Meeting in the series 'Let's talk about history...' Guest: Dominik Bień

'I grew up within the walls of the University of Gdańsk and internally I feel that this is my little homeland...' - says mgr Dominik Bień, a guest at the meeting 'Let's talk about history.... of the University of Gdańsk's vocation', organised by the Students' Self-Government Council of the Faculty of History  

On Monday 12.12.2022 at 3 pm, the second meeting in the series 'Let's talk about history...' took place, which dealt with a native Pomeranian topic - the establishment of the University of Gdańsk.

The event, whose guest was mgr Dominik Bień - assistant in the Department of Political Theory at the UG Institute of Political Science at the UG Faculty of Social Sciences, took place at the Faculty of History.

The interview was conducted by Nina Więcławska - a student of political science and German studies.

Nina Więcławska: Where did your passion for exploring the University of Gdańsk come from?

mgr Dominik Bień: My interest comes from the positive emotions I feel towards my university. I come from a small town in Masuria - Kętrzyn. Coming to Gdańsk, I didn't feel an emotional connection to Pomerania. Moving around the city, visiting my friends in the various dormitories, attending student clubs and studying, I began to feel a great affinity towards this university. I grew up within the walls of the University of Gdańsk and internally I feel that this is my little homeland.

N.W.: From what sources do you obtain materials on the University of Gdańsk?

D.B.: The first sources I used were publications, of which there were not many. They concerned both the University of Gdańsk and the two universities from which it originated - the Higher School of Pedagogy in Gdańsk and the Higher School of Economics in Sopot. I also found a number of brochures, anniversary publications, and it was from these items that I went on to further collections. But the most important are the archives. The collections concerning the Higher School of Pedagogy are located in the State Archives in Gdańsk and its branch in Gdynia. Collections covering the legacy of the Higher School of Economics and the University of Gdańsk can be found in the University of Gdańsk Archives. A lot of material is also to be found in the University of Gdańsk Library in the collection covering documents of social life Of course, I have also made use of many texts concerning the personal memories of staff and students.

N.W.: The process of creating a university is quite a bold and serious initiative. What was the breath behind the creation of the University of Gdańsk?

D.B.: It all depends on the perspective we take. Some people trace the origins to the Gdańsk Academic Gymnasium and the ideas formulated within the Baltic Institute in the inter-war period. After 1945, ideas to establish a Pomeranian university, whether in Gdańsk, Gdynia or Toruń, resonated most strongly. Even then there were articles in the press in which the authors, representatives of the Gdańsk intelligentsia, pointed out the need to establish an academic centre. I would say that I find wave tendencies here. The years 1946-1947, the mid-1950s and the final wave that brought the establishment of the university - the years 1965-1968. During this period, the concept of establishing a university was already taking some shape. As we can see, it was a long process.

N.W.: And what was the situation with the university in Toruń, which was established much earlier than the one in Tricity?

D.B.: Some of the authors whose texts we find in the press discourse indicated that the university in Toruń should not have been established. It was thought that the city does not provide the premises and material foundations for a university centre. Of course, there were also opinions that a school could be established in either city.

N.W.: The University of Gdańsk was formed from several universities that were located in the Tricity. Did these centres immediately agree to merge?

D.B.: This is a complicated issue. For the community of the Higher School of Pedagogy it was a chance for ennoblement, so both staff and students were open to such a proposal. The situation was a little different with the Higher School of Economics, whose legacy is the two, Sopot-based faculties of the University of Gdańsk. In those days, the university already had a certain reputation, in which the word economics resonated very strongly, and not everyone was favourably disposed towards inclusion in the emerging university. Some echoes of this reluctance and sense of separateness could still be sensed in the 1970s. It was not, of course, the case that the representatives of the School of Economics were against the establishment of the university, but they did not necessarily want to be part of it .

NW: What, on the other hand, was the situation regarding the creation of human resources?

D.B: Some of the staff was recruited, of course, from the Higher School of Economics and the Higher School of Pedagogy. Of course, there were many educated people who came from other universities, such as Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń or the University of Gdańsk Technical University, so as you can see, the paths were very different.

N.W: And what was the issue concerning the location of the university?

D.B: The first document concerning the question of the location of the University of Gdańsk dates back to 1945, and was written by representatives of the Western Union of the Polish Historical Society and the Society of Friends of Science and Art in Gdańsk. Such a concept indicated that a Pomeranian university should be established, part of which would be located in Toruń, where the humanities faculties were to be, in Bydgoszcz the natural sciences and economic faculties, and Gdańsk in turn would be the place where future economists and doctors would be educated. As early as 1945, districts such as Oliwa or Wrzeszcz were identified as the most convenient locations. I also found material with the concept of prof. Andrzej Piskozub, who indicated that the university should be located at Plac Zebrań Ludowych. The ideas were very different, and this is extremely interesting material.

N.W: Still referring to your interests... On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the University of Gdańsk, a certain publication edited by you was published. Please tell us about it.

D.B.: There have actually been three publications. The whole idea was born in 2017 with reference to the upcoming anniversary, when together with a group of people from the journal Progress we thought how we could celebrate such an event in a dignified way. The first, two-volume book is entitled University of Gdańsk - structures, figures, events, where we gave voice to various people associated with our Alma Mater. It includes interviews, memoirs and articles by academics, representatives of the administration, students and doctoral students. The form of the individual texts varies from loosely written reflections to writings with less descriptive and more scientific themes. Another publication is University of Gdańsk in 1970-1995 , a collection of documents covering 25 years. It also includes publications from before this period, descriptions of the Higher School of Pedagogy and the Higher School of Economics, plans related to the establishment of the university, social and political life at the university. The sources published in the volume come from the collections of many institutions, including the State Archive in Gdańsk, the University of Gdańsk Archives, and the University of Gdańsk Library. It is a kind of introduction to the history of the establishment and the first 25 years of the university's formation.


prof. Arkadiusz Janicki

At the end of the meeting with mgr Dominik Bień, students and the dean of the UG Faculty of History, dr hab. Arkadiusz Janicki, prof. UG, spoke:

'I am extremely pleased that the members of the Student Council of the UG Faculty of History organise such fascinating meetings. I think it is good to learn about the history of the university within whose walls we are educated. I sincerely hope that you feel a strong emotional connection to your place of study and that in the future you will have warm memories of your time spent at the University of Gdańsk.'

Fot. Łukasz Bień/CASiD
Kaja Kuskowska, Polish philology, specialisation in journalism. Photos by Łukasz Bień/CASiD