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Dariusz Kołodziejczyk

B. 1962; MA 1986, University of Warsaw; PhD 1990, Post-Doctoral Degree (habilitacja) 2001 (also UW); Professor since 2013. Has worked at the Institute of History, University of Warsaw, since 1988 as Assistant Lecturer, Assistant Professor, Associate Professor since 2003. Research Associate: Harvard University Ukrainian Research Institute 1991-1992; Nahost-Institut an der Universitaet Muenchen 1994-1995. Visiting Professor: University of Notre Dame 2004, Hokkaido University 2009, College de France 2011. Vice-President of CIEPO (Comite International des Etudes Pre-ottomanes et Ottomanes) since 2008. Member of the editorial board of Acta Poloniae Historica and the Rulers & Elites. Comparative Studies in Governance series (Brill). Representative of the Director of the IH UW for International Relations 2002-2008; Chair of the Department of Early Modern History 2010-13; Director of the Institute of History since 2012.

Twisted ways of commodities in the early modern era and the positioning of Poland on the map of colonialism


Two contradictive narratives shape our view of the place of Poland on the global map since the middle ages till the present day: A powerful vision developed by Marian Małowist and popularized in the West by Immanuel Wallerstein, has presented Poland and the whole Eastern Europe as a semi-colony of Western Europe, a laboratory for Western capital and trade where tools for future global domination had been developed. Yet on the other hand Poland has benefited from its geographical placement within Europe. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Poland took its share of American silver while Polish missionaries contributed to the rise of “European colonial knowledge” by traveling as far as China, and in the nineteenth century Polish lands willingly or unwillingly benefited from the Russian colonial expansion. At the same time, the writings by Henryk Sienkiewicz were full of Orientalist and racial prejudices paired with the praise for the British colonial enterprise.

This somewhat schizophrenic attitude towards the place of Poland on the global map is neatly visible if one compares the writings of two Polish twentieth-century intellectuals whose impact reached far beyond their native country: Oskar Halecki and Ignacy Sachs. While Halecki regarded Poland as an integral part of “freedom loving” West, sharply contrasted with “despotic” Russia, Sachs placed Poland within a large group of underdeveloped countries whose main task was to catch up with the West. His essays on the mechanisms of backwardness were informed by his Polish-Jewish background, school-time Brazilian experience, multiple travels to Indian Kerala, and the work in communist Poland as an assistant to Michał Kalecki. The above two contrasting views are still present in the Polish collective mind, they also touch a hypothetical question whether the Poles should feel responsible and guilty for the present unequal global wealth distribution and for the racial prejudices still influential in the northern hemisphere, or rather they should themselves expect apologies from their Western European neighbors for centuries of economic exploitation. Such possibility to look at one’s own past as that of an exploiter, and at the same time of a victim, seems quite stimulating. Unfortunately, it often turns into a caricature when we see Polish politicians who boast of their cultural superiority over the non-European world, at the same time expecting apologies from the West.

The present author aims to focus on the routes and impact of three selected “commodities” which were transported to and from Poland in the early modern era, namely silver coin, tobacco, and slaves. If studied in isolation, each of these “commodities” assigns Poland a different role in the geography of the global market, work and know-how distribution. Only when studied together, they reveal the complex character of the relations between Central-Eastern Europe and its western and south-eastern neighbors, reaching as far as the New World and the Middle East.