Changing borders /
moving people

Topic: Changing borders / moving people. Constructions of identity by migrants from Eastern to Western Europe and to the USA in the 20th century.

Duration: July 2016 – now

Project coordinator: prof. UAM dr hab. Beata Halicka

Project partners: Department of Political Science at the University of Texas at El Paso, Center for Inter-American and Border Studies in El Paso.

Project co-funded by Family Kruszewski Fund i Niemiecki Instytut Historyczny w Warszawie.


As a consequence of two world wars, changing of borders and political systems in East-Central Europe in the 20th century, millions of people have been forced to leave their homeland. This moving of people contributed significantly to the changes of identity by the inhabitants of the affected regions. Since they often found themselves within other countries and were confronted with the role of a minority, the question of national identity often constituted a major development. Many remained loyal to their national group, the others changed their affiliation, identified themselves with two nations at the same time or felt the hybrids similar, carrying in themselves influences from different cultures. If we consider that the nation was regarded as a sublime and ultimate collective individual of historical action, as a construction of a transcendental center we will find a remarkable parallel between national and personal identity.

The central point of interest in this project are the biographies of Polish intellectuals, who went in exile first to Western Europe and then to Northern America and became influential scholars at universities in the USA. From the significant amount of them, those individuals to be chosen have been professionally exposed to the transnational transfer of knowledge and culture and have posed questions of national identity in various ways in their social, political or cultural engagement. Many of them became “displaced persons” after the end of the WWII and acquired American citizenship after several years of statelessness. Although they were closely tied to the US society professionally, and often also by their family, the homeland and their ethical or national origin remained important for them. They reflected their national identity in different ways. The diversity of the possible handling of these values will be the object of research in the selected biographies.