català | castellano | english home   sitemap   legal notice   credits   contacte  
home home

Adam Cieslak, Jagiellonian University, Krakow and Hanna Krajewska, Archives of the Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw

"Personal papers in Polish scientific archives - acquisition problems"

Gathering personal papers of scholars, people of culture and art and politicians has in Poland a very long tradition which goes back to the nineteenth century. Materials, which do not have the character of official writings and documents were at first kept not in archives but in libraries. Archives, in the time when Poland did not have its own statehood, were under State control of the invaders and they did not have the trust of the citizens. In libraries’ funds, among the private materials which can be perceived as personal papers, there are mainly letters and souvenirs of artists, writers and political activists. However in Poland’s twenty years of independence after World War I more materials whose owners were people of science appeared. The amount of these collections, mainly because of the methods of arrangement like manuscripts, is difficult to measure. We cannot forget that many times the personal papers of one person were dispersed.

We may carefully estimate that an enormous fund of materials is kept in Library of National Institution named Ossolinski, which after the war has found its seat in Wroclaw. Part of the fund was taken from Lvow. Broadly speaking, probably around a few thousand funds of materials, are being kept in the Jagiellonian Library in Kracow. That Library according to the fact that it is strictly connected with a university, has especially many materials of scientists - mainly the workers of the oldest Polish university.

The National Library in Warsaw and the Library of the Academy of Arts and Sciences in Cracow also have significant funds of personal papers, as library manuscript collections.  The tradition of gathering personal papers also belongs to museums. However, they mainly wish to collect the written souvenirs of artists and writers. Usually those collections have the partial character, according to the activity of the person who has created it. Museums treat such materials rather more like exhibits than materials that would help researchers. However,   museums are still very important places of gathering personal papers, despite the fact that they are often not connected with scientists’ personal papers.

Polish archives treat personal papers as archival collections. It is a different method of arrangement to that in libraries. The author of the personal papers is perceived as a creator of materials, still remembering about how often we can find in personal papers the materials of others. Owing to it the materials of specific person are kept under the one signature, and access to them is easier than in case of a need of searching in library catalogues. Private papers of scientists connected with their biography and activity are mainly kept in the archives of scientific institutions - Polish Academy of Sciences, Polish Academy of Arts and Sciences.

It is a natural thing that archives of universities and academies, beside the documentation which is produced during the process of activity, gather also special funds, among them also the personal papers of scholars-workers of those institutions. One kind of personal papers are also kept in State Archives, however their holdings are only partly connected with scientific workers, rather they concentrate on politicians or people of culture.

It is worth mentioning that from 13 Polish state universities, only in 4 are the personal papers treated as a separate archival collection.  The amount of those collections however is relatively small. The Archive of Jagiellonian University holds the biggest number - more than 190 of that kind of collection, however we should know that many of these groups relate principally to the scientific work itself.  Moreover personal papers are also kept in Archives of University of Wroclaw - 5, Archives of Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun - 36 and Archives of University in Lodz - 11 personal papers. These discreditable statistics show how much still needs to be done in the domain of gathering special funds.

Moreover, it is also worth mentioning that at present time it is not possible to write about the history of a specific branch of science, of their direction of development and about the history of many scientific institutions without looking into the materials of people who were directly involved in those problems.

Carefulness and much attention in gaining personal papers are paid by such institutions as the reactivated after many years Polish Academy of Arts and Sciences in Cracow and Polish Academy of Sciences. The consolidated archives of these two institutions in Cracow has a new name - Archives of Science. Now it holds 181 personal papers of the members of the Academy.  However the materials held there present the activities of those scientists also in the university and other academies. The Archives of the Polish Academy of Sciences holds in Warsaw 531 personal papers and in its department in Poznan another 135. These impressive amounts are the result of foreseen activity and particular pressure which have been put into gaining new kinds of materials.

It is also worth noting that personal papers gathered in Polish archives are well elaborated and easily accessible in reading rooms of  those institutions.

The astonishing quantitative state of personal papers in the archives of Polish universities has surely many reasons, the most important one is connected with a lack of proper effort for their acquisition. Taking over personal documents, usually after death, from the families of the deceased, has always been a delicate matter, which requires rules of conduct and procedures. They have been accepted in the Archives of the Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Polish Academy of Sciences where ‘gathering, describing, providing with access the personal papers of scientists’ was written down in main aims of those units. In 1950s ‘Guidelines of gaining personal papers’ was elaborated. According to organizing assumptions among all workers, one person is chosen to have contact with people in whose possession there are the personal documents of scholars. This person should also try to encourage the potential owners-creators of personal papers to consider giving their personal archival materials to the Archives of Academy.

