October 2019, by Maciej Ptaszyński
Memory is fashionable, so is Prague. As a historian who works with archival sources, I did not think twice when an opportunity to spend time at Charles University presented itself.
Initially, my goal was pragmatic and research oriented. In terms of my long-term project, I was looking at the preparation, conduct and reception of a religious agreement between the Protestant Churches of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth signed in 1570 in the town of Sandomierz. Among the signatories was also the Bohemian Church (Jednota bratrská).
At first glance, there was not much about memory to be gleaned from the sources. The preparation was all about politics and theology. The final document was a mutual recognition of the Protestant Churches at ‘the major articles of faith’, as well as the outline of future cooperation in terms of ecclesiastical matters. However, this short document would represent a topical issue over the course of the next two centuries, and was widely discussed beyond the borders of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Although the Concord of Sandomierz (as it was later called) became a cornerstone of the universal tradition of religious tolerance, each of the churches had its own history of the document as a part of their own tradition and identity. And so, can we describe this historically based identity as a “confessional memory”? Was it a part of a broader “confessional culture”? These questions brought me to Prague, where in the vaults of the National Archive (Narodní archiv), I was hoping to find some answers.
The journey turned out to be much more than just a series of archive queries. First things first: the application was as simple as it gets, without any unnecessary bureaucracy, as in keeping with the traditions of Alliance 4EU+. Then the travel arrangements: every detail of my visit in Prague was perfectly organized by Oleksandra Pekackova Modelska. At the beginning of my visit, Kateřina Králová, the Head of the Russian and East European Studies Department (Katedra ruských a východoevropských studií), warmly welcomed me in the Institute and invited me to her class; and to the Department’s meeting. Finally, I met in the Archive a number of my colleagues from Czech Republic and from Germany. Therefore, I had a busy schedule, full of talks and discussions, but not without its diversions and pleasantries.
Did I find the answers to the questions that had brought me to Prague? It is too early to say. I flew back to Warsaw with thousands of photocopied files; and happy memories. I certainly hope to return there in the near future, to rejoin the thousands of flâneurs who are always to be found strolling around this beautiful city.
University of Warsaw, Department of History
4EU+ post-doc fellow in Prague