the globe, thanks to GLAM-Wiki.

GLAM-Wiki is an under-utilized resource not only for historians, but researchers of all fields. What exactly is GLAM? It’s a collaboration between Wikipedia and a long list of galleries, libraries, archives, and museums from throughout the world who utilize their resources and documents to create new Wikipedia articles and modify existing ones. By collaborating with institutions that house valuable resources, Wikipedia aims to improve the overall reliability of the information it displays to millions of users each day. But how exactly can historians benefit from this?

The various institutions that collaborate with Wikipedia wish to publicize and propagate the valuable resources they have to offer. In other words, instead of having documents and artefacts sit and gather dust on shelves and in the back rooms, various institutions have decided to upload scans and pictures of documents onto Wikipedia, allowing everyday users free access to their resources. By doing so, researchers – including historians – have access to authentic documents at the tips of their fingers despite the fact that the documents are physically in a different city, country, or continent.

However, there are several shortcomings that must be discussed. First, there is no standard format for GLAM project pages. As all historians know, research is a tedious task. While the Wikipedia theme permeates throughout all of the webpages, the lack of a standard format for GLAM project pages makes it difficult to navigate them. One institution’s project page may be (and most often is) different from another’s. As a result, the tedious task of researching becomes even more difficult due to the lack of uniformity.  Second, in order for institutions to upload archival documents, they must do so onto Wikimedia Commons, the media webpage for Wikipedia. By doing so, this only adds to the complexity of navigating the GLAM project pages. Third, while many institutions do upload their archives and collections, there are several that do not. As a result, there are GLAM project pages that more resemble an advertisement for the institution, which is discouraging for further use of GLAM resources.

Personally having interned at the Józef Piłsudski Institute of America and worked on their GLAM project page, I’ve realized how Wikipedia and the GLAM initiative can serve as an aid for historians in their research, especially for History undergraduate and graduate students who are limited by travel prospects, time, and funding. By collaborating with academic and educational institutions from all over the world, Wikipedia is evidently aiming to legitimize itself as a source for reliable and credible information. However, there is one last shortcoming that must be addressed. Despite the long list of institutions that contribute and collaborate with the GLAM initiative, the actual quantity of archival documents and artefacts uploaded and publicized is still limited to: 1) which institutions are willing to participate in the initiative, 2) what the institutions have to offer, and 3) what they are willing to offer. As a result, GLAM cannot substitute physically being and doing research within the institution, for the time being. While GLAM continues to grow year by year, the vast majority of the work is done by volunteers, and while GLAM project funding is available from Wikipedia, most of the funding and work must be initiated by the institutions themselves, something most institutions are financially incapable of doing. As a result, the quantity of information uploaded via GLAM is limited. Nonetheless, the information provided thanks to the GLAM initiative is important for academic historians and students of history because of its global accessibility, as well as Wikipedia because of the institutions that legitimize its reliability and credibility.