Commemorations of War – National Histories, Imperial Memories Session 3

Session 3 of our online seminar series National Histories, Imperial Memories: Representing the Past in Interwar Central Europe will take place at


18.00 CET on 2 November 2021

on Zoom, featuring papers by

Michal Cáp (Charles University, Prague) and Vojtěch Kessler (Institute of History of the Czech Academy of Sciences, Prague)

Kamil Ruszała (Jagiellonian University, Kraków)

Karolina Ćwiek-Rogalska (Institute of Slavic Studies, Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw) and Izabela Mrzygłód (University of Warsaw)

Moderator: Nancy Wingfield (Northern Illinois University)


The event is free and open to all, but you need to register. Click here for the registration form. See the full seminar schedule here.


Watch the session on our Youtube channel:



Michal Cáp (Charles University, Prague) and Vojtěch Kessler (Institute of History of the Czech Academy of Sciences, Prague)

The Austro-Prussian War between Czech Historiography, Historical Consciousness and Local Commemorations

The War of 1866 is a well-known yet forgotten war. It is considered, depending on the national context, a closed chapter of state building, prologue to the War of 1870 and the Great War, or a tool, to be used in comparison of the narrative of road to total war. Somehow, it has no place in Czech historiography and historical consciousness either, despite being fought on the very Czech soil in the era of national emancipation. But the War of 1866 is still present in today’s Czech Republic, in what we see as a stark discrepancy between the historiographical reflection and local commemorative culture. The memory of the Austro-Prussian war took deep roots not in the national narrative, but in the regional identity of eastern Bohemia, around the battlefield of Königgrätz.

Czech national history, as constructed since the nineteenth century, had very little reason to integrate the history of Austro-Prussian War into its national(istic) narrative. This was exaggerated, after the dissolution of Austria-Hungary and the creation of Czechoslovak state, and after the further political turbulences of the 20th century. The empty space created by its disregard was filled by more relatable military examples such as the story of the Czechoslovak Legions. But even after almost a century of neglect, the memory of Austro-Prussian war is firmly embedded in the landscape by thousands of memorials and reenacted by numerous communities of uniformed enthusiasts, luring crowds hungry for entertainment, excitement and even education. The War of 1866 is still ‘alive’ today, disproportionately to its place in the master narrative of Czech history. It is a fragment of history, unchained. Our goal is to illustrate this particular interaction between historiography, historical consciousness, and local commemorations.

Michal Cáp studied at Charles University, Prague, in the Master’s Program of Modern Czech History at the Institute of Czech History. He is currently a PhD student at the same institute. The topic of his thesis is the social status and prestige of professional officer corps during the first Czechoslovak Republic. He is interested in wider history of warfare, its social and cultural contexts, and military historiography.

Vojtěch Kessler holds a PhD from Charles University, Prague. He is a researcher at the Department of Nineteenth Century History of the Institute of History of the Czech Academy of Sciences. He deals with the history of the second half of the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth centuries. The topics of his research are military history, memory studies, monumental culture, and collective identities.


Kamil Ruszała (Jagiellonian University, Kraków)

Imperial Monuments in Postimperial Space: WW1 Military Cemeteries in West Galicia

During the First World War Galicia became an enormous battlefield, where thousands of war cemeteries were constructed. Those objects were not only conceived of as burial places for hundred thousands of soldiers, but as imperial monuments dedicated to the glory of the royal and imperial army, and the Habsburg monarchy itself. A complex of 400 representative cemeteries was established, composed of monuments designed by well-known architects (for example Hans Mayr, Dušan Jurkovič, Heinrich Scholz, Jan Szczepkowski). The well-organised endeavour created a propaganda narration of the formed battlefield, accompanied by literary and iconographic work, infrastructural elements or even garden layout. Through these measures, the myth of the former battlefield was created. However, such visible changes in the cultural landscape of West-Galicia, inhabited mostly by Poles, had met with criticism from the society of national (Polish) artists. They contested Austrian endeavours to provide ‘Teutonic’ monuments in Slavic spaces and published their architectural ideas for the construction of military cemeteries. However, this became only a voice in the discussion, and the original imperial project was realised. After the collapse of the Habsburg Empire, the protection of war cemeteries was taken over by the Polish state. At this time, the main discourse focused on the Polish Legions, one of the main myths of the new Republic of Poland. Nevertheless, grassroots actions of caring for war cemeteries were undertaken, not seeing these objects as the legacy of the former Empire, but as objects reminiscent of the bloody war and those who sacrificed their lives. This way of taking care of war graves showed how imperial monuments fitted into post-imperial space. This lecture examines the abovementioned problems: how the narration of the First World War battlefield was shaped by the construction of military cemeteries; what sort of controversy this brought during the war; what was the reception of these imperial monuments in postimperial space after 1918.

