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(PhD) Marta Kulczynska: One of the conditions for dealing with knowledge is tremendous humility

PhD Marta Kulczynska, by education a philologist, lawyer, musician, has been conducting research on the literature of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland from the second half of the 19th century in conjunction with international law for over 20 years. In addition, her main professional role involves preparing German studies students for bachelor’s exams. In 2023, she was appointed an international examiner (AQA, United Kingdom) in German/Polish language at GCSE and A-level in London, UK, and became a member of the Polish-German University Society in Berlin. She collaborates with independent educational institutions, including English universities. For 8 years, she worked as a visiting scholar abroad (at the University of Vienna, University of Paris, and in Berlin).

The article is part of a series of Coopercnius conversations with Polish scientists with foreign scientific backgrounds.

How did your journey into academia begin?

In my life, academia has never been and is not an adventure. Knowledge has always been and will be the key to power and development in every aspect of life. I grew up in an environment where learning and knowledge were valued (family of teachers, scholars, and researchers). I learned to read very quickly. I believe I was born with a research intuition. Books and academic resources in school, then at universities, always piqued my curiosity. Additionally, I was a child who always interacted with adults, rarely with peers, and I was never interested in playing with dolls (I preferred building structures with blocks). Instead, as a young girl, I engaged in philosophical discussions with adults.

What factors led you to decide to move abroad? What were the biggest challenges associated with this decision?

I lived abroad as a child, so I never felt and still don’t feel a difference; I don’t know or understand what it means to leave one’s country. I feel the same everywhere. Life abroad is part of my life; I grew up in it, and I never felt like I was leaving Poland, for example. I’ve always been in several countries at once – as a child, a teenager, a student, a researcher. The only thing worth noting is the pros and cons of systems (abroad) for society because the quality of people’s lives depends on it. Nevertheless, where I am currently depends on my work and, above all, on scientific research. They have determined my career path. I also know that this is my calling, not a decision considered by the university. Many circumstances have changed dramatically, so I am sure it is destiny; a higher power has always been at work here (extraordinary circumstances).

What benefits does your work in the international academic environment bring compared to working in Poland?

The academic environment in Poland is not familiar to me because, although I initially studied in Poland, my professors were German-speaking individuals, professors from Germany, Austria, Switzerland. I cannot assess the academic environment in Poland; it would be unfair, so I asked not to have my research evaluated by Poles – they are not able to do so because they lack knowledge obtained from sources. Every wise professor from Poland often wrote to me – “this exceeds my competencies for a proper assessment.” It is worth adding that science is extensive and demanding, and an academic title does not authorize one to claim authority in all matters and in every scientific discipline. An ophthalmologist cannot operate on the intestine, etc. Similarly, a Professor of Art cannot speak on foreign literature, especially if they do not know foreign languages (sic!). In Poland, often “opinion” matters rather than content and validity, as well as the utilization of research – which is, of course, absurd, not reliable knowledge based on facts. Polish universities “produce literature” that serves no one, contributes nothing, and is of no use to Poland or the world. Research grants in Poland are awarded to colleagues, without any real merits. The country is steeped in constant disputes, chaos, and people are envious of each other. That’s the impression I get. If I am wrong, please correct me.

The international environment allows for obtaining many different opinions from related researchers who actually conduct scientific research. In our circles, the question of what my research will contribute to people, what impact it will have on society, what will change, what society can gain from me is always important. This is lacking in Poland. Science becomes a business. I am convinced that intelligence does not determine one’s wealth, but it can greatly increase it through developed abilities. We have more new technologies – they force us to change immediately, whereas in Poland, certain structures or innovations are implemented with significant delays, and people are reluctant to use them (older people call it “pathology”;-)). Resistance to change is a very negative phenomenon in Poland.

Do you maintain contact with Polish academic circles?

Currently, very little, because I pursue the scope of my scientific research from other sources. However, if they are people from my academic circle abroad – then certainly, we meet at seminars, conferences, or events at embassies.

What are you currently working on, and what is the main focus of your scientific research?

