Department of Russian and Slavonic Studies honoured with Polonicum Prize

Trinity’s Department of Russian and Slavonic Studies was presented with the 2018 Polonicum Prize at a ceremony in Warsaw last night. The prize is awarded for outstanding achievements in promoting the Polish language, culture and history outside Poland.

The award, which was announced at a ceremony in the ballroom of the Tyszkiewicze-Potoccy Palace, is a remarkable tribute to the achievements of a very small unit within Trinity’s School of Languages, Literatures and Cultural Studies. The award is administered by the Centre of Polish Language and Culture for Foreigners at the University of Warsaw and promotes the culture of Poland abroad, in the fields of language, literature, culture, history and art. The department was nominated for the Polonicum award by the Polish Embassy in Dublin.

Pictured with Dr Sarah Smyth, Trinity and Prof. Wladyslaw Miodunka, Jagiellonian University (seated in the front) were (L-R) Her Excellency Emer O’Connell, Irish Ambassador in Warsaw; Dr Agnieszka Rabiej, Jagiellonian University; Kamila Dembinska, Polish National Agency for Academic Exchange, Dr Joanna Rzepa, Trinity; Dr Barry Keane, University of Warsaw; and James Kilcourse, Irish Embassy in Warsaw.

Commenting on the award, Head of Russian and Slavonic Studies Assistant Professor Sarah Smyth said the department was honoured to receive the award on behalf of Trinity and all those who have made the department what it is today.

“As a small country in a big world, Ireland has always been connected to bigger spaces, through emigration, trade and cultural influence. Trinity has always positioned itself as a university which educates citizens with a strong sense of the place that nurtured them, and a connection to other places which they help to fashion and which fashion them. Trinity staff and students form a vital strand in connecting the local and the global, in promoting mutual understanding between cultures.”

“Trinity is proud to have played — and to continue playing — its part in bridging the gap between cultures, in seeing things from other people’s perspectives. This requires knowledge and understanding anchored in scholarship, on the one hand, but it also requires a real effort of imagination. It is not enough to read the statistics or even the history books when trying to understand other people. We also need to know how they think, why they laugh, what they dream. The study of a people’s language and culture connects us to their stories, their values, their hopes and dreams, their memories.”

“Trinity’s legacy in promoting cross-cultural understanding— through the work of its academic departments and associated research centres — is to my mind one of its proudest and most worthwhile legacies. In receiving this award we are receiving an award not only on behalf of the Department, but on behalf of the university which, despite changing financial and political times, has remained steadfast in its commitment to and support of our efforts.”

Prof. Zbigniew Gren, Dean of Polish Studies, University of Warsaw; Prof. Marcin Palys, Rector of the University of Warsaw; Dr Sarah Smyth, Trinity; Dr Joanna Rzepa, Trinity; Prof. Grzegorz Leszczylski, Director of the Polonicum Center, University of Warsaw.

Dr Smyth also spoke about the history of the teaching and learning of Polish language and culture in Trinity. She described how the Department of Russian and Slavonic Studies started life as the Department of Russian, which was a post-war initiative, dating back to the late 1940s. The teaching of Polish language and culture began in the mid 80s. In the wake of the monumental geopolitical changes of the late 80s and 90s the department focused on augmenting its Polish language teaching and also began offering modules on other Central European languages. It was at that point the department changed its name to better reflect its ambition and became the Department of Russian and Slavonic Studies.

Looking to the future Dr Smyth considered the challenges and opportunities posed by Ireland’s multi-national population:

“Over the past 10-15 years Ireland has become a multi-lingual and multi-cultural space. It is slowly wrestling with the challenges posed by the presence of significant populations whose first language is a language other than English. Earlier this year the Department of Education and Skills in Ireland published its first ever national languages strategy. This strategy addresses the need to equip migrants and their families with sufficient English language skills for them to be able to participate in Irish civil society and the need to provide support for those who wish to maintain the language of their country of origin.”

“Many of Ireland’s migrants’ life journeys originated in Eastern and Central Europe. This adds a whole other dimension to the department’s potential outreach activities. It is probably time for us to consider our place in Ireland’s educational landscape once more. Though from my point of view, that will be the work of the next generation of specialists in Slavonic languages, literatures and cultures. It is my hope that that next generation are given the support that the department has enjoyed to date and that in years to come we celebrate their legacy.”

The Polonicum Prize was established in 2006 and is under the patronage of the Marshal of the Senate of the Republic of Poland. The award is conferred during ceremonies celebrating the founding of the University of Warsaw in November of each year. The judging committee includes the Rector of the University of Warsaw, the Minister of Culture and National Heritage, the Minister of Higher Education, the Director of the National Library, and the Director of the Polonicum Centre.  Previous laureates include Polish and Slavonic Studies scholars and departments at the Universities of Pittsburgh, Leipzig, Wisconsin-Madison, Milan, Moscow, Beijing and Seoul.

Full details of the award are available here – http://polonicum.uw.edu.pl/en/the-polonicum-award#On_the_Award.

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Fiona Tyrrell, Press Officer for the Faculty of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences | tyrrellf@tcd.ie | +353 1 896 3551