Polish is spoken by almost 40 million people in Poland as well as by millions throughout a global diaspora of Poles in countries as diverse as Brazil, Australia, Germany, Russia, and the United States. The earliest organized Polish settlement in the United States was near San Antonio, in Panna Maria, Texas (1854), which actively preserves its heritage.
Over the span of more than a thousand years, Poland existed variously as multi-ethnic empire, a sovereign nation, and a national state of mind when its territory was occupied by foreign powers. Regardless of their political fortunes, Polish citizens have contributed mightily to world culture and science; consider, for example, the works of medieval astronomer Mikolaj Kopernik (‘Copernicus’), the two-time Nobel prize winning chemist/physicist Maria Sklodowska (‘Marie Curie’, who discovered radiation) and the composer Fryderyk Chopin. The twentieth century has added two Nobel prizes in literature in 16 years (Czeslaw Milosz and Wieslawa Szymborska). Polish poets, fiction writers, playwrights, filmmakers, visual artists, performers, and philosophers have made their mark on global culture from the Renaissance to the present day.
For centuries, Poland served as the diasporic home of the largest Jewish population in the world and the center of Yiddish culture (Warsaw was overtaken by New York as the home of the largest Jewish community in the world only in the twentieth century). The tragedy of the Holocaust played out to a large extent in Poland during the German Nazi occupation. There has been a resurgence of interest in Poland in the country’s Jewish heritage, and there are many museums, festivals, and research facilities devoted to the topic.
In addition to facilitating cultural, sociological, and political studies of this fascinating and complex nation, at once traditional and modern, a knowledge of Polish enhances your qualifications to pursue a career in the foreign service or other U.S. government positions; U.S.-Poland business relations; and development and exchange work in Central/Eastern Europe. A member of NATO and the European Union, Poland is in the mainstream of the latest political and economic developments in Europe.
These are courses taught in Polish that meet the Foreign Language requirement for graduation with a bachelor degree at Duke. Advanced Polish may be taught as an individual tutorial, depending on student demand.