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   Course Title    Historical Distinctiveness of Central Europe
Lecturer    Krzysztof Brzechczyn
Institution    Adam Mickiewicz University
Country    Poland

I. Aim of the course

This course is devoted to the historical distinctiveness of Central Europe (Czech, Hungary, and Poland). My lectures are especially focused on the periods of history of Central Europe, when its societies developed according to different social mechanisms than societies of Western Europe. During this course, I especially pay attention to the period of feudalism in X-XIII century, manorial-serf economy in XVI-XVII century, and authoritarian systems between the two world wars.


This course has two aims: methodological and theoretical. Its methodological goal is to teach students to characterise methodological status and structure of different theories that explain the crucial periods in history of Central Europe. Students should also gain ability to distinguish between theoretical interpretation of a given phenomenon and its empirical description. Its theoretical goal is to teach students to characterise properly the distinctiveness of Central European history and know basic theoretical explanations of crucial periods in the history of this region of Europe.


II. Role of the course in the overall degree curriculum

This course is neither a history of Poland, nor a history of Europe but is a history of a certain region of Europe. Therefore, this course is recommended for students with a certain amount of knowledge about the history of Poland and other Central European countries. In a comparative perspective it provides an interpretation of one of the crucial events in the history of Central Europe, namely the rise of manorial-serf economy.


III. Methods used

The main method used during the course will be lecture, in connection with discussions on some crucial questions. The lectures will provide students with a general overview of specific problems, and the discussions will allow the students to internalise and understand more deeply the knowledge provided. Therefore, I think that these two methods will be helpful in gaining the purposes and goals of the course.


IV. Course content


1. Notion of Central Europe in Historiography

The introductory part of my course is devoted to the analysis of the notion of „Central Europe” in historiography. This analysis has two aspects: the ascertaining of borderlands of Central Europe, and defining of peculiarity of Central Europe, (e.g. the rise of manorial-serf economy in the XVIth century). In order to fulfil this task, it is necessary to compare the notion of „Central Europe” used by Western and Eastern historiography. Very often, Western historians use the dichotomous division of Europe, dividing our continent into Western and Eastern parts. In this way, they ignore the existence of lands „between”. In turn, historians and thinkers from Central Europe use this notion in very fuzzy way, including into this region even Greece or Finland (e.g. Czech statesman T. Masaryk).


2. Explanations of Manorial-Serf Economy

One of the crucial periods in the history of Central Europe was the XVIth century, when economical dualism appeared dividing Europe into Western and Eastern parts. At that time, in Western Europe capitalist economy began to develop, while in Central Europe, a manorial-serf economy was established. In the literature there are many theories dealing with this problem. I divide them into two groups: external and internal. The external theories focus on the factors located outside a given society, e. g. the structure of international trade, foreign occupation, wars, etc.  In turn, internal theories focus on the factors located inside a given society, such as domination of nobility, weakness of townspeople, etc.  In this section, I provide a critical analysis on two theories put forward by Marian Malowist and Immanuel Wallerstein.


3. Explanations of Manorial-Serf Economy (Continued)

I continue considerations from the previous section presenting internal theories that explain the rise of a manorial-serf economy by analysing factors located inside the Central-European societies,  In this section I provide an analysis of the concept of Robert Brenner, Jerzy Topolski, Jeremy Blum and Jan Rutkowski.


4. Main ideas of Idealizational Theory of Science

In this section, I present the main ideas of Idealizational Theory of Science, a concept created by Leszek Nowak and developed by other scholars from the milieu of Poznan School of Methodology. According to this approach to science, an explanation of given phenomenon is not a simple description of it but its distortion. In the first model of a given phenomenon, a scientist omits factors considered by him as secondary, focusing on the main ones. The Idealization statement takes the form of a conditional clause: in its antecedent there are counterfactual assumptions according to which all secondary factors do not exert any influence on the phenomenon under investigation. And in its consequent the way in which the phenomenon under investigation depends on its main factor is shown.

In the second phase of scientific investigation (concretization), the scientist introduces factors omitted in the basic model. Owing to this procedure one can see the way in which the phenomenon under investigation depends on secondary factors.

In the further part of this lecture, I systematically present basic ideas of this approach to science, such as the structure of theory, explanation, operationalization of theoretical notions, etc.


5. Models in History

In this section, I present idealizational reconstruction of some theories created in the science of history. In this reconstruction, I distinguish realistic and idealizational assumptions, idealization statements on dependency between phenomenon under investigation and its main factors, relations of concretization and approximation between models of a given theory. According to this schema, I reconstruct the theory of Witold Kula. Evsey Domar, Jerzy Topolski and F. Mauro.


6. The Cascade Effect

I enrich the idealizational theory of science by the concept of cascade effect. It is possible to distinguish between two types of essential structures: an essential structure dominated by the main factor and an essential structure dominated by a class of secondary factors. In an essential structure dominated by the main factor the power of influence exerted by it is greater than the sum of the power of influence of secondary factors. And in an essential structure dominated by secondary factors their total influence is greater than the influence exerted by the main factor, although the power of the latter influence is – by definition of an essential structure – greater than the power of influence of each secondary factor taken separately.

In essential structures dominated by a class of secondary factors still another effect can occur. For it often happens that some phenomena that in a given period of time were subject to factors that exert main influence on it fall under the influence of different, new secondary circumstances. Initially, the influence of these co-existing, accidental factors merely modifies fundamental regularities, but then it introduces essential disturbances into them, and finally balances the influence of the main factor on the phenomenon under investigation. In the final stage the accumulation of these accidental factors that occur together may be so big that it surpasses the influence of a given regularity that so far the phenomenon under investigation was subject to. It can be said then that the influence of the main factor was overbalanced by, let us call it figuratively, a “cascade” of secondary factors the common influence of which on the phenomenon under investigation is greater than the influence of the main factor.


7. Main Ideas of non-Marxian Historical Materialism

In this section, I present the theoretical core of the above-mentioned theory. This theory assumes the existence of three separate domains in social life, economy, politics and culture, all of which have similar internal structure. The relation to means of coercion in politics determines the division of society into two groups: the class of rulers, which decides about the use of the means of coercion, and the class of citizens, deprived of such possibilities. In economy the relation to the means of production determines the division of society into a class of owners and a class of direct producers. In culture, the relation to spiritual means of production determines the division of society into a class of priests and a class of indoctrinated. This theoretical framework makes it possible to distinguish three separate and autonomous types of social conflicts and investigate relations between pairs of dichotomous classes.


8. Two Types of Revolutions

In this section, I modify the model of economic revolution in non-Marxian historical materialism. Namely, I distinguish two types of revolution. The revolution of the first type is undertaken in the defence of level of prosperity. The revolution of the second type is undertaken in defence of biological existence. These kind of revolutions are aimless, short, rapid and spontaneous outbreaks where the planning does not play an important role. The participants to these kinds of revolutions do not have long-term goals. The revolution of the first type, in turn, is organised and planned protest that participants have long-term goals and purposes.


9. Model of Economical Society with Shortage and Surplus of Manpower

I present two separate models of social-economic development, which were to explain the history of Central Europe. Namely, I present the model of an economic society with a surplus of manpower and a model of this kind of society with a shortage of manpower. This last model approximates the economic development of Central Europe supposing the gradual improvement in the situation of direct producers caused by a shortage of labour. However, this model explains only part of Central European history because the establishment of manorial-serf economy can be interpreted as the worsening, not the improving of the economic situation of direct producers. This economic system was the result of a cascade of secondary factors whose influence overcame the rules of development supposing by model with shortage of manpower.


10. Peculiarities of Feudalism in Central Europe

In this section, I consider the peculiarities of development of feudalism in Central Europe. In this region of Europe the whole land belonged to the prince. The peasants were dependent on the state rather than on private owners. This structure disappeared in the course of XII century. In the latter part of this lecture,  I compare this social structure with Western feudalism and the so-called Asiatic mode of production.


11. The Rise of Manorial- Serf Economy in Czech

In this section, I consider development of Czech society from XIII to XVII century. I analyze factors that contributed to the rise of manorial-serf economy in Czech society, and caused the Czech road of development to differ from other Central-European countries. I analyzee such factors as the 30-years war, Hapsburg occupation, an the consequence of the Battle at Biala Góra (White Mountain).


12. The Rise of Manorial-Serf Economy in Poland

In this section, I present the development of Polish society from XIII to XVII century. I consider the influence of factors that contributed to the development of manorial-serf economy. Also, I analyse factors that caused the originality of the Polish road of development like the erroneous policy of the merchant elite, the geography of the Polish Commonwealth, and the unsteady density of population. I also consider anomalies in the development of Polish society – the lack of a peasant revolution.


13. The Rise of Manorial-Serf Economy in Hungary

In this section, I present the development of Hungarian society from XIII to XVII century. I analyze factors that contributed to the rise of manorial-serf economy in Hungary and Hungarian distinctiveness in the context of Central Europe. I focus on such factors like the changes of dynasty, weakness of townspeople, Turkish and Hapsburg occupation, and the structure of international trade.


14. Social Consequences of Manorial-Serf Economy

I this section, I consider the social and economic consequences of Manorial-Serf Economy. Generally speaking, this economic system contributed to civilizational backwardness on this part of Europe. Therefore, one of its consequences was a delay in the development of capitalism. Another consequence was the weakness of democratic structures in this region of Europe. In this perspective, I characterize the rise and structure of authoritarian systems in Central Europe in the interwar period.


V. Readings


A) Mandatory

Brzechczyn, K. (1998). Odrebnosc historyczna Europy Srodkowej. Studium Metodologiczne (Historical Distinctiveness of Central Europe. A Methodological Study). Poznan: Humaniora.

Malowist, M. (1993). Europa i jej ekspansja (Europe and its Expansion). Warszawa 1993: PWN.

Nowak, L. (1977). Wstep do idealizacyjnej teorii nauki (An Introduction to the Idealizational Theory of Science). Warszawa: PWN.

Nowak, L. (1991). U podstaw teorii socjalizmu, t I.: Wlasnosc i wladza (At the Basis of Theory of Socialism, vol. I: Property and Power). Poznan: Nakom.

Topolski, J. (1990). Wolnosc i przymus w tworzeniu historii (Freedom and Necessity in Creating of History). Warszawa: PIW.

Wandycz, P. (1995). Cena wolnosci. Historia Europy Srodkowo-Wschodniej od sredniowiecza do wspólczesnosci. (The Price of Freedom. A history of East Central Europe from the Middle Ages to the present). Kraków: Znak.


B) Recommended

Brenner, R. (1976). „Agrarian Class Structure and Economic Development in Pre-Industrial Europe.” Past and Present, 70,

Maczak, A. (1967). U zródel nowoczesnej gospodarki europejskiej (At the Sources of Modern European Economy). Warszawa: PWN.

Malowist, M. (1973). Wschód a Zachód Europy w XIII-XVI w. Konfrontacje struktur spoleczno-gospodarczych (East and West of Europe from XIIIth through XVIth Century. A Confrontation of Social-Economical Structures). Warszawa: PWN.

Modzelewski, K. (1975). Organizacja gospodarcza panstwa piastowskiego (The Economic Organisation of the Piast State). Wroclaw: Ossolineum.

Topolski, J. (1987). Narodziny kapitalizmu w Europie XIV-XVII wieku (The Rise of Capitalism in Europe). Warszawa: PWN.

Wyczanski, A. (1960). Studia nad folwarkiem szlacheckim w Polsce w latach 1500-1580 (Studies on the Noble’s Manor, 1500-1580). Warszawa: PWN.


VI. Form of credit


The condition for receiving credit is presence at the lectures, participation in discussions and taking the oral examination. The basis for the final talk is reading at least six books.


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