Kamil Ruszała is Assistant Professor at the Institute of History, Jagiellonian University. He studied history in Kraków (Jagiellonian University), where he received his PhD; in Vienna (University of Vienna), and in Prague (Charles University). He specializes in East-Central European History in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, especially the late Habsburg Empire, Galicia, the First World War, refugees and internees, war remembrance and military cemeteries. His most recent book is Galicyjski Eksodus: Uchodźcy podczas I wojny światowej w monarchii Habsburgów [Galician Exodus: Galician Refugees during the First World War in the Habsburg Empire]  (Kraków 2020). He is co-editor of Intellectuals and World War I: A Central European Perspective (Krakow: Jagiellonian University Press 2018). His next book, Postwar Continuity and New Challenges in Central Europe, 1918–1923: The War That Never Ended (co-edited with Tomasz Pudłocki) is forthcoming in 2021 at Routledge.


Karolina Ćwiek-Rogalska (Institute of Slavic Studies, Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw) and Izabela Mrzygłód (University of Warsaw)

‘The one who is a million…’: The Figure of the Unknown Soldier in Poland and Czechoslovakia during the Interwar Period

Our presentation aims to deconstruct the figure of the Unknown Soldier in a comparative perspective, juxtaposing Polish and Czechoslovak disputes concerning the visions of what both countries that emerged after the First World War should look like. Our point of departure is the hypothesis that both republics and national imagined communities were founded on the body of the Unknown Soldier. We will examine the role played by the three dimensions of this particular cult: (1) its anonymity, its (2) military, and (3) funeral character.

In the presentation, we will answer the following research questions: What was the role of the cult of the Unknown Soldier in building both political communities? How did it develop and connect with the rituals of democratic and authoritarian authorities? What difficulties were encountered in transferring the idea of ​​the Unknown Soldier to Central European representations? What patterns of citizenship and masculinity were inscribed in the mythical body of the Unknown Soldier? We conduct our analysis based on written and visual materials from the largest Polish and Czechoslovak daily newspapers (e.g. Kurier Poranny, Gazeta Polska, Lidové noviny, Národní listy), as well as brochures and leaflets published in the milieus of the then major political players.

Karolina Ćwiek-Rogalska is a culturologist, ethnologist, and assistant professor at the Institute of Slavic Studies, Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw. She is editor-in-chief of the journal Adeptus for young scholars. She earned her PhD from the University of Warsaw (2017). Her thesis was devoted to changes in the cultural landscape of the Czech-German Borderlands. She has held scholarships from the Foundation for Polish Science (2018), Czech Academy of Sciences (2018), National Academic Exchange Agency (2019) and the Fulbright Foundation (2020). Her publications include: Zapamiętane w krajobrazie: Krajobraz czesko-niemieckiego pogranicza w czasach przemian [Remembering in the landscape: The landscape of the Czech-German border in times of change] (Warsaw: Scholar, 2017); ‘The Competition of Memories: The Commemorative Landscape of Polish Central Pomerania after 1945,’ East European Politics and Societies, 2020 (online first).

Izabela Mrzygłód is a historian, a PhD candidate at the Faculty of History, University of Warsaw, and editor of the liberal weekly Kultura Liberalna. She has just submitted her dissertation on the right-wing radicalization of students at the Universities of Warsaw and Vienna in the interwar period. She has held scholarships from the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research (2014), National Science Centre, Poland (201718), and Leibniz-Institut für Europäische Geschichte Mainz (201819). Her publications include: ‘In Need of a Leader: Bolesław Piasecki’s Charismatic Leadership in the 1930s,’ East European Politics and Societies, 2021 (online first); ‘Przestrzenie sprzeciwu. Działalność Ligi Obrony Praw Człowieka i Obywatela w II Rzeczypospolitej’ [Spaces of objection: Activities of the League for the Defence of Human and Civic Rights in the Second Polish Republic] Przegląd Historyczny, 2018, 4, pp. 565586.


This seminar is part of a project that has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No 786314).

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