Interview: 80 Years of Polish American Studies

This year is Polish American Studies eightieth anniversary volume year. Visit the Scholarly Publishing Collective to read Volume 80, Issue 2; listen to The UPside podcast episode with the journal’s editor; or read the interview below. 

University of Illinois Press (UIP): I’m excited to present our interview recognizing the eightieth volume year of the journal Polish American Studies. We’ll be discussing the journal’s history, current and notable content, the discipline of Polish diaspora studies, and what the journal seeks in future submissions. 

I’m joined today by our special guest Anna Jaroszynska-Kirchmann, the editor of Polish American Studies.  

Anna Jaroszynska-Kirchmann (AJK): Hello and thank you for having me. 

UIP: I think it would be helpful for me to give a bit of background on the journal for our listeners in case you’re joining us for the first time.  

Polish American Studies is the Polish American Historical Association’s Interdisciplinary double-blind peer reviewed scholarly journal. As you’ll hear about today, the editor, Anna welcomes scholarship including articles, edited documents, and related materials with all the aspects of the history and culture of Poles in the Western Hemisphere. Particularly welcome are contributions that provide perspective as a part of the larger Polish diaspora and examine its relationships to other ethnic groups. Contributions from any discipline in the humanities and social sciences are welcome. Before we get started. I also wanted to make sure to announce that the latest issue—Volume 80, Issue 2—is available now, online and in print. For information on how to access or subscribe, visit us online at  

Alright, now back to Anna. Thank you so much for chatting with us on The UPside. To begin, could you introduce yourself and share a bit about your background? 

AJK: Sure, I was born in Poland in the beautiful city of Lublin, and that’s where I grew up. I earned my master’s degree in history at the Maria Curie Sklodowska University. I happened to be a student there during the eventful and exciting times of the birth of the Solidarity movement in Poland, subsequent strikes, including the student strike in the fall of 1981, and martial law. In 1984, the martial law was lifted and I also defended my master’s thesis, and was offered a job as an assistant professor in the history department. It was shortly after that, after the lifting of martial law, that my university decided to again pick up scholarly exchanges in cooperation with the West that were impossible before. As part of it, a group of the University of Minnesota students came to Lublin for a kind of a summer program during which they learned about Polish history, language, and culture, and I was asked to teach them history—and that’s how I met my future husband! So, after a period of long-distance dating, we got married in Lublin in 1988 and I came to the US and entered a PhD program at the University of Minnesota. 

I needed to put myself through graduate school. So, for a few years I worked as a research assistant at the Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota, and there I had a chance to get familiar with, at that point, very dynamically growing area of immigration and ethnic history, especially that my mentor and dissertation advisor was Professor Rudolph Vecoli, one of the founding fathers of this discipline.  

This is how I got interested in Polish American history, which became a topic of my PhD dissertation, which I defended in 1997. Specifically, I wrote about interactions between Polish post-war refugees and more established Polish American communities in the United States. After defending my dissertation, I got a job in Connecticut. I moved to Connecticut and since then, I’ve been a professor of history at Eastern Connecticut State University. So that makes it about, what, 25 years or so.  

UIP: We’d also love to hear about how you initially became involved with Polish American Studies! 

AJK: Well, I became the editor in chief of Polish American Studies in January 2015, when Professor James Pula, who held that position for 33 years, decided to retire. By that time, I was already an active member of the Polish American Historical Association (PAHA), which publishes the journal. I joined PAHA in the early 1990s, and gradually increased my involvement from the Third Vice President to Second Vice President, First Vice President, finally President of PAHA, and that was during my tenure as president of PAHA that we started to move towards the greater digital presence, including cooperation with the first Cooperative and JSTOR, and then joining up with the University of Illinois Press in 2012.  

So, it almost felt that because I was involved in all those efforts, continuing as an editor was the next logical step. And I need to say right away that I was extremely lucky and very honored to be joined by Professor Mary Patrice Erdmans, also a former PAHA president and an eminent sociologist, as Book Reviews Editor, and Professor Anna Mazurkiewicz, by now also a former PAHA president, from Gdansk University in Poland, as Book Reviews Editor for Poland. We formed an all-female team for the first time in the journal’s history, and it works great! 

UIP: Wow! That’s a great fun fact there, too, to add into the history. As you write in the editorial note in Volume 30, Issue 1, the first volume of the journal was published in 1944 and, of course, a lot has changed since. Can you give us a little more historical background on how the journal—and even the wider discipline of Polish diaspora studies—has evolved in the last eighty years? 

Anna: It’s a good question. As you mentioned during the introduction, Polish American Studies is a journal of Polish American Historical Association, and PAHA has a very interesting history. After World War II broke out in September 1939 in Europe, a group of Polish scientists and scholars were lucky enough to make it to the US as refugees. In 1942 they formed the Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences in America (PIASA for short). That was a professional scholarly organization designed to continue their work and represent Polish culture while Poland was occupied by Germany in the west and Soviet Union in the east during the war.  

One of the commissions in PIASA focused on the history of the Polish diaspora and by 1944 that commission became an independent organization, PAHA (Polish American Historical Association), and immediately started to publish its own scholarly journal: Polish American Studies. Within the next few years PAHA joined the American Historical Association as an affiliated society. The membership started to grow, and as that independent entity (now scholarly entity), it continued for the next 80 years. 

UIP: What an amazing origin story. As you’ve now served as editor for the last nine years, what have you been focused on during your term? Have you overseen any landmark moments for Polish American Studies? 

AJK: You know, both the discipline of diaspora studies in general and the journal indeed changed quite a bit over the years. In some ways the journal at the same time witnessed that change and reflected that change as well as led that change.  

Being historians, we have actually recorded the history and development of both PAHA and the journal over the years. So, for example, in 2018, Professor James Pula, my predecessor in the position of PAS editor, edited a special publication celebrating PAHA’s 75th anniversary—this was 5 years ago. This publication includes articles by Professor John Bukowczyk and myself on the history of Polish American Studies the journal.  

Later on, we published a special issue, which featured review articles that were to comment on Polish American Studies contributions through various fields, for example: labor and working class, gender and families, literature, Polonia’s organizational history, and scholarly connections to migration scholarship in Europe and Poland, and so on. So, we have a long and, may I add, a proud history of both the organization and the journal, and both histories are by now pretty well documented, because they so much intersect. 

But I would say to answer your question, in general, the journal is always changing along with the discipline of immigration and ethnic history. It kind of follows its trajectory from the focus on social history and history of ethnic communities to a more diasporic lens: gender, religion, new immigrant waves, and legal and political frameworks.  

This is a good point in our conversation to once again remind the readers of our mission, although you already mentioned it at the beginning. Our mission states that we focus on all aspects of the history and culture of Poles in the Western hemisphere. But we’re also trying to place the Polish experience in the in the broader context of the larger Polish diaspora. And we want to examine its relationships to other ethnic groups. We are a multi-disciplinary journal. So, in addition to historical research, which, let’s be honest, dominates our content, we are also interested in broadly defined cultural studies, sociology, art, and literary studies. I hope that answers your question, more or less.  

UIP: Yeah, it does. Thank you. It’s so great to hear about all that rich history and I wanted to build off that and hear about your experiences as editor. Could you share some of the challenges you face as editor and some of the highlights as well? 

AJK: Oh, the editorial challenges. That’s a good question. I think my challenges are actually similar to those of many editors of smaller scholarly journals. Every year we meet at the AHA conference (American Historical Association’s conference) and have an opportunity to exchange and share our experiences, which is very helpful. It is called Editor’s Breakfast, and it’s sponsored by the AHA and Oxford Publishers. The conversations during those meetings often revolve around common topics: how do we proceed without paid positions, with inadequate staff support, with book reviews harder and harder to come by—because that’s a service activity for a lot of people—and lately, an issue of OA or Open Access, which is widely adopted in Europe and is making inroads in the US gained a lot of attention, and was the topic of a lot of discussions. And I can’t even wrap my head around the future impact of AI! And I’m pretty sure that during the Editor’s meeting at the AHA in San Francisco in January 2024, that might be actually one of the main topics. 

