» Magdalena Saryusz-Wolska: Twelve golden swastikas on a blue background, or, right-wing visual histories in Poland

Images have their own agencies, as numerous scholars have argued. Either the images move human actors to act, just as the video of George Floyd moved thousands of people to join the Black Lives Matter actions; or the images act themselves, for instance by amusing or upsetting their viewers. This approach is especially useful when it comes to scrutinizing images with hardly identifiable authors and/or distributors. Digital video clips, memes, or press covers quickly become independent from whoever has authored them. For visual histories, it means that images are more than just representations of history – they do history. We may consider films, photographs, posters etc. as actors affecting social realities, both in the present and in the past.

The lecture presents the ‘activity’ of images distributed by right-wing actors in Poland in relation to national history. How do images abuse Polish and European history? How do they strengthen nationalistic views on the past? How do they split the society into ‘us’ and ‘them’, ‘the good’ and ‘the bad’? Special emphasis is put on the images that were displayed in 2015, when the right-wing party Law and Justice (PiS) won the presidential and parliamentary elections. Did images contribute to their victory?

Magdalena Saryusz-Wolska is research fellow at the German Historical Institute Warsaw and associate professor at the University of Lodz (Poland). As a sociologist and cultural scholar, she focuses on historical issues, cultural memories and visual histories. Her contributions appear, among others, in The Public Historian, Osteuropa and Visual History (forthcoming). From 2013 to 2016, she was conducting the project “Visual Cultures in Germany 1945–1949”, the results of which appeared in two monographs: one in Polish (2015) and one in German (2017). She is the editor of the anthology Historia wizualna. Obrazy w dyskusjach niemieckich historyków (Visual History. Images in the Debates of German Historians, 2020). Magdalena Saryusz-Wolska is a member of the Executive Committee of the Memory Studies Association and ambassador scientist of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Poland.

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Organized in collaboration with the Iluminace journal.

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