The Double Cross
28 September 2021
In On Civilization’s Edge: A Polish Borderland in the Interwar World, Kathryn Ciancia investigates the uses of and abuses of the concept of ‘civilisation’ (ed. in British English) concerning the contested lands of Volhynia (in Polish, Wołyn) controlled by the Polish state between the world wars.
Kathryn Ciancia is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin Madison, a historian of modern Eastern Europe whose research focuses on Poland in the first half of the twentieth century.
Looking beyond centralised state actors of the Polish government and national elites who promoted grand narratives of Poland’s ‘civilising mission’ aiming to secure and consolidate heterogenous eastern territories of the new-formed Polish nation-state, Ciancia’s book explores the dynamic role of “second-tier actors” or “brokers” who acted as “self-appointed agents of civilization” (pp. 10-11).
By focusing on localised interactions and negotiations of imagined civilisational hierarchies in the towns and villages of interwar Volhynia while keeping national and global trends in mind, On Civilization’s Edge offers a fascinating historical case that highlights the fluid boundaries of collective identity, notions of civility, and how those limits were redrawn and wielded for political leverage and institutional or ideological gains.