Ferocious Enemies and Noble Heroes: Images of ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ in Polish American Textbooks (until 1930s)

Date / Time

September 12, 2018

6:00 pm - 7:30 pm


Organized by: Prof. Keely Stauter-Halsted
Sponsored by: UIC Polish Studies

Ethnic schools have long played an important role in propagating heroic ideals among members of immigrant communities. This talk examines the textbooks used in early 20th century Polish-American parochial schools and the particular set of national values they conveyed, focusing especially on the invention of national mythology and the simplification of facts required to transmit cultural memory. Before WWI, school primers published in the U.S. sought to establish group solidarity and identify common enemies, but failed to help immigrant children acculturate to their American realities.

Only after World War I did an American presence became more visible in primary school books. By the 1930s the Felician Sisters relied on textbooks written in the US, featuring schematically characterized heroes, and ideals that were alien to Polish-American children. The textbook, Polska, by S. Mary Cyryla, for example, characterized Poles and “other” nationalities in black and white terms, depicting foreign nations as cruel, monstrous, villain, pagan, and barbaric, while Poles, are seen as brave, just, good, wise, honest, and faithful. Cyryla’s textbook tried to engender feelings of community by dividing the world into “us” and “them,” thereby provoking antagonism towards “them,” a dichotomy very much in keeping with the images and stereotypes Polish society had about itself.

Adam Walaszek is Professor of History at the Institute of American Studies and Polish Diaspora at Jagiellonian University. He specializes in the history of Polish ethnic groups in the U.S. and Polish international migration. He is author of 5 monographs in Polish, 10 edited and co-edited volumes, over 150 articles published in Poland and abroad. Walaszek served as director of the Polonia Institute at Jagiellonian University from 1993-1996 and of the Institute of American Studies and Polish Diaspora from 2008-2016.

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