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Between experience and social memory: agricultural reform in Poland 1944-48 (Anna Wylegała's research 2013-2020)

The aim of the project was to explain how the agricultural reform, which was initiated in 1944 by the decree of the Polish Committee of National Liberation (PKWN), was experienced by the directly involved social actors - landowners and peasants. Dr Anna Wylegała was interested in the course of the respective stages of the expropriation of landowners and the parceling of their estates, as well as the emotions and attitudes that accompanied these events on both sides. She also studied the direct social and cultural consequences of the expropriation for these two groups. Dr Wylegała was interested in the process of social and identity adaptation of landowners to their new living conditions, while in the context of the countryside - the change of social relations (norms, values, daily cultural practices, social stratification), spatial (space of the manor, the creation of colonies) and economic (new farms "from the land division") and their functioning, new forms of earning, cooperatives).

The third component of the project was the question of the current representations of this experience in the present, i.e. how the reform is present in the social and biographical memory. Here, both the biographical memory of expropriated landowners and the oldest villagers were important, as well as the memory of next generations, social memory and its message. The geography of the project covers an area that has had a relatively uniform experience of the German occupation policy towards great land ownership, excluding ethnically diverse villages, i.e. the western part of the occupied General Government, on the level of archival queries and interviews focused on the Kielce region. As part of the project, searches were carried out in personal documents (land memoirs - published and manuscripts; diary contests; oral history) and file documentation (Polish Central Archives of Modern Records, State Archive in Kielce, National Archive in Cracow) as well as field research in several villages around Kielce, with the oldest generation of farmers and younger people (about 150 interviews in total). Additionally, in almost every case, descendants of the last owners of a given estate were found and interviewed.

A separate part of the project consists of interviews with people who after 1989 came into possession of manors, which were treated as private residences (as opposed to facilities transformed into e.g. hotels), both from the family of the former owners and those who did not have previous family ties to the place. The author of the research was interested in the motivations of these people, their functioning in the rural community, relations with the local authorities, attitude towards the landowner's heritage, lifestyle, and entering the social network related to the ownership of a land estate.
The interviews with the oldest inhabitants of the village have been archived in the Qualitative Data Archive - 79 interviews in total, i.e. slightly less than 2/3 of the total collection. The archived collection does not include recordings with interviewees who did not agree to make the interviews available to other scientists, as well as very short and unsuccessful recordings. It was also decided not to archive interviews with younger people, due to their informal nature and the frequent lack of consent for archiving. The interviews with the new owners of the manors were recorded as anonymous, and because of their specificity, full anonymization of audio recordings would not be possible, hence archiving was not performed. The archived materials were obtained between 2018 and 2020, during 7 documentation expeditions. Each signature additionally contains information about the former estate to which the recording is related. Several biographical interviews with the oldest people were simultaneously archived in the Oral History Archives of the History Meeting House and the KARTA Foundation. The signatures of these recordings are noted in the table. The collection has been supplemented by 5 recordings with descendants of former manor owners.

The project has been funded by the National Science Centre (UMO-2012/07/D/HS3/03723).

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