Course Summary

These two stunningly beautiful cities (both UNESCO World Heritage Sites) with rich cultures, dramatic pasts, and promising futures should command the interest of any student. They allow us to see the flowering, near-death, and rebirth of European civilization: ancient royal capitals and university towns that experienced in the space of the last century the transition from monarchy to republic, Nazi occupation and Soviet domination, postcommunist revolution, and reintegration into the wider continental community. They were laboratories for artistic experimentation from the Middle Ages to Modernism and political organization from the multiethnic empire to the nation-state. The mix of Slavic, German, and Jewish populations experienced cross-cultural cooperation and murderous conflict. The cities themselves will be our classroom as we explore history and the way the memory of the past has shaped residents’ fears, hopes, and values.

The master themes associated with these places address the concerns of a variety of fields: history, European studies, Slavic studies, Jewish studies, German studies, art and architecture, historic preservation, politics and international relations, economics and development, memory studies.

Both cities were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, so the new Slavic national movements emerged in a context that involved at first cooperation with and then increasing differentiation from the German-speaking population and its centuries-old heritage, culminating in the expulsion of the ethnic Germans after World War II. The exploration of history and ethnic relations necessarily includes a good deal of Jewish-related content, as well: visits to the Prague Jewish Quarter (museums and historic synagogues) and Kraków's equivalent (Kazimierz, currently undergoing a sort of cultural renaissance, with a small but active Jewish community and major cultural festival in the midst of old synagogues and other historic structures), Terezín (Theresienstadt) and Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration/extermination camps; and exploration of the changing presentation of Jewish history and the Holocaust from communist to postcommunist regimes.

We offer participants a unique introduction to the local histories, cultures, and contemporary situation.

We show participants the iconic cultural sites that every tourist sees (though from a different perspective), but also other neighborhoods and quarters, off the beaten path. For example, Prague is famous for its Gothic and Baroque architecture, but we in addition take our students to see interwar urban commercial arcades, Art Nouveau and Cubo-Futurist buildings, and modernist villas in Prague, and the Stalinist-era model workers’ community of Nowa Huta in Kraków.

Our use of on-site program assistants allows participants to meet locals (generally students) of their own age. Our familiarity with universities and other cultural institutions in Prague and Kraków allows us to facilitate connections between participants and faculty in their areas of interest, even for topics not explicitly covered in the program.