Prof. Jerzy Jedlicki_fot. Bartosz Bobkowski
Prof. Jerzy Jedlicki_fot. Bartosz Bobkowski/Agencja Gazeta

Prof. Jerzy Jedlicki from the Tadeusz Manteuffel Institute of History of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw has received the 2015 Foundation for Polish Science Prize in the field of the humanities and social sciences for fundamental studies on the phenomenon of the intelligentsia as a social stratum and its role in modernization processes in Central & Eastern Europe.

Prof. Jerzy Jedlicki (born in 1930 in Warsaw)—historian of ideas and professor at the Tadeusz Manteuffel Institute of History of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw. He earned his doctorate in 1961 at the Institute of History of the Polish Academy of Sciences with a dissertation on Etatyzm przemysłowy w Królestwie Polskim (Industrial Statism in the Kingdom of Poland), published as Nieudana próba kapitalistycznej industrializacji (An Unsuccessful Attempt at Capitalist Industrialization, Warsaw 1964), and his postdoctoral degree in 1967 with the dissertation Przeobrażenia szlachectwa polskiego w okresie rozkładu feudalizmu (Metamorphosis of the Polish Nobility during the Collapse of Feudalism ) (published as Klejnot i bariery społeczne (Jewel and Social Barriers, Warsaw 1968). After the events of March 1968, as a result of his individual protest against the actions of the Polish communist authorities his further academic career and foreign contacts were sharply limited, and he was not appointed professor until 1989.

Jedlicki was a student of Prof. Witold Kula and was admitted by him to the Department of 19th-Century Social History at the Institute of History of the Polish Academy of Sciences, with which he has been affiliated for his entire academic career. After 1989 he headed the Workshop on the History of the Intelligentsia, a position he held until retirement, coordinating the work of teams researching the history of intellectuals and their environment.

He is the author of dozens of scholarly articles and books which are a fundamental source of knowledge about Polish society and the history of 19th-century ideas. His best-known and most influential books include Jakiej cywilizacji Polacy potrzebują. Studia z dziejów idei i wyobraźni XIX wieku (Warsaw 1988, 2nd ed. 2002) (published in English as A Suburb of Europe: Nineteenth-Century Polish Approaches to Western Civilization, Budapest 1999)) and Świat zwyrodniały. Lęki i wyroki krytyków nowoczesności (Warsaw 2000) (published in German as Die entartete Welt. Die Kritiker der Moderne, ihre Ängste und Urteile, Frankfurt 2007; English version in preparation).

The Foundation for Polish Science Prize is awarded in recognition of the three-volume work Dzieje inteligencji polskiej do roku 1918 (Warsaw 2008) (published in English as A History of the Polish Intelligentsia, Frankfurt 2014), the crowning of Prof. Jedlicki’s many years of research on the history of the intelligentsia. This work, created under the editorship of Prof. Jedlicki and with his co-authorship, is regarded as one of the most distinguished achievements of Polish historiography, particularly because of its combination of the perspective of social history and the perspective of the history of ideas, and because of its literary form.

The History of the Polish Intelligentsia until 1918 is the first full study of an issue of fundamental importance for knowledge and understanding of the political and social history and culture of the post-partition epoch. These studies contain a comprehensive and persuasive interpretation of what the intelligentsia actually presented as the phenomenon of the social and intellectual history of European modernization. Practically throughout Europe, the newly arising strata of educated professionals at institutions of higher learning played a significant role in shaping the modern society in the 19th century. What particularly characterized the intelligentsia of the (Eastern) peripheries of Europe, however, was that its members were united not only by the same social profile, but also by a common sense of engagement in the moral task of social “renewal”—through the conviction that they were fulfilling a “missionary” role in the battle for a modern civilization, together with national and political freedom. In this sense, as Prof. Jedlicki argues, the intelligentsia was not only a social phenomenon, but more importantly, a type of intellectual ideal and myth, which accounted for the vast influence of this concept on the intellectual history of Europe. This work stimulated the launch of a broad and exceptionally lively new debate at the centre and on the peripheries of the history of European modernization, as well as a new debate about the Polish intelligentsia and its role during the Solidarity era and thereafter.

The influence of this and other works by Prof. Jerzy Jedlicki reaches far beyond the borders of Poland, making him one of Europe’s most innovative and inspiring historians.

(T. 1: M. Janowski, Narodziny inteligencji, 1750-1831 / The birth of the intelligentsia, 1750-1831, Frankfurt a. M. 2014; T 2: J. J., Błędne koło, 1832-1864 / The Vicious Circle, 1832-1864, Frankfurt a. M. 2014; T. 3: M. Micińska, Inteligencja na rozdrożach, 1864-1918 / At the crossroads, 1864-1918, Frankfurt a. M. 2014)