In the late 19th and early 20th century, intra-European student migration became a mass phenomenon. Students most commonly travelled from the Imperial Russian territories - where the higher education system was highly discriminatory towards national and ethnic minorities, women and political dissidents alike - to universities and technical schools in Switserland, Belgium, France and Germany. The internationally highly valued Belgian academic institutions, for example, attracted more than 2000 Polish students between 1890 and 1914.
This PhD project examines these Polish students and exiles in Belgium with two lines of inquiry in mind. First, I want to learn about their migration motives (push and pull) and main prosopographical attributes. Why did they decide to go abroad, why did they come to Belgium and how can they be characterized in terms of their origin, gender, age, academic record, etc.?
A second set of research questions goes beyond the classical student migration historiography and wants to explore these migrants' political activities. Making use of a broad range of archival sources - ego documents, correspondence of political parties and organisations,... in various languages incl. Polish - I will present case studies of Polish political activism in pre-war Belgium. Most notably, the dissertation will discuss the formation and development of the Belgian section of the Polish Socialist Party abroad and the (mostly left-wing and often affiliated) student and youth associations that were active in the main Belgian academic centres. Who were the protagonists, what were their self-declared political objectives and action forms - and ultimately, to what success? Finally, I also intend to study the Polish paramilitary groups that were operating on Belgian soil in 1912-1914.