Below I present the scope of scientific research:

  • Literature of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland – in the second half of the 19th century
  • Bertha von Sutter, her literary and programmatic vision for the development of peace ideas (institutions, education, political and judicial environments, etc.)
  • Alfred Nobel and his Nobel Prize
  • Reforms of international schools – peace concepts for interpersonal relations (Bertha von Suttner)
  • Education in German-speaking schools (Germany, Austria, Switzerland) / currently also: Nordic countries and the UK
  • Organization of content for online textbooks for academic youth (literature)
  • Internationalization of higher education
  • International law

In addition to this, I am fascinated by the piano and the divine manifestations of intervention in human works expressed through music and musical texts in literature.

What are the latest achievements in your research field that particularly interest you?

In 2012, a fragment of a speech by Bertha von Suttner from the 19th century was found, which I edited with the guidance of Austrian scholars. I translated her first words spoken into a phonograph into Polish. At that time, technology was still developing, so this discovery shows us the world from a previous era in a real way. I felt like I met my heroine, who was immortalized on tape, not just from a book description. An incredible encounter!

What is your most important scientific achievement or discovery? Why is it important?

For 20 years, my scientific research has focused on Bertha von Suttner. I traversed the continent far and wide – searching for materials about her life. I managed to reach sources unknown to anyone else! I will be the first person to edit and describe her scientific readings – today we call such situations “summits” or “conferences.” It is worth noting that women did not have open doors to education at that time. The way she promoted her thoughts to the public is astonishing, always gathering crowds of interested people around her.

The greatest surprise (scientific discovery) for me during the implementation of the chosen topic was… Bertha von Suttner’s friendship with Alfred Nobel. Both of them pursued the same goals in their concepts, both emphasized the need to stop wars, but using different means:

  • Bertha von Suttner wanted to constantly educate, instruct, and explain.
  • Alfred Nobel aimed to create a weapon that would forever deter humanity from resorting to arms to kill.

The friendship that was initially motivated by financial necessity for Baroness Suttner turned into her greatest asset because she secured funding for her ideas – today we would say she received funding for scientific research – from Mr. Nobel, and after his death, as the first woman – a pacifist – she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

I think in Poland, these matters are scarcely known or not at all. The topics outlined by me are important, universally relevant, and demand attention in today’s world, devoid of values, because such a state based on chaos, destruction, and the audacity of power always leads to downfall (of people, systems, beliefs, states). People need to be constantly reminded of the calamity of war, otherwise they will forget about those who perished, and the fate of humanity will become worse than previous generations.

Professors sentenced to death during World War II (e.g., Stanisław Estreicher) pointed out – “colleagues, do not let our death be in vain.” This motto, though spoken later, constantly reminds us to promote peace values from the ground up.

It is impossible to unambiguously determine the importance of scientific discoveries – in accordance with Alfred Nobel’s motto – working for the benefit of changing and advancing humanity.

What are the most pressing scientific problems in your field, and why do you expect them?

In the next stages of research, I would like to read the remaining documents related to Bertha von Suttner in French, in other languages (there are nearly 1 million unread messages in the archives, I believe), to gain a broader view of my Case. Unfortunately, they are very old and very damaged, illegible, written in dried ink with a bird feather. I wonder if someone in the future will create a computer/machine to translate such old writings, I am sure it is possible, but it will certainly cost a lot of money. It would be an achievement on the scale of the Nobel Prize.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your scientific work?

Currently, I am forced to combine scientific work with earning a living, which I like, but it bothers me a bit. I would prefer to focus solely on scientific research or to share it with scholars and students. I realize, however, that this is elite research. The main problem of obtaining specific resources is the obstruction of access to sources by the state authorities (German-speaking) under the pretext of – lack of server activity in the library, closing of archives, libraries, lack of online access to content, translations stating that documents have been lost, general fear of accidentally discovering collections that may have been looted during World War II. Generally speaking – bad intentions. Similar situations have also occurred in Poland. I am looking for experts in my field, but I only find information that they are deceased. I am so fascinated by scientific research that basically nothing else matters more to me. It is a passion that possesses immaterial value but elevates researchers to the resources of the aristocracy of the spiritual world.

What are the most important research questions you plan to address in the near future? What developments do you see in your field?

Certainly, working for humanity, fulfilling Alfred Nobel’s main message. I am fascinated by the world of scientists, creators, people of culture. This gives rise to creativity – observation, need, and use of concepts – funny, abstract, soothing souls. Ideas emerge on their own and are a source of inspiration from reading, experience, practice, and work in a given environment, resources will be necessary here. The better the technology and finances, the “higher” the possibilities. I emphasize higher because people sometimes made discoveries accidentally, randomly, or against fate, hence the lack of financial resources (grants, scholarships) is not a sentence, but it is more difficult.

