2011 | 109 | 4 | 674-684
Article title

Historik mezi „mocí“ a „slušností“ (Na okraj knihy Bohumila Jirouška o Jaroslavu Charvátovi)

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The first attempt to deal with the development of Czech historiography after World War II (Josef Hanzal, Cesty ceske historiografie 1945-1989, Prague 1999) failed because its author - a member of the old generation - lacked deeper analytical skills and attempted to present the complex problems of historiography, which were subject to the political pressure of the Communist regime, within the framework of bio-bibliography illustrated with his comments and simple ideological interpretation. However, this failure became a challenge for the upcoming generation of historians to take on this topic. They were not scarred - both in the positive and also the less favourable sense of the word - by their personal experience of that time. Bohumil Jirousek, author of several monographs about Czech historians of the 19th and 20th centuries (Antonin Rezek, Jaroslav Goll, Josef Macek, Josef Klik) has become one of the most diligent researchers amongst them. His new biography is devoted to Jaroslav Charvat (1904-1988). This archivist and historian, who formerly had social democratic and after World War II communist inclinations, might merely occupy a marginal position as a scholar in Czech historiography, yet he cannot be overlooked in the entire complexity of the discipline's development. Following the Communist coup d'etat in 1948 he became the Chair of General History at Charles University for many long years and as the holder of high-profile official posts he influenced not merely the development of the discipline itself but the fate of scholars holding different political views from his own. His strong political position was primarily guaranteed by his earlier membership in a left leaning association Historicka skupina (1936-1938) and later his willingness to ruthlessly intervene against scholars professing non-Communist thinking. Jirousek, on Charvat's example, attempted to interpret both the relation between a scientific discipline and the power in a totalitarian regime and the relation between power and ethics in science. These are rather complex issues, which a single biography could, at most, answer only partially. Indeed, in any case it would be necessary to take into account wider connections and in addition, to have a deeper knowledge of the actual topic. The present study emphasises certain problems which deserve attention with regard to the complex relationship between power - science/scientific scholars - ethics, especially in Jaroslav Charvat's case. They relate to the following problems: 1. The historian's attitude to research