So, there are challenges, but there are also so many bright sides. I want to emphasize that. They range from one of my favorite parts of the job which is finding illustrations for the cover (I really like doing that), to the work with the less experienced authors, mentoring them, and seeing how they grow, how they develop in their scholarly pursuits. Because this is very, very satisfying to me.  

UIP: We also definitely want to give you a chance to call attention to the specific content in the journal. Do you have any articles or issues of Polish American Studies that stand out as particularly important or influential? 

AJK: Well, I need to mention here that the Board of Editors of Polish American Studies awards annually the Joseph Swastek Prize for the best article published during the previous year in a given volume of the journal. This award was established in 1981 in honor of Reverend Joseph V. Swastek (1913-1977), who was a longtime editor of Polish American Studies, and a past president of PAHA. The Swastek-awarded articles are the ones that always stand out, they are the best of the best. They’ve been selected by the Board of Editors, but I must admit that often members of the editorial board note how difficult it is to choose one out of many important articles in the journal. 

UIP: Yeah, I definitely wouldn’t want to have that task of making those decisions and choices on that. Looking through issues of Polish American Studies, it seems that it’s relatively common for authors to publish in the journal more than once. Do you have any insight about what the journal means to the academic community? 

AJK: Thank you for this question. That’s actually an excellent question. The journal is an extension of PAHA, which is an intellectual home for many scholars, me included, not only in the US and in Poland, but all over the world. A lot of article submissions come from the PAHA conferences which, as I said, are organized annually in conjunction with the American Historical Association, because we’re an affiliated society. So, you are absolutely right, there is a network of migration scholars who find in PAHA and in PAS their community which includes both advanced researchers and accomplished authors and students just starting their journey and looking for feedback. So, that’s what draws them to Polish American Studies.  

UIP: In general, would you say those authors tend to continue to pursue similar themes across their publications, or start new lines of inquiry?  

AJK: Probably both. Sometimes the journal provides the authors a forum where they find each other, realize that they work on common themes, start collaborating. In other cases, an innovative article—innovative methodology—can spark new interest, a new line of inquiry. But Polish American Studies is definitely the place, the meeting place of that network of scholars. 

UIP: Yeah, and speaking of PAHA: Are there any other projects or events that you think listeners might be interested in? And is there a way for anyone interested to become involved in the organization

AJK: Absolutely! Let me quickly mention very quickly three recent projects: For example, the 2022 publication of a new book Footprints of Polonia: Polish Historical Sites Across North America, which was edited by Ewa Barczyk, and it consists of many entries submitted by PAHA members and journal subscribers all over the country. So, we have beyond that network that I just mentioned of scholars and students, we have also the network of people who are simply really interested in Polish American history and its preservation.  

Another ongoing project is a blog, “Objects that Speak,” which features essays authored by our members on their memories and identity, sparked by particular physical objects. It’s really, really fascinating.  

Finally, PAHA initiated a memoirs project which seeks to collect, preserve, and eventually make accessible for research both published and unpublished first-person recollections about migration experiences and ethnic identity. Again, beyond scholars producing scholarships, students interested in that discipline for their future careers, we also extend our work to the general reading public that might be attracted to that field of study.  

How can you become a PAHA member? Well, you can go to the website of the University of Illinois Press. There is a membership subscription button. Membership in PAHA is connected to subscription, which means if you become a member of Polish American Historical Association, you automatically are also subscriber to our journal. 

UIP: Great, thank you. Lots of great resources there for our readers to check out.  

Moving back to the journal, what are you looking for in future submissions? Are there certain areas of scholarship that you think need more attention? Or are there any trends in the field or up-and-coming focus areas that are relevant to the journal? 

