WWI scholarly series begins with Poland’s rebirth

In the ninth year of the collaboration between Wilton Library and the Wilton Historical Society, this year’s scholarly lecture series — Dancing in the Dark: America from the Guns of August to the Gathering Storm — will focus on the events leading up to World War I, during the war, and after the war.
“We left the previous series at the end of the glamorous, over-the-top Gilded Age, when traditional forms and institutions were breaking down and anything (good or bad) might be possible,” said Louise Herot, chair of the scholarly series planning committee.
“Clearly, this was one of those recognized turning points in history and a logical place to begin the exploration of its significant effects of such massive changes as the world experienced then.”
This year’s series, Herot said, reflects the endpoints of the Gilded Age.
“The Guns of August is the title of Barbara Tuchman’s 1963 book about the beginning of World War I, in August 1914,” she said, “and The Gathering Storm is Winston Churchill’s book about the events leading to World War II.”
In the final planning stages for this series, Herot said, “we learned that the American Legion and the library had arranged to collaborate on a series about the war itself, and so we decided to focus on the context and the impact rather than go over the same ground.”
Because “there were more areas to explore than we could possibly do justice to,” said Herot, “we decided to take a few to focus on in some depth,” including:

  • The rising influence of the United States on global events.

  • The hardships of the Great Depression and its impact on the still unresolved issues of race in America.

  • The new freedoms opening up in the arts as exemplified by the welcoming of a variety of forms of music and social relations in the Jazz Age.

  • How all these events sorted themselves out and led to still another world conflict.

America and the Rebirth of Poland

M. Bolek Biskupski, history professor and chair of the Polish Studies Program at Central Connecticut State University, will kick off this year’s series on Sunday, Jan. 31, with his America and the Rebirth of Poland lecture.
Herot said Biskupski was recommended to the planning committee by his colleague at the university, Matt Warshauer — “a popular speaker returning for the final lecture of the season,” she said.
Covering the years 1914 to 1921, Biskupski will discuss the role the United States played in “the process of Poland returning to the map after 123 years of occupation in 1918 and the American attitude toward Poland’s war with Russia in 19191920,” he said.
“Poland’s victory in this war gained Poland a generation of independence,” said Biskupski. “The American reaction to the war is most interesting.”
During his lecture, which will take place at the library, from 4 to 5:30, Biskupski said, people will learn that “Woodrow Wilson was a friend of Poland, but not in the way usually explained.”
Poland won its independence at the end of the war, on Nov. 11, 1918. Herot said President Wilson had included Polish independence in his stated objectives upon entering the war, known as the Fourteen Points.
However, “Poland did not owe its independence to the U.S.,” said Biskupski. “Poland became free because of the Poles.”
What Biskupski finds most fascinating about this time period is that “the U.S. envisioned a future Poland far different than the Polish vision.”
“The Polish vision was right,” he said, with “the American vision profoundly flawed.”
Biskupski graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles summa cum laude and won a fellowship to Yale, where he completed his doctorate. President of the Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences in America and author of 14 books, Biskupski is also the Stanislaus A. Blejwas Endowed Chair in Polish History at Central Connecticut State University.
Biskupski, a citizen of the Polish Republic “by order of the president,” said his interest in history stems from “a lifelong fascination,” with his interest specifically in Polish history prompted by his family’s interest in their ancestral homeland.
Biskupski said he has given “a great many public lectures” and believes it is “as important to entertain the audience as to inform it.”
Herot said she hopes that at the end of Biskupski’s lecture and the others in the series, people will be “better informed about the period and have a better understanding of the causes and effects of decisions that were made then, that we can learn from the mistakes that were made and be thankful to those who made the right decisions for their vision and perseverance.”
The remaining lectures, each of which runs from 4 to 5:30, are:

  • Feb. 21: Scottsboro, with James Goodman at the Wilton Historical Society.

  • March 13: Jazz Era/World War I, with Bob Riccio at Wilton Library.

  • March 20: World War I and the Future of America, with Matthew Warshauer at the Wilton Historical Society.

Receptions follow the talks. Admission is free but donations are always welcome, and registration for each lecture is required. Series sponsor is Bankwell of Wilton. Each lecture will be moderated by either Max Gabrielson or Steve Hudspeth.
For more information, call 203762-3950 or visit www.wiltonlibrary.org.