Prof. Timothy Snyder – FNP Prize laureate 2018
Prof. Timothy Snyder of Yale University has won the 2018 Foundation for Polish Science Prize in the field of the humanities and social sciences for analysis of the political and social mechanisms that led to national conflicts and genocide in Central Europe in the 20th century.
The 2018 Foundation for Polish Science Prize is awarded for Prof. Timothy Snyder’s research on the first half of the 20th century, which has provided a new dimension to the history of Central & Eastern Europe. The work of this distinguished American historian has thrown new light on the political and social mechanisms that led to national conflicts and genocide in Central Europe.
Snyder’s innovative approach departs from “methodological nationalism” in source research and interpretation of facts. Previously, the issue of the policy of mass murder during the period of the Second World War was described (and still is) in historiography according to divisions into states and nations. Snyder proposed a new perspective involving a holistic grasp of the topic, encouraging examination from a distance of the full historical picture, not only a fragment involving the past of a single ethnic group.
He found documents and materials presenting proof of Stalinist crimes in East European archives opened for the first time from the end of the Cold War. He demonstrated connections between Hitler’s and Stalin’s crimes. He showed how crimes by one regime paved the way for the other. He discussed the results of his work in books, many of them bestsellers, leading to re-examination of views on the course and consequences of the Second World War.
Prof. Snyder documented the truth about the Great Famine in Ukraine, and Stalin’s ethnic cleansings and terror, in his book Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. There the American researcher laid bare what had been passed over in silence because the previous narrative of the history of the Second World War had ignored the eastern part of Europe. Bloodlands was the first full documentation of the mass murders committed between Russia and Germany in the 1930s and 1940s resulting in the deaths of 14 million civilians and POWs. However, Snyder does not focus only on the sufferings of Jews, Ukrainians and Poles, but also displays the full historical context. The “bloodlands” were an area common to several states joined by the experience of Hitler’s and Stalin’s regimes. This approach provides a fuller picture of the scale of the phenomenon, heightening the awareness of our shared heritage. The terms “bloodlands” and “killing fields” have also seeped into the scholarly and political debate as a reference to countries that suffered from Nazism and Communism. As Snyder shows, it is here that the worse cruelties occurred, and violence and oppression caused these lands to “bleed” long after the end of the war.
In Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning, which won many awards and has been translated into over 30 languages, Snyder presents a groundbreaking explanation for the greatest atrocity of the 20th century, showing that apart from an anti-Semitic world view, at the root of the mass extermination of Jews also lay statelessness and a struggle for land and food. In this book Snyder also discusses the “Auschwitz paradox,” demonstrating that the name of the camp, as a meta-concept, has become a synonym for the Holocaust, thus concealing the full truth about the genocide, reducing its dimensions and character and excluding the responsibility of a large group of murderers. But Black Earth is a book that doesn’t only touch on the past. The author shows that the beginning of the 21st century, with unrest in various regions of the world, economic rivalry and tension between nations, alarmingly recalls the world in which Hitler once came to power. In the American historian’s view, the fear of foreigners, the concern for material well-being, and the hatred and contempt we witness today are serious warning signs we cannot ignore when considering contemporary life and the future.
Prof. Timothy Snyder (born 1969) is a distinguished American historian and an expert in the history of Central & Eastern Europe. He is a professor of history at Yale University.
He earned his undergraduate degree in history and political science at Brown University and completed his PhD in modern history in 1995 at Oxford. Among others, he has worked under the direction of Prof. Jerzy Jedlicki. He has lectured at the College of Europe in Warsaw, Université Libre in Brussels, Leiden University, the London School of Economics, and Stanford. He has also cooperated with the universities of Paris, Vienna and Warsaw, Charles University in Prague, and Harvard. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Committee on Conscience of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. He is also a member of the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna.
He received the Pro Historia Polonorum award for his book Sketches from a Secret War: A Polish Artist’s Mission to Liberate Soviet Ukraine. He is also the author of The Reconstruction of Nations: Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, 1569–1999, which won the Jerzy Giedroyc Award. For Bloodlands he won the Literature Award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His works which have appeared in Polish include Nationalism, Marxism, and Modern Central Europe: A Biography of Kazimierz Kelles-Krauz. Snyder is the co-author of Thinking the Twentieth Century and an editor of Stalin and Europe: Imitation and Domination, 1928–1953. In 2015 he published On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century.
Prof. Snyder studies source materials in nine different languages, and is fluent in Polish. For his distinguished research and scholarly work and spreading knowledge of the history of Poland he was decorated with the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland.