Special Topics in European History: Gdańsk/Danzig/Gedanu, A City Shaped—Histories and Cultures

History 100B

Spring 2015
Section: 
002
Instructor: 
Location: 
243 DWINELLE
Day & Time: 
TuTh 1230-2P
CCN: 
39260
Units: 
4

In this course we will examine the fascinating, competing histories and cultures of the Baltic coast city known variously as Danzig and Gdańsk (among other spellings and forms).  First a medieval Slavic (Polish/Kashubian) fishing village, then a growing port city under the rule of the Teutonic Knights of the Cross (XIV century), then the largest city of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (XV century to 1795).  Freed from the hated overlordship of the Teutonic Order and, as the chief city of Royal Prussia (a semi-autonomous district of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Gdańsk (still largely German speaking and a Hanseatic city) was Poland’s main access to the wider world through export and import.  Except for a brief period of intendant status as, once again, a “Free City” in Napoleonic times (1807–1814), from 1795 (the Third Partition of Poland) to 1918 (end of WWI), Danzig  was a city of diminished significance in the Kingdom of Prussia and later the German Empire.  In the twentieth century, it became a focal point of German-Polish tensions.  The Treaty of Versailles (1918) did many things:  among them it created a “Free State (not “City”) of Gdańsk,” governed (loosely) by the League of Nations; it also resurrected a free and independent Second Polish Republic, still a multi-ethnic federation, but with much changed borders, and with a promise of “free and secure access to the sea.”

Course materials will include close examination of maps of the city throughout its existence, coupled with lectures (with a few short readings) on the city’s history.  These will accompany us throughout the course.  The main body of reading material for students will be from novels (1959–2001), both German and Polish (in English translation), produced by citizens of the city; these works deal directly with the city’s topography, social, political, and religious divides, historical memory; and in the Polish case, the problem of inhabiting and making Polish, a city that, for centuries, had not been “ours” in any direct sense.  On the German side, we will read four of the novels of Danziger and Noble Prize winner for literature (1999), Günter Grass.  On the Polish side we will read three novels by writers of the next generation, sons of those who took up residence in the abandoned houses of post-war Danzig/Gdańsk:  Paweł Huelle and Stefan Chwin.  Both Polish writers, in different ways, could be said to be involved in a dialogue in their works with those of Günter Grass.