Luxemburgische Zeitgeschichte Europäische Zeitgeschichte

Secondary school principals and liminality in Polish Upper Silesia (1919-1939)

Establishing and implementing rules that would teach young people to become active citizens became a crucial technique for turning those spots on the map of Europe whose sovereignty had shifted after World War I into lived social spaces. This article analyses how principals of borderland secondary schools negotiated transformation in Polish Upper Silesia with the help of Arnold Van Gennep’s notion that a shift in social statuses possessed a spatiality and temporality of its own. The article asks whether and how school principals were called on to offer elite training that would make Polish Upper Silesia more cohesive with the rest of Poland in terms of the social origins of pupils and the content of the history curriculum. In addition, it examines the extent to which borderland school principals accepted, refuted, or helped to shape that responsibility. The social origins of pupils are detected through a quantitative analysis of recruitment figures and the profiles of pupils’ parents. This analysis is combined with an exploration of how school principals provided a meaningful explanation of the recent past (World War I and the Silesian Uprisings). The article demonstrates that while school principals were historical actors with some room to make their own decisions when a liminal space was created, changed, and abolished, it was ultimately a priest operating in their shadows who possessed more possibilities to become a master of ceremonies leading elite education through its rites of passage.

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