The ‘Central and Eastern European Visual Heritage’ research project looks closely at the visual methods of analysis, arrangement, and presentation of material culture in the former lands of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the long nineteenth century.

The project analyses visual records such as drawings, paintings, photographs, casts, illustrated publications, and all sorts of arrangements and presentations (also short-lived), i.a. exhibitions (including human living ones), collection or museum displays. Special attention is paid to larger initiatives aiming at recording and visualising broader cultural phenomena (e.g. hand-painted Easter eggs, wooden synagogues, Slavic urns) or initiatives undertaken with the aim to (re)organize diverse types of nineteenth-century cultural heritage (e.g. private collections, museum displays, iconographic libraries).

Both institutionalized initiatives, as well as informal ventures are within the interest of the project.

Cultural heritage, as understood here, is a complex and deliberate process in which a corpus of places, objects, and traditions receives a constitutive marker of collective identity. In particular, we are interested how this negotiated heritage was imagined and visualised in nineteenth-century collections, museums’ displays, exhibitions, and publications.

Exhibitions, collections, illustrated publications, and iconographic libraries constituted both the official image of the empires, and served as criteria for social, national, or ethnic self-definition.

Importantly, the development of the phenomena under scrutiny here has gone hand in hand with imperial expansions and the emergence of national identities. Hence, the proper understanding of Central and Eastern European visual heritage requires in-depth analysis of its political and social context as well.

The project starts with ventures undertaken by Polish civic and scholarly societies, municipal museums, Polish scholars, aristocrats, collectors, and artists. They are presented in a universal context of similar European-wide initiatives and within a context of site-specific imperial projects, which appropriated and incorporated the cultural heritage of nations and ethnic groups from the former lands of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, as well as projects undertaken by representatives of other ethnic groups and nations inhabiting the region.

Most importantly, we question the validity of the national approach and polonocentrism as applied to aspects of cultural heritage in this part of Europe. The visual language remains intrinsically universal, as were the ways of presenting material culture in the nineteenth century.

Moreover, various imperial, national, and ethnic initiatives undertaken around the multicultural heritage of the former lands of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth were intertwined and one should not analyse them separately. Hence, this website bears –in our opinion – a geographically neutral title: ‘Central and Eastern European Visual Heritage’.

The nineteenth century was a century of rapid developments and industrialisation. Although this project’s focus lies elsewhere, it is impossible to consider the visual culture of the age as separate from contemporary ‘globalisation’, ideology of growth, and ceaseless technological progress. E.g. the technological advances of illustration were crucial in shaping and enhancing the display strategies for material traces of the past.

The nineteenth century witnessed also the birth and institutionalisation of many scholarly disciplines, which focused on the material traces of the past, specifically archaeology, ethnography, and art history. The nineteenth-century visual syntheses of cultural heritage self-defined at that time as archives, libraries, atlases, and museums, also the classification and arrangement thereof, point to their scientific or parascientific aspirations. Hence, we analyse visual culture also from the perspectives of history of science and history of knowledge.

This project is both documentary and explanatory. On one hand, its goal is to catalogue and briefly describe the visual syntheses of Central and Eastern European cultural heritage, in particular pertaining to the region’s ethnic groups and nations, on the other hand – we seek to identify and establish a new questionnaire and new fields for future research.

The material on this website is presented in the form of short illustrated essays, which each falls into one (or more) categories: Institutions, Collections, Exhibitions, Publications, and a more general category: Cultural Heritage.

In the ‘Institutions’ section one finds information on museums, libraries, scholarly or social societies dealing with documentation and analysis of the material traces of the past. In the ‘Collections’ section we describe iconographic libraries and photographic archives. The ‘Exhibitions’ section investigates various strategies of display in the framework of nineteenth-century museums, collections, and international exhibitions. Special attention is paid to those arrangements, which were short-lived and ephemeral. All kinds of illustrated publications, albums, atlases, encyclopaedias, periodicals, graphic of photographic series are discussed in the Publication section.  In the ‘Cultural Heritage’ section, one will find essays describing broader phenomena, which constructed definitions of nineteenth-century heritage with visual means. Finally, there is a separate group of articles shortly introducing and analysing the crucial terms and definitions, such as ‘cultural heritage’, ‘archive’, ‘polonicum’. The Timeline tab points to the decisive moments in the history of the nineteenth-century visual culture. Soon we will publish the Geography tab, which will encompass various maps and short explanatory essays discussing the complex history of the region in terms of its borders and geographical nomenclature, as used then and today.

This website is bilingual. Selected texts will be presented only in their Polish or English version, following the various research focuses and demands.

Copyrights to the texts published on the website belong to their authors. Unless specifically stated otherwise, all Illustrations are in the public domain.

Contact us at visualheritagexix@gmail.com

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