Performing their own Early Middle Ages: The festivalization and democratization of history in Wolin, Poland

Keywords: public history, democratization of history, re-enactment, Poland, Wolin


Based on an ethnographical study on the Slavs and Vikings’ Festival—a re-enactment fair organized annually in Wolin (Poland)—I analyze the differences between the re-enactment festival and the former local representations of the early-medieval heritage of the town. Wolin is a place where medieval legends of Jomsborg and Vineta were converted to archaeological discourses, as well as subordinated to the national politics of memory. After the post-socialist transformation, processes of commercialization and festivalization of Wolin’s past began. Basing on my fieldwork, I argue that these processes have allowed the residents of Wolin to play an active and creative role in the local public history. As a performance simultaneously taking place on numerous “stages”, the festival was more inclusive than the former representations of heritage, as it might be shaped by a number of agents. The participant observation of four such stages, namely music, cuisine, crafts, and a cultural program for children, enable me to argue that the democratization of the local public history in Wolin was possible owing to the multiple forms of expression stemming from the new, affective paradigm of historical representation, in which an encounter with the past is, first and foremost, a sensual experience.

Author Biography

Rafał Rukat, Polish Academy of Sciences

mgr Rafał Rukat – cultural anthropologist and ethnologist in the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology, Polish Academy of Sciences. Interested in representations of history in contemporary culture. His recent ethnographical fieldwork on reenactment festivals in Poland focuses on constructing of sites of memory by reenactors, tourists and local communities.