The history of the Institute of Slavic Studies, Polish Academy of Sciences dates back to the year 1954. At that time due to the initiative of two distinguished Slavicists – Prof. Tadeusz Lehr-Spławiński and Prof. Zdzisław Stieber – on the basis of a resolution of the Scholarly Secretary of the Board of the Polish Academy of Sciences of 24 July, 1954 the Department of Slavic Studies of the Polish Academy of Sciences [Zakład Słowianoznawstwa PAN] was established, which began its official activity on 1 July, 1955.

Prof. Tadeusz Lehr-Spławiński became the first director of the institution. Initially the institution comprised three research teams:

  • the Kraków-based Slavic Workroom [Pracownia Slawistyczna] – conducted work on the early Slavic vocabulary
  • the Warsaw-based Slavic Workroom [Pracownia Slawistyczna] – conducted linguistic and literary science work on the literary contacts in Western Slavic area
  • the Poznań-based Editorial Board of the Dictionary of Slavic Antiquities [Redakcja Słownika Starożytności Słowiańskich] – developed the great encyclopedia of the most remote history of Slavic area.

In the subsequent years the Department of Slavic Studies of the Polish Academy of Sciences grew considerably, extending its scope of research. This was due to the 1957 incorporation of four philological workrooms of the Polish-Soviet Institute [Instytut Polsko-Radziecki], and the 1960 incorporation of the Second Dialectological Workroom, which heretofore was a part of the Department of Linguistics, Polish Academy of Sciences.

In 1960, after Prof. Tadeusz Lehr-Spławiński retired, Prof. Zdzisław Stieber became the director of the Department. During the further dozen or so years there were numerous changes in the internal structure of the institution which led to the development of research and the better organisation thereof. The particular workrooms accepted young researchers who gradually replaced the pre-war professors, and the directorship of these workrooms was granted to researchers who were educated in the Department of Slavic Studies.

After 1970 the Department participated in the realisation of numerous research projects. The latter included inter alia the development of such significant works as: the Inter-Slavic linguistic and literary relations [Międzysłowiańskie stosunki językowe i literackie], the Dictionary of the Proto-Slavic Language [Słownik prasłowiański] or the Dictionary of Slavic Antiquities [Słownik starożytności słowiańskich], whose final, eighth volume was published in 1996 and then in 2008 its updated, concise version was published in the form of a desk lexicon.

The scholarly output of the Department of Slavic Studies spanned many years, notable especially in the field of linguistics and history, as well as the significant contribution to the life of the scholarly community were factors which conditioned the transformation of this institution, on the basis of the resolution of the Board of the Polish Academy of Sciences issued on 24 February, 1977 into the Institute of Slavic Studies of the Polish Academy of Sciences [Instytut Słowianoznawstwa PAN]. The directorship of the Institute was assumed by Prof. Janusz Siatkowski, who continued as director until 1981.

In the years 1981–1990 the Institute was directed by Prof. Mieczysław Basaj, whose managing style strictly adhered to the policy of the communist United Polish Workers’ Party [PZPR].

After 1989, Prof. Ewa Rzetelska-Feleszko became the director of the Institute. At that time the Institute and the former research programme was re-structured. Among other things a new programme of Russian literary research directed by doc. dr. hab. Andrzej Drawicz was established. At that time also the literary South Slavic studies grew.

In 1992 the Instytut Słowianoznawstwa changed its name into the Instytut Slawistyki as a token of following the pre-war tradition as well as of adaptation into the European terminology.

The Institute maintains intensive collaboration with many centres of Slavic studies abroad almost since its very inception. The employees of the Institute participate in numerous international congresses and conferences, contributing to the scholarly life of the communities of linguists, literary studies experts, historians, ethnologists et alii, which is expressed by the 2014 international scholarly conference entitled “The Unconventional Histories of Slavic studies Institutions” [“Niekonwencjonalne historie instytucji slawistycznych”], organised by the Institute to commemorate the 60th anniversary of its existence. The conference drew the representatives of Slavic studies institutions and organisations from all over Europe and became a platform for the substantial dialogue and institutional contacts important for the community.

The employees of the Institute have also conducted didactic activities in Polish and non-Polish academic centres for a long time, and since 2001 also in the Doctoral Seminar [Studium Doktoranckie] that was opened in the Institute. Since 1967 the Institute is entitled to confer the degree of the doctor of humanities in the field of linguistics, and it currently pursues to gain entitlement to confer the degree of the doctor also in the field of cultural studies. In 1989 the institution also received the right to confer the degree of the doktor habilitowany in the humanities and the right to issue motions to grant the scholarly title of a professor in the field of linguistics.

In 1990 the Slawistyczny Ośrodek Wydawniczy was established in the Institute which apart from collaboration with external partners currently publishes eight periodicals on the digital platform. In recent years the Institute has been engaged in a number of initiatives associated with digitalisation and the idea of open scholarship: the Centre for Slavicist Research Information [Centrum Slawistycznej Informacji Naukowej] was established, which maintains an on-line bibliographical database of international Slavic linguistics (iSybislaw), the only electronic project of this kind in the world, which arises in collaboration with Slavicists from Polish and non-Polish academic centres. Online repository of texts in the field of Slavic studies (iReteslaw) functioning on the basis of open access, collecting doctoral theses, statements of academic achievements and reviews of academic works as well as books representing world publications in the field of Slavic linguistics and related fields was also established. The Institute also entered the DARIAH-PL consortium engaged in the creation of a digital infrastructure for the humanities. Recently the research in Polish language and culture as well as research in Slavic-Jewish and Slavic-German relations considerably intensified. The research in the early relations of Slavic area with Latin, Byzantine and Hungarian culture is continued as well. Currently the multidisciplinary and multi-specialisational nature of the Institute assumes special importance, for it faces new challenges offered both by the processes of globalisation and the laws of the market.

During the 60 years since its establishment, the Institute of Slavic Studies, Polish Academy of Sciences, an institution which researched the languages and history of the Slavs became a multi-disciplinary institute of cultural studies of Slavic area and its borderlands, in which apart from linguistics-related fields of study also cultural, anthropological and historical reflection is engaged.

Written by dr Wojciech Mądry
The Department of History

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