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Józef Obrębski’s Polesie Research from 1934–1937

In 1934, the governmental Research Commission for Eastern Lands initiated a research programme on the socio-demographic, ethnic and linguistic situation of the Eastern provinces of the Second Polish Republic. The main purpose was to explore the processes of modernisation and cultural change in the region, especially the degree of Polish national assimilation of the local rural population in this area. The research in Polesie was entrusted to Józef Obrębski (1905–1967), who had recently obtained his doctorate in anthropological studies under Bronisław Malinowski’s supervision at the London School of Economics. Obrębski already had considerable experience in ethnographic fieldwork in Macedonia (1932–1933). The Polesie research was carried out by Obrębski and his collaborators (among others, Zygmunt Korybutiak and Stanisław Dworakowski) between 1934 and 1936. The rich field data collected in those years pertained to ethnic and religious relations, national movements, social memory, attitudes towards the state and its institutions, and the overall socio-economic situation of people living in Polesie villages. A considerable part of the research was also devoted to the progressing breakdown of traditional peasant culture, transformations  of the traditional great patriarchal family structure, and the spread of new socio-cultural patterns. This strain of research was continued later in more detail by Obrębski and another group of his collaborators, this time under the auspices of the State Institute of Rural Culture, in the Polesie village of Olmany, in 1937. At that time, he concentrated on the issues of Polish education system in Ruthenian villages, cultural patterns, and aspirations of rural youth.

The research in Polesie later provided an input for two articles published by Obrębski in 1936: ‘Dziesiejsi ludzie Polesia [Present-day People of Polesie]’, and ‘Problem etniczny Polesia [The Ethnic Question of Polesie]’, as well as for two monographs which remained unpublished during his lifetime: ‘Polesie archaiczne [Archaic Polesie]’ and ‘Pańska szkoła i mużyckie dzieci [The lords’ school and the peasants’ children]’. The full, critical edition of Obrębski’s works from Polesie (including the articles from 1936, edited on the basis of more extensive manuscript versions) was published only in 2007 [1].

The presented collection includes photocopies of original Polesie field materials from both research projects: notes and transcripts of interviews, folklore texts, excerpts from students’ notebooks and essays, extracts from official data, maps, plans and sketches of the villages, lists of rural dwellers and basic data related to them, newspaper clippings, questionnaires and instructions, as well as the first drafts of Józef Obrębski’s works based on the Polesie research. After Obrębski’s death, the original materials were handed over by his son, Stefan Obrębski, at the Archives of the Library of the University of Massachusetts in Amherst (http://scua.library.umass.edu/umarmot/obrebski-jozef/) and access to them is provided with the consent of that institution.

We present only a portion of the collection deposited there, mostly the fieldwork materials. The organisation of these materials is close to that applied by the American institution, with a subdivision into four main parts:
– Fieldwork materials from 1934–1936, collected in various locations (Box 35);
– Fieldwork materials from 1937, collected in Olmany (Boxes 36 and 37);
– Maps and plans (Box 38);
– Synopses, questionnaires and preliminary works (Box 46).

[1] Obrębski, Józef. 2007. Polesie. Studia etnosocjologiczne [Polesie. Etnosociological Studies], vol. 1. Editor, author of introduction: Anna Engelking. Warszawa: Oficyna Naukowa.