Reading Kultura From a Distance

Kultura was a monthly journal based in Paris, which ran from 1947-2000. It is hard to overstate its importance in Polish postwar culture: every major writer, essayist, journalist, and poet who lived in emigration during this period aspired to publish in its pages. After the mid-1950s, it became known to readers in Poland as well, and included many writers from socialist-era Poland who published anonymously or pseudonymously at first, then more openly as censorship eased. During the martial law crisis of the early 1980s, Kultura took on an even greater importance, as it was the chief tamizdat (émigré publishing) venue for free expression for Polish-language writers.

The story of Kultura’s chief editor, Jerzy Giedroyc, and famous contributors such as Czesław Miłosz, Witold Gombrowicz, Ryszard Kapuściński, and Gustaw Herling-Grudziński, has been well documented in Polish literary and cultural history. Many poems, essays and short fiction that are now canonized in Polish letters were first published in Kultura.

This database and visualization project tells a more expansive story, largely about the dissemination and reception of this journal around the globe in different émigré communities. The maps show three concentric rings of participation among diaspora Poles:

  • Authors, featured as contributors to the journal;

  • Letter Writers, who send in short responses to the articles;

  • Funders, who sent in small donations to support the journal, and eventually for political causes in Poland itself.

Over the years 2010-2015, a small research team based at Ohio State University assembled a comprehensive database of the geolocations for these different groups. In the case of the authors, deeper biographical and literary historical research was necessary, as the journal does not often record where its contributors are writing from. Letter Writers and Funders were easier to trace, but noticeably more numerous -- especially as the drive to use Kultura as a medium of engagement with Polish politics grew.

We hope that this new way of reading the legendary journal Kultura at more of a distance than it has been seen before will challenge the conventional view of the Polish diaspora as bifurcated into an exclusive, elite intelligentsia and conservative, nationalist enclaves. These maps, particularly those of Kultura's funders, show a more fluid relationship between the emigre centers of cultural production and wider diasporic migration. Future studies of this and other Cold War emigre journals should investigate those connections in more depth, as well as links between and among journals on both sides of the Iron Curtain.


Jessie Labov (project director); Rebecca Dulemba, Patricja Pawlowska, Ewa Zegler-Poleska (researchers); Adam Pruss, Taylor Beale (GIS specialists)