The Department of History has established a visiting professorship in one of the cornerstones of Nebraska’s collective heritage: Czech history.
Vladimir Polach, vice-dean for infrastructure and professor of Czech language and literature at Palacky University in the Czech Republic, is the inaugural Frank A. Belousek Distinguished Scholar and Visiting Professor in the Department of History.
The professorship was established through an agreement with the Czech Republic Fulbright Commission to run a special competition for Czech scholars. The Belousek endowment supports teaching and research in Czech history and heritage.
Polach teaches a UNL class on Czech history and is busily gathering notes from Love Library’s Czech Heritage Collections. He has previously done research on the history of Czech culture and Czech migration in the 20th century.
Having access to the Love archives allows him to find some new narratives in the story of Czech immigration, he said.
“I have spent the last three weeks reading Czech immigrants’ newspapers and magazines from the 1870s through the 1940s,” Polach said. He’s also been reading letters, diaries, memories and other documents that illustrate why Nebraska and other Midwest states have strong Czech heritages.
“I think in many ways, Nebraska and the Midwest reminds one of the lowlands of Czech Republic, which is why so many may have settled here,” he said. “If one reads the letters from the 19th century, it is clear that many imigrants moved for instance into Texas. Some have stayed, but many wrote letters back home complaining it was too hot, so they traveled north.”
Stories like these from the archives will likely shape an April talk in Wilber, one of many Nebraska towns to celebrate its Czech heritage. The lecture, he said, will further illuminate that heritage for the audience by using materials from Love.
“My idea is to connect the speech in Wilber to the anniversary of the Second World War,” he said. “There were hundreds, maybe thousands of American soldiers of Czechoslovakian origin fighting in the war. And they were sending letters home and some of those were in the newspapers here.”
Polach’s first lecture is at the University of Nebraska at Omaha on Feb. 19. Other lectures will be on Feb. 26 at the University of Nebraska at Kearney; April 1 in UNL’s Dudley-Bailey Library (228 Andrews Hall); and April 14 in Nebraska Union’s Colonial Room.
William Thomas, John and Catherine Angle Professor in the Humanities and chair of the Department of History, said he hopes the visiting professorship will become an annual appointment.