AJK: Recently, some of the most popular issues of PAS are always so-called thematic issues, where several articles refer to the similar or related topic. And we had a few of those thematic issues lately, for example special issues on the Cold War, on Greenpoint, on Hamtramck—both traditionally Polish communities in the process of change. And we also had special issues devoted to a prominent Polonia political family, to particular scholars, such as Victor Greene and James Pula

And—spoiler alert!—we are in the process of planning more special issues, for example on Polish American foodways, that one will be coming in the spring. I hope I’m not revealing too much and spoiling the surprise! There will be another one on Polonia in western United States, a less explored topic, and another one on border studies that will come in the future. So, these are all new and understudied themes, calling for new methodologies, new outlooks. So, we are very excited about those plans. 

UIP: So, looking past Volume 80, along with what you’ve already told us, do you have any goals for future volumes or the journal in general? 

AJK: The main goal is to continue our strong presence within the discipline and being a welcoming and stimulating environment for the scholarly community. We want to be a leader, but we also want to hear from our authors and readers about the topics they are working on and are interested in.  

We definitely want to continue our international collaborations and comparative focus.  

We want to expand the new VARIA section of the journal. That’s a new thing that I introduced. The VARIA section is devoted to showcasing archival collections, research opportunities, as well as digital, oral, and public history projects.  

And we really want to make sure that our book reviews section serves our readers well, providing information on the latest publications and identifying the newest directions in the field.  The book reviews section is really, really important. 

UIP: Thank you, Anna. It’s been so great hearing about all the history of the journal and of PAHA, and the relationship there, and how the journals change and the new things you’re implementing. I wanted to end by talking about how you feel your work as a journal editor has influenced your work as a scholar.  

AJK: Good question. I must say that I never expected that an editor’s work would be so stimulating and inspirational. Collaboration with scholars from all over the world, contact with editors of other journals, mentoring new authors—it all really enriches one’s intellectual life, and it definitely enriched mine.  

I guess I learned to be more patient and more open minded, and to be critical, but in a supportive way. Don’t get me wrong, being an editor is hard. It’s simply hard, takes a lot of time, a lot of commitment, and sometimes makes one face some really difficult decisions. But it is all worth it in the end when you hold in your hand a new issue—it or, nowadays I should say when you see the new issue on the screen, right? 

So, one of the most rewarding aspects for me as an editor, as a scholar, and as a person, has been the collaboration with Mary Erdmans and Anna Mazurkiewicz, the two book editors. When I say we are a team, I really mean it. The journal is indeed a team effort. And our editorial board is fantastic. When some other journal editors during those editorial breakfasts at the AHA complain about difficulties getting reviewers for article submissions or for books—my board members can always be counted on, and they always do a great job, give important feedback to the authors and a professional service like this must be appreciated and recognized, and it rarely is. 

UIP: Do you have any upcoming or recent projects that you could tell us about? 

AJK: Oh, my own projects? Sure! I have been very busy recently working on an extensive project with Jim Pula, which is a collection of edited primary sources for the history of Polish Americans in the United States from 1608 to 2020, and we are right now in the final stages of it, and the volume should appear with Routledge by the end of November. So very, very soon. And next year the translation of it will come out in Polish with a Polish publisher. So that’s one project. 

My other project, also quite advanced, is a book on Polish American foodways, which has been just a delight. It was exciting. It is really getting my creative juices going, and, as you can imagine, it is a delicious topic to research! 

UIP: Sounds like it’ll be a good tie in for that upcoming issue as well. Once again, we wanted to thank you for participating in this podcast, it’s been such a pleasure to talk with you today.  

AJK: Thank you so much for having me. I must admit, 80 volumes of Polish American Studies—it is a proud moment! 

UIP: Yes, we love Polish American Studies and we’re just so honored to celebrate this milestone with you! And a big thanks also to you, our readers, for joining us today in celebration of the 80th volume year of Polish American Studies. To learn more about the journal visit  

For further reading, the University of Illinois Press is also the publisher of The Polish Review.  You can view these journals and more at

About Kristina Stonehill