Welcome to the Polish Studies Center's 40th Anniverary Page!
In honor of the Polish Studies Center’s 40th Anniversary, we have launched this page to celebrate the people and commemorate the events—large and small—that together have made possible the Center’s long and successful history.
From time to time we will post short entries, photos, and perhaps even some PSC “trivia” that will highlight moments in our forty-year history at Indiana University.
Mary McGann and Tim Wiles — Christmas 1983
For our inaugural post, we are pleased to share a 1983 Christmas letter from Timothy Wiles and his wife, Mary McGann, both of whom were involved in shaping the Polish Studies Center at its beginning. Timothy Wiles, whose memory we celebrate in the Polish Studies Center’s annual Timothy Wiles Memorial Lecture, was sent to Warsaw by IU in 1975 to aid in the establishment of the American Studies Center at Warsaw University, which became the Polish Studies Center’s sister institution.
He returned to Warsaw, accompanied by Mary, as a Senior Fulbright Lecturer in 1981. Together they coordinated IU exchanges with Warsaw University and bore witness to the last days of the Solidarity movement and the imposition of martial law. Upon his return to Bloomington, Timothy Wiles directed the Polish Studies Center from 1983 to 1986 and again from 1991 to 1999.
We are very grateful to Mary McGann for allowing us to share this invaluable piece of Polish Studies Center history with our community.
Our academic lives were full and stimulating. Mary served as the associate director of the American Studies Center, a joint effort of Indiana University and Warsaw University; the center serves as a fulcrum for educational and cultural exchanges which Warsaw U. maintains with five American schools so we enjoyed meeting American students and faculty from Stony Brook, Kent State, the Univ. of Washington, and the Univ. of Kansas. Tim's job as senior Fulbright Lecturer in the English Department was made particularly delightful and exciting by his revival of a dormant drama club. He and his Polish students rehearsed madly during the spring of 1982 and produced two full-scale productions in English of David's Mamet's Sexual Perversity in Chicago (the singles bar dating scene in urban America) and Bits and Pieces ( a wife searches for her own identity by seeking out the transplanted parts of her dead husband) at a local theater. Admission was free and for each of two performances the house was a “sellout.”
Tim worked closely with the American Literature faculty, one of whom is his old friend from Stanford days, Teresa Kieniewicz. He was even asked to sit on her tenure review committee and did so happily since Teresa's 'tenure (in Poland habilitacia) was hardly in doubt.
We made quite a few new friends on trips. Because all communications had been cut off, many Polish friends asked us to contact their relatives abroad. In some cases the messages were not always happy for several friends or relatives were interned or imprisoned in those bleak days following Dec.13--and of course any of us concerned about the Polish national fate felt fear and uncertainty. Yet, these transplanted Poles welcomed us warmly, as if we were their relatives themselves.
It was necessary, too, to use the occasion of trips outside Poland (even if only for the weekend to Berlin or Hamburg) to establish phone contact with our families and with the international programs office at Indiana. It was only when we had to live in Poland for two months without phones, cable, or reliable mail that we realized the way we (especially as modern Americans) take our technology for granted. Of course we were forced to rely on personal contact more in our daily lives
We had a car and while Poles were prohibited from driving by a ban on gasoline sales, foreigners were allowed to buy gas and to drive. Quite surprisingly, although the country seemed transformed into a police state by the presence on every corner of armed patrols, we were not frightened nor ever afraid for our personal safety. We never considered leaving, and even postponed our trip to England a few days until we were sure that we would be allowed back in the country. Life returned to as normal a state as it could be given the strict curfew and other rules of Martial Law. We were quite relieved when classes resumed on Feb. 1.
Our second year in Poland went all too quickly. Special memories include American style potluck Thanksgiving complete with cornbread and cranberry sauce) for twenty-five Americans and Poles at our apartment, and a snowy, traditional Polish Christmas in Wroclaw (190 mi. west of Warsaw) with our old friends the Lis family (Grandmother Lis has embroidered the lace on Mary's wedding veil seven years ago).