Giving these materials to archives is like giving a part of one’s own privacy so the conversations with the creator and his family are difficult and delicate and they require a special and responsible attitude. We should also mention that most of the personal papers are given to the archives as a result of personal contacts and connections. The Archives of the Academy must pursue a very active policy of gaining personal papers. An element of this is following the activity of various scholars and having contact with them. Not rarely this mission is supposed to make the scholars realize that there is a possibility of giving personal materials and how important it is to that specific archives not to other library or university.

In general, gaining of personal papers should be done by purchase, donation and deposit.

Now in Polish reality it is not common to buy the personal papers just because of lack of money. The similar situation is with taking them into deposit. Very rarely purchase of personal papers by Polish Academy of Sciences is supported by the Commission of  Purchase Appraisal, whose difficult role is to price the suggested materials.

The astonishingly small amount of personal papers kept in the universities’ archival funds gives an assumption not to draw an optimistic conclusion. The number 250 of such collections in universities’ archives is appallingly low, especially since this includes the 190 kept in the Archives of Jagiellonian University in Cracow.  Still remembering that these kinds of materials are also in libraries of universities we should say that not much effort and pressure is put into gaining archival papers.  None of them has any permanent and elaborate procedures of expending care about new collections. As it is known, on many occasions they can be excellent historical sources.  Moreover, collections of personal papers of famous and respectable people with great scientific achievement is a wonderful way and in a short time to build the prestige of such archives.  It is however true that very often they have considerable competition such as from well known libraries which work in universities. For instance scientists from Warsaw University may be more willing to give their manuscripts to the National Library,  scientists from the University of Wroclaw to the Library of National Institution named Ossolinskich and scientists from the Jagiellonian University to the Archives of Polish Academy of Sciences and Academy of Arts and Sciences.

The personal papers’ problem in higher technical schools seems to look even worse. As far as I am concerned at the present time, none of them has any kind of personal papers of professors connected with the school. There is only one exception - Archives of Wroclaw University of Technology which keeps one broad issue of personal papers of one of its deans.

Thus research on the history of the Polish technical educational system can be done by using official, published resources. There is no possibility of confrontation between them and materials which are in possession of private people.

Among the collections of personal papers that are kept there are mainly materials of scholars of humanistic profile. Among 190 personal papers which are in Archives of Jagiellonian University 97 were created by representatives of the social sciences and 18 by representatives of the natural sciences. This proportion is actually coherent with an amount of personal papers of  two branches among representatives of Polish Academy of Sciences and Academy of Arts and Sciences which has been analysed. Here 105 collections of personal papers were created in the process of activity of humanistic representatives and 55 in the natural sciences. It is easy to explain that fact because of course humanistic representatives are “closer” to institutions such as archives because they often take advantage of the funds.

However from the point of view of the history of science, this effect is unprofitable because it will impoverish the knowledge about the development of those sciences. Looking back we can say that we would not have known much about polemic between Polish scientists Karol Olszewski and Zygmunt Wroblewski, who as the first in the world liquefied nitrogen and oxygen, and French scientists. It would not have been possible if there had not been correspondence and a draft copy which was in the personal papers of one of them.

Moreover the aforementioned lack of contact with the archives and consciousness of the historical meaning of materials means that representatives of other scientific branches such as medical, agricultural or legal, very rarely give them to the archives.

It seems that among Polish archivists who work in archives of institutions connected with science, there are important tasks to be done.  Firstly, as regards the attitude of archivists, we should convince them that there is a necessity to search for new funds and then take appropriate steps to promote the possibility of giving personal documents to archives. It is so difficult because as I have mentioned before, it requires skills of persuasion with respect to the creators of personal papers or their families. Only success in that matter may ‘create a custom’ of giving that kind of materials to the archives, as it has already existed in many countries in Europe.  The authorities of Jagiellonian University of Cracow and University of Wroclaw have published appeal to scientists in this matter however they have not received expected effect in a form of at least limited interest of scientists.

A common method of promoting information about the possibility of giving personal papers and their role is organizing exhibitions, publishing their parts or presenting details in websites.

A department of  the Society of Polish Archivists in Cracow a few years ago undertook a trial of creating a database of personal papers of scholars, which are kept in a few archives in that city. The main aim has been to draw up a record of all collections of personal papers kept by archives in Cracow. The project would include all kinds of archives - universities’, scientific institutions’ ones, State Archive and many archives of churches. It would also be essential to include collections kept in libraries, however according to their amount, dispersal in records and the way of elaborating, which is not easy matter. Very often it happens that the personal papers of one man are kept in many different archives and libraries. Merging is often not possible because of few agents, that state is usually a reflection of the intention of the person who gave the materials.  We would like the database to include not only the place of storing but also a description, underlining the most important units and the list of correspondence.  The correspondence is perceived as the most important part in our point of view.  At the moment the database includes over 100 described personal papers from three archives from Cracow. Unfortunately a lack of financial support definitely the realization of our project. In few following weeks the base will be freely accessible in a website.  Such activity we perceive as a kind of promotion, method of reminding about collecting personal papers in archives.