Further steps and research questions include:

  • analysis of correspondence between Bertha von Suttner and scholars from around the world (through the prism of foreign languages, which I do not know)
  • analysis of the writer’s work through differences resulting from the translation of various languages in the translation of Baroness’s books
  • Suttner’s relationship with Alfred Nobel, analysis of letters – a separate book
  • Suttner and her friendship with Tolstoy, analysis of correspondence – a separate book international reception of the books “Die Waffen nieder” / “Memoirs of the Hague”, “Marthas Kinder” in an international aspect,
  • Suttner’s international exchange concepts – reconciliation of nations from Bertha von Suttner’s vision (educational exchanges for youth and education abroad / Erasmus, how to improve these programs, what to change, how to finance) – here I will add that I was a participant in such a program at the beginning of its implementation, and to this day I emphasize that I learned so much during this stay that it is impossible to compare these experiences with the education and tendencies to theorize of Polish scholars, study trips, international trips, conference trips with the message of peace carried by Suttner implementation of educational concepts used in other countries – perhaps on the basis of trial and error – but it would always be an experiment, which one can or even should afford, without which no change is impossible.

Are there any practical consequences or potential applications of your scientific research results? How do you see their impact on society or the economy?

I represent literature – beautiful, didactic, and practical, operating in the categories of aesthetics, constantly searching for God’s will and what God conveys to people. Human education has no end, and its new paths lead to:

  • development of beauty (especially music)
  • promoting universal values – ethical and moral
  • creation, creativity – in music, literature, theater, opera, etc. – these are the places that serve people to choose their path, values, and way of acting – answers to questions from the spirit zone, perhaps outdated now, but society is experiencing a huge deficit of intellectual impoverishment, and television is based on kitsch, triviality, focused on text messages from viewers. It is necessary to raise the moral level of society, teach it independence and correct attitudes. Old systems must collapse, it is natural. That’s what I aim for and expect.

Definitely, the newest trend will be education in “digital” form. Paper books will become obsolete, they are too expensive and too heavy. School buildings will cease to exist because they will be unprofitable and uneconomical. Virtual rooms will be created (I worked in them already in 2005). Young people will need meetings, but I am convinced that they will cope with it wonderfully even without institutional frames. Sometimes only a small computer medium is enough to conduct a lesson – this is the future of education. One can learn everywhere and at a convenient time. You can work in several places at the same time. Learning will be less controlled by toxic teachers. I constantly work remotely and I see that young people are more disciplined, listen more, and work faster than during classes in universities or schools. People from the poorest families will also have the opportunity for development, a computer can be obtained from school. This will save more time, money, and numerous conveniences for people (pregnant women can work continuously and will not feel financial discomfort), maternity leave will not be necessary because you can adjust work and studies to your own capabilities. New solutions will emerge – and I am convinced that many older types will fall, because this is how the world changes, and this is progress.

What advice would you give to young scientists at the beginning of their scientific careers?

If someone feels an inner need for change, and a particular field is their passion, they should follow their heart (but also their reason!). Only when they feel moved and stimulated, and the chosen path is their life, should they engage in scientific research. This is not a job for the lazy or careerists because when confronted with real problems, they will not meet the challenge – they will fail, and the truth about their intentions will come to light. Scholars by vocation are able to devote their lives to their passion, I am sure of it.

Moreover – seek, practice, go to difficult and uncharted places. This will open up new horizons for them. Experiment. Do not be discouraged by failure because scientific research does not always have to be successful. Sometimes a certain idea must wait even 100 years for its realization in a certain time dimension, and sometimes a few seconds can suddenly change the course of the world. And that is fascinating in the world of science. One of the conditions for dealing with knowledge is immense humility.

Many Nobel laureates repeat, “I did not create this – I only ‘discovered’ it”.

As I mentioned, scientific research is a wide dimension of circumstances, people, luck, but also obstinacy in perseverance, discipline, sacrifice, and perseverance in one’s own theses / thoughts / ideas / plans / visions regardless of circumstances – and that’s what I wish for young researchers.

Fot. Unsplash

Marta Kulczynska
Marta Sikora
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