When classes broke for the three week winter break. on Jan.15, we flew to Greece and then to Cyprus. In Cyprus, we were warmly welcomed by Dan and Mary Howard, an American diplomatic couple whom we had known in Warsaw. Dan had been the cultural officer at the U.S. Embassy, 1981-2 and had been expelled by Polish authorities on trumped-up Charges in May 1982. This proved unfortunately to be the beginning of an anti-American culture campaign by the Polish government. Although this campaign never touched us directly, since it was waged mainly on official levels, we certainly felt its effects indirectly.
On Feb.15 we began the second semester of classes at Warsaw: University, and it seemed that our professional and social schedules became even more crowded than they had been previously. Part of this was due to the many visitors, official and familial, who visited us from outside Poland. In addition to continuing her administrative duties at the American Studies Center, Mary was asked, by popular request of the students, to continue teaching a course in American Language and Culture, and Tim resumed teaching American Drama and Literature after a semester long sabbatical.
In April we were delighted when Tim's parents came to Warsaw.
They drove to Gdansk (Danzig)where the first shots of World War II had been fired and where, in 1980, an unemployed electrician named Lech Walesa joined the striking workers at the Lenin Shipyards as they began-the-history of Solidarity. On the way back to Warsaw, they visited the boyhood home of Copernicus in the medieval town (undestroyed by modern wars) of Torun. Back in Warsaw, they had a reunion with Witek Strawinski, a teacher of philosophy at Warsaw University and an old friend of Tim's--Witek had lived at the Wiles' home in Norway, Maine, during the summer of 1973. Witek arranged a special of the cottage outside Warsaw, Zelazowa Wola, where where Chopin was 'born. We think they also came away with a clear sense that Poland is more beautiful, more humanized, less dangerous, and less depressed than news reports in the West have portrayed. They learned a great deal about Poland's individual history, not simply as a Soviet satellite but as a distinct nation with a long, proud cultural tradition.
May and June were incredibly busy. The American Studies Center hosted many American visitors, most of them from Indiana Univ, as part of the official exchange agreement between the two universities. The high point of these visits was the visit of Dr. Mary Ellen Solt, Director of the Polish Studies Center in Bloomington. Mary was Dr. Solt's "official escort"-- there were gala rounds of parties, a special award ceremony in the University Rector's (president) office and a short but delightful visit to Krakow, the glorious medieval town that the Poles count as their real capital (they say "Krakow is our heart.").
June continued to be busy. Mary was invited by the University of Zagreb to give a lecture and to consult about their new and growing American Studies Program and exchange with Indiana Univ. So we flew to Jugoslavia. We spent two days in Dubrovnik where the University maintains an international studies center, scene of an Indiana University American Studies Seminar every October.
We returned to Warsaw one day before Pope John Paul II arrived in his homeland. It was an amazing event to experience for the Polish people have, in the past few years, strongly clung to their catholicism as a defiant stance against the government. The Pope, their Pope, the "Polish Pope" as they like to call him is their major spokesman and ally. Seeing the Pope (from a distance of course) was moving, but the most moving spectacle was the sight of the millions of pilgrims who brought flowers, tiny flags of blue and white (the Virgin Mary), yellow and white (the Papacy) and red and white (Poland), and their hearts to see and hear him.
We left Poland on July 20, two days before the official end of Martial Law and somehow we felt a sense of closure (if not happiness since most of the repressive measures of the Martial Law have been institutionalized). Twenty of our Polish friends came to the airport with armfuls of roses and apricots--and with a few tears. We had one last farewell party (we had already had three!) at the airport.
United States Information Agency
For the second installment of our Anniversary Newsletter, we would like to share with you a unique artifact that recounts the proceedings surrounding the official establishment of the Polish Studies Center at Indiana University. Dated November 1, 1977, this document from the United States Information Agency was published the day after the agreement was signed finalizing the IU-Warsaw collaboration on October 31, 1977. Please read the original publication here: United States Information Agency