UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES)


SEHI2008 The Fall and Rise of the Polish Nation, 1648-1921

UCL Credits: 30

Total Learning Hours: 300

ECTS: 15

Level: Advanced

Course Unit: 1.0

Full Year

Module Coordinator: Dr Thomas Lorman

Taught By: Dr Thomas Lorman

To find out more about this module, please contact the Module Coordinator

Weekly Contact Hours: 2.0 (2 hour seminar)
Prerequisites: All participants should normally have passed a full Intermediate Level course in History
Compulsory Module for: N/A

Summative Assessment

Coursework Essay 2000-2500 words (25%)

Coursework Essay 2000-2500 words (25%)

3 Hour Examination (50%)

Formative Assessment

Formative assessment is assessed on the basis of the students' contribution to class discussion.  There is an optional formative assessment as well -  all students are encouraged to submit essay plans and receive feedback.

Module Outline

This course charts the changing meanings of ‘Poland’ and ‘Polish’ over an extended period, the protracted decline and fall of one ‘Polish’ state and the extended struggle to resurrect another, as well as the social and cultural transformations affecting the people who were at various times considered to constitute the ‘Polish nation’. It does so in the context of changing Jewish, ‘Lithuanian’ and ‘Ruthenian/Ukrainian’ identities, whose threads intertwined with, and were later painfully disentangled from, those of ‘Poland’. 

The course begins with an exploration of the ethnically and religiously variegated ‘Commonwealth of the Two Nations, Polish and Lithuanian’, at the zenith of its prestige and territorial extent in 1648. It then analyses the impact of of seven disastrous decades of warfare, paying special attention to the confessional and national identities of the Commonwealth’s citizens, especially the role of ‘Sarmatian’ culture. Calls for reform gathered strength from about 1730, including the reconsideration and reconfiguration of the idea of the nation, to include, ultimately, all inhabitants of the Commonwealth. Before this vision could be effected, the Commonwealth had been partitioned. The implications for ‘Poland’ of armed efforts to resurrect the state, the debate on the peasantry, as well as the efforts undertaken to protect and encourage the spread of Polish culture, and to shape and inculcate a national memory, will be the focus of the next part of the course. The failure of the uprising of 1863-64 soon led to further reconfigurations of the nation in an age of rapid population growth and industrialization. In the harsh world of pseudo-Darwinian competition between nations, and faced with the siren calls of internationalist socialism, the ‘modernization’ of a population into a self-conscious ‘nation’ seemed more necessary than ever to many nationalists. The final part of the course examines the ideologies and programmes of Polish political groupings, notably the National Democrats and the Socialists, on the eve of the First World War and the struggle to achieve them in the course of Poland’s resurrection in 1914-21.

Indicative Texts

  • Jerzy Lukowski and Hubert Zawadzki, A Concise History of Poland, expanded 2nd edn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006)
  • Timothy Snyder, The Reconstruction of Nations: Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, 1569-1999 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003, paperback edn 2004)
  • Jerzy Lukowski, Liberty’s Folly: The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the Eighteenth Century (London: Routledge, 1991)
  • Piotr Wandycz, The Lands of Partitioned Poland 1795-1918 (Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 1974)




Course Code



Full Year AffiliatesRegister for SEHI2008As Above 15
Affiliates here for Term 1 onlyRegister for SEHI2008ACoursework (100%) 7.5
Affiliates here for Terms 2 and 3 onlyRegister for SEHI2008BCoursework (100%) 7.5


Please note: This outline is accurate at the time of publication. Minor amendments may be made prior to the start of the academic year.