Milliman, Paul, 'The Slippery Memory of Men': The Place of Pomerania in the Medieval Kingdom of Poland.
Paul Millimans choice of subject is a testimony to the increased interest in the medieval history of Central Europe and specifically in the history of Pomerania. The region, whose Latin-derived name refers to a location 'along a sea', encompasses almost the whole southern shore of the Baltic Sea, from Recknitz River near Stralsund in the west to the delta of Vistula River near Gdansk in the east, and Chelmno Land in the south. Milkmans focus is on the very eastern part of this territory often referred to as Pomerelia (Polish: Pomorze Gdanskie) or Eastern Pomerania and generally to Anglophone audiences as the Polish Corridor. My preferred term, for the sake of precision and simplicity, is Pomerelia.
The book is the outcome of Millimans doctoral research into the history of a disputed territory, the formation of new identities, the establishment of new traditions supplanting old ones, and collective memory; issues studied by others in different geographical contexts. The choice of timeframe for this work coincides with the final stages of the Christianisation of Prussia by the Teutonic Order and the establishment of the Order's headquarters in Marienburg (Polish: Malbork) in the wake of the Order's takeover of Pomerelia in 1308.
Milliman uses a variety of sources to provide the context for his examination of issues of memory and identity formation in the region, one which in name at least, ceased to be a frontier community with the formalisation of the conquest of Prussia. In the first three chapters of his book, Milliman charts the history of Pomerelia as a frontier, its place in the internal politics of Poland and the role of the Teutonic Order in the Christianisation of the region and their subsequent takeover of the subjugated territories. He provides the political context of the origins of the dispute between Poland and the Teutonic Order and the competing claims by the Polish Crown and the Teutonic Order to the new territories of Pomerelia, a dispute that the Poles took to the Vatican for resolution. Two separate trials were held in Pomerelia, one in 1320 and 1339, and both were held before papal legates.
Chapter 1 narrates Pomerelias emergence as a political entity separate from that of Western Pomerania and Prussia, and for a time independent of Poland. It is an interesting if complicated example of how local communities organise themselves when subjected to an overarching but distant supreme authority. Chapter 2 describes the complicated nature of Pomerelia s succession and the Treaty of K^pno (1282) which allowed succession of the territory by the Polish King Przemys! II and his successor Wladyslaw I Tokietek (the Short) and the emergence of the Teutonic Order as a key player in the region. Chapter 3 deals with the development of the conflict between the Polish Crown and the Order, when Poland demanded the restitution of Pomerelia and the leadership of the Order maintained its right to Pomerelias overlordship. Chapters 4 and 5 provide an examination of the key sources, the trial testimonies of 1320 and 1339. Milliman argues that their analysis demonstrates that the perceptions of those called to bear witness before the papal legates changed over the period of twenty years that had elapsed between the trials.
While dealing with the evidence, Milliman integrates analysis of aspects of memory and identity into his discussion. He focuses on collective memory and memory formation as the enabler of the construction of identity; identity which defined and in turn was defined by ones allegiance to one or other of the sovereign powers contesting the territory. The formation of collective memory expressing Pomerelias geopolitical place is examined on the basis of recollection, oblivion, interpretation, and distortion provided by the witnesses not only based on their own individual, traumatic experiences but their understanding of right and wrong, justice, and their profession and social status. Milliman demonstrates the processes by which Poland and the Teutonic Order overlordship of Pomerelia became perceived as possession by culturally, geographically, and politically exclusive entities.
Milliman avoids the tendency among some historians to treat the antagonism between Poland and the Order as the expression of primarily national differences between the 'Poles' and 'Germans' that has cast a long shadow on the complicated history of Pomerelia as a contested region. What impresses me is Milliman's reference to historians working in Poland and the integration of this scholarship into his own analysis. This is an interesting and thought-provoking study which places Pomerelia firmly on the map of global research as not just another peripheral region suddenly discovered by those writing in English but a legitimate subject of research for which sources are available universally in Latin.
DARIUS VON GUTTNER-SPORZYNSKI, The University of Melbourne
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|Author:||von Guttner-Sporzynski, Darius|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jul 1, 2014|
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