Collegium Civitas students Wojciech Frenszkowski, Mariia Bukhtoiarova and Krzysztof Olesiewicz from Radio PalaCC had a chance to conduct an interview with Prof. Robert Blobaum, from West Virginia University, a renowned scholar, historian, an author of “A Minor Apocalypse: Warsaw during the First World War” and “Rewolucja: Russian Poland, 1904-1907”.
Transatlantic Double Degree graduate MA programme opportunities, Professor’s history of collaboration with Collegium Civitas, his view on Warsaw and Polish history and many more areas have been explored during the interview. Prof. Blobaum believes that academic demands that come with a decision to commit to Transatlantic Double Degree MA programme is balanced out by opportunities which are available to Collegium Civitas and West Virginia University students.
Could you please tell us if it’s your first time in Collegium Civitas and Warsaw and could you please in few words tell us of overall impression of Collegium Civitas, your students, your lectures and did you know some professors from here before?
Oh yes, I’ve been in … first of all I start coming to Warsaw from 1978, what’s that, 40 years ago now, yes? As far as CC is concerned, I think I’ve had a relationship with CC now for about 10 years and so this is not my first series of lectures in Collegium Civitas. I did a number of them last year and then it was maybe 3 or 4 years ago I did a number of lectures, so I know the place and I had very good impressions of students who came to my lectures, especially this time, who came to every one of them and stuck with me.
During one of the lectures you have introduced a theory that war actually never ended. In what aspects does this theory equate the Poland. How do you think this theory translates to Poland today?
That war has never ended? Well, this is a metaphor obviously, but the lecture about the war as never ending is about continuation of violence in Poland and some of economic conditions from war time that continued for several years thereafter. Did the war end in Poland by 2018? Yes, I think it did [smiles], but it may not have ended, actually, until maybe 1989. But that’s another story.
Within Transatlantic Double Degree MA graduate programme students of Collegium Civitas will spend 2 semesters studying at West Virginia University. Do you think that after coming back they will view international history and national security from a different perspective?
Oh I definitely think that they will. We had a Double Degree programme with Collegium Civitas and the University of Tartu – it was called the Atlantis Programme, that we ran for 5 years. Some of the issues were different and lots of perspectives changed from the both sides – for students studying in Europe, as well as students studying in United States. And that’s natural. When I first came in 1978, my perspective on the world changed quite a bit.
For how long have you been working as a professor and scholar?
Well, let’s see – I finished my Doctorate in 1981, so when I came here in 1978 – I was on a Fulbright fellowship. I’ve been employed in the academy since 1981 – first at Central Michigan University and then at Cornell University and since 1984 at WVU.
In some of your interviews you have said that your career is very complex, because you have changed your positions from being a political historian, then to a social historian of politics, later on into senior scholar who is interested in broad range of different issues. Which one of these incarnations was the most successful if looking at your scientific works and your personal satisfaction? Is there any difference between these ranks for you at all?
I would say I’m most happy with the present reincarnation [laughs] simply because it allows me to explore a number of different issues without being restricted to anything in particular. For example, this book on World War I – I was not very interested in battle history for example, but I was very interested in things like the role of women in the war and on the Homefront. I was very much interested in food and food supplies, but also spread of diseases, public health and I was also interested in Polish – Jewish relations, so I could touch on a number of different things without being restricted to one.
… not to limit yourself into some special sphere of studies?
Not political history, not social history, but all kinds of history.
Looking at the current situation in Poland, for instance, political or cultural, what teaching studies, according to you, would be valuable for CC students, who will leave for the TA programme?
Well, I think what would be most valuable to CC students is to be able to look at contemporary issues in comparative perspective. In our each and individual countries we live in islands and tend to view things from narrow lens of our own particular experience or experience of our own countries but, especially in current times there seems to be a number of various [experiences] for comparative analysis and understanding.
Your main teaching fields are connected to Modern Europe, Cultural and Eastern Europe and Imperial Russia. Can you explain your choice of devoting your career life to these particular fields?
Oh well, I think when I was very young and growing up during the Cold War, yes you have to remember it [was] maybe 1961- 1962 – 1963, when I started to develop some kind political consciousness – we were in the middle of Cold War … Cuban Missile Crisis occurred at that time and I become curious about the so- called “enemy “ [smiles] and the enemy was the Soviet Union and when there were projects at the school to talk about particular place or a particular city I’d always choose Russia. So, it developed when I was very young, but I eventually gravitated to the West, that is to Poland, simply because I came to the conclusion that you cannot understand the history of the XX century without understanding the History of Poland. It all happened here – World War I, World War II, Holocaust, Communism, Post-Communism. Everything that was important to European history in XX century happened here. Poland in a sense was the centre of the earthquake.
When you speak to students of West Virginia University what impression do they have of Central and Eastern Europe?
First of all, they don’t know very much about it and again this is because of the narrow lens that comes out of their experience. In fact, they don’t know very much about history at all and unfortunately including their own history, but they would be lucky to find Poland on a map, so we have to start there [smiles]. Some very basic information, but once they began to learn something they become very curious about the place and then when and if they have an opportunity to visit, they always seem to want to come back for more.
What do they most often associate Poland with?
It depends on the particular period. I think right now they associate Poland with certain kind of political changes that have occurred, but that have occurred not only in Europe, and not only in Poland but even political changes at home that seems to fit in into a certain pattern.
From the book written by you “A Minor Apocalypse” it is clear that you are interested in history, culture and social aspects of Poland. Do you speak Polish?
No [laughs]. Troszeczkę!
I think the history is so compelling here. What is there not to be interested in? Every time you find a piece of information you can tie it to something significant not only to the history of Europe, but to the history of the globe. Like I said for the XX century – this [Poland] was the epicentre.
To what extend do you think Warsaw and Poland changed after your last visit?
Well my last visit was only last year so [laughs] – the changes since last year were probably not that great, but the changes over the 40 years that I’ve been coming – have been tremendous! You would not recognize the place as it existed 40 years ago and in fact it would seem like it was on a different planet. Except for [laughs] yes, this building [Palace of Science and Culture] was here [laughs] but, eh, everything surrounding – it was very different. In fact, Warsaw was more like an urban desert, than the urban cosmopolitan place it is now. But I have to say that I love Warsaw, it’s a city that has reinvented itself several times over, which makes it very dynamic kind of a place. I’ve also lived in Krakow, in fact, back in 1978 I travelled to Warsaw, but I lived in Krakow. Krakow is a kind of a city that hasn’t had the same kind of changes. I mean obviously it has had changes too, but not in the sort of physical, cultural aspects of life – the material culture is so much different here.
… and Warsaw was twice almost completely destroyed …
… and in fact if you would have seen Warsaw in 1987 – 1988, infrastructure had basically broken down, it was like you were going through various barricades, because every road seemed to be torn up and so I’m sure there is some film images that you could access to see what Warsaw would have been like at this time. I mean it wasn’t the destruction Warsaw suffered after WORLD WAR II, but a city where the infrastructure no longer really worked.
What are the things that you miss most in Poland after you leave?
I think that I miss the conversations with people. Fortunately, I have a Polish wife [smiles] and we can speak Polish at home and this is why I may know a little bit of Polish because we do speak Polish every day, and she corrects me every day when I make mistakes – “straszne błędy” [laughs]. So, I think it’s the conversations, the food, the restaurants.
So this was our last question and I would like to thank you very much for coming and having this great and well due interview!
To learn more about this specialization programme please visit: civitas.edu.pl/en/academic-offer/international-history-and-security-studies-ma-full-time-english.