We use cookies on this site to enhance your user experience. Do You agree?

History of the Faculty

The Faculty of History, which began functioning at the University of Warsaw on September 1, 2020, was created from the Historical Institute, which existed within the structure of the University for 90 years and began operating in the academic year 1930/1931 as a scientific and didactic unit, conducting interdisciplinary research on widely understood history and employing the best Polish specialists.


History of the Historical Institute

If someone would like to see one of the few historic interiors in left-bank Warsaw, which survived the war in almost unchanged condition, they should come to the building of the current the Faculty of History of the University of Warsaw.

The Classical Column Hall, as it is referred to here, was built in the first quarter of the 19th century as a museum of copies of great works of ancient art, used in the education of the then students of the University. It also housed the famous collection of plaster casts of King Stanislaw August Poniatowski, a museum of natural history and other collections gathered for academic purposes. Recently, after a long period of oblivion, the room was again made available to scientists and students for lectures and conferences, and again, as years before, it housed the same plaster casts from the royal collection. One could say that history has come full circle.

For over 75 years the fate of this beautiful hall and the historic Pomuzeal Building has been inseparably connected with the history of the Historical Institute (today’s the Faculty of History).

Historians moved in here in 1938. The Institute existed, however, for a longer time, because from the academic year 1930/1931, when the historical seminars previously operating independently were merged into a separate organizational unit of the university.

The founding father of the Historical Institute was Prof. Marceli Handelsman, who even before the end of World War I contributed to the establishment of the Historical Cabinet of the Warsaw Society, bringing together Warsaw history researchers, and in 1916 led to the creation of the Historical Seminar – already within the structures of the University of Warsaw, which was reborn in 1915. In 1916 he led the creation of the Historical Seminar – already within the structures of the University of Warsaw, which was reborn in 1915. Marceli Handelsman himself had studied at the Faculty of Law of the Imperial University of Warsaw, a Russian university established in 1869 to replace the Main School, which had been dissolved as a result of post-insurrection repressions.

The year 1916 and the establishment of the Historical Seminar became a turning point in the history of the Warsaw school of history. From that moment on, as the number of students increased and the number of professors strengthened, more and more chairs of history were created within the University of Warsaw, and in 1931 they were finally merged into a whole, preserving the considerable autonomy of individual chairs.

The newly established Historical Institute became a part of the existing since 1927 Faculty of Humanities of the University, but it did not have its own seat, occupying a part of the seminary building (currently the building of the Faculty of Law and Administration). The Institute at that time included the following seminars:


  • The Seminar of Ancient History, headed by Prof. Tadeusz Walek-Czernecki,
  • The Seminar of the History of Poland of the Middle Ages, headed by Prof. Jan Karol Kochanowski,
  • The Seminar of Modern Polish History – Prof. Wacław Tokarz,
  • The Seminar of General History – Prof. Marceli Handelsman,
  • The Seminar of Eastern European History – Prof. Oskar Halecki,
  • The Seminar of Ukrainian History – Prof. Myron Korduba,
  • The Seminar of Economic and Social History and Historical Geography – Prof. Stanisław Arnold.


Prof. Marceli Handelsman became the administrative head of the Institute. Relocation to a new building, the appearance of many young, talented researchers and the solidification of organizational structures gave hope for rapid development of research and teaching at the Historical Institute.

These plans were interrupted by the outbreak of war. Professors tried to continue teaching in the underground. The study of history was conducted in the underground from 1940 until the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising and at its peak had 90 students and 12 lecturers. The war took a heavy toll on people connected with IH. Many students and a significant part of the faculty died during the occupation and the Warsaw Uprising, some were sent to prisoner of war and concentration camps (Prof. Marceli Handelsman died in a camp), some remained in exile, and during the war the work of many researchers was irretrievably destroyed.

Nevertheless, in the ruined post-war Warsaw, the Institute was quickly reborn. Fortunately, the Institute’s headquarters survived the war only slightly damaged, so already in 1945 it was possible to admit the first students. In the academic year 1945/1946 there were already 150 students, studying at 7 history seminars. However, the first years had to be devoted to the reconstruction of both the staff resources and the didactic base, starting from the furnishing of the stripped interiors to the reconstruction of the collections of the partially destroyed library. The Institute was guided through this difficult period, not only in material terms, but also due to political pressure, by Prof. Tadeusz Manteuffel, whose closest collaborator was a young assistant professor, Aleksander Gieysztor. Prof. Manteuffel tried to renew contacts with researchers from Western European centers, especially France, which had been interrupted by the war.

Until 1950, the Institute managed to maintain its pre-war structure and to implement an original and modern teaching programme. In that year, under pressure from the authorities, changes were made to divide the Faculty of Humanities into three departments:


  • Philosophical and Social,
  • Historical
  • Philology.


The Historical Faculty consisted of:

  • Historical Institute (which at that time numbered 11 departments),
  • Group of Art History Faculties,
  • Institute of Papirology,
  • Institute of Archeology
  • Institute of Musicology.

The organizational changes (a system of three-year humanistic studies and one and a half year long master’s studies, replacement of the doctor’s degree with the title of candidate of sciences), aimed at making the structures of academic life more similar to the Soviet model, were followed by curricular changes as well (introduction of the so-called ideological subjects, removal of auxiliary sciences of history; limiting the possibility of individual choice of classes). These served to exert stronger ideological control over the content taught and to limit the freedom of work of both lecturers and students. For several years the authorities completely prevented visits to foreign research centers and largely restricted the exchange of publications.

In 1955 the management of the Institute was taken over by Prof. Aleksander Gieysztor, who headed it until 1975.

It was here, in 1966, that a meeting took place in room 17 between students and Leszek Kołakowski, which ended with his expulsion from the Polish United Workers’ Party and was one of the important events leading up to the students’ March of 1968.

In the following years, one of the goals of the IH authorities was to protect its substance from repressive actions by the authorities – not an easy task given the political pressure on the one hand, and the involvement of many staff and students in opposition activities on the other.

In 1975 Aleksander Gieysztor handed over the management of IH to Prof. Henryk Samsonowicz, who was succeeded by Prof. Antoni Mączak after his election as rector of the University in 1980.

The years 1980 and 1981 were the time of political and civic initiation for many IH students and staff, the time of student strikes which became an important generational experience for young historians.

Since the breakthrough year 1989, into which the IH was ushered by the then director Prof. Juliusz Łukasiewicz (1987-1993), through the terms of Prof. Bronisław Nowak (1993-2002), Prof. Michał Tymowski (2002-2008), Prof. Maria Koczerska (2008-2012), Prof. Dariusz Kołodziejczyk (2012-2016) and Dr. Łukasz Niesiołowski-Spano (2016-2020), the Institute has undergone great changes. The number of students has increased, the organization (two-degree studies) and curricula have changed, previously unknown opportunities for international exchange at both student and faculty levels have opened up, new research topics and new methodological proposals have emerged, and finally a whole new generation of students has grown up, living in a world of fast and ubiquitous digital media rather than fiches and yellowed notes.

However, those who remember the IH from the times when laboratory mice ran around it, escaped from cages belonging to the Faculty of Biology, which today occupies the Faculty of Ancient History, and those who do not remember even the not too distant era when the glass library building was replaced by an old carpenter’s shop, may share the feeling of belonging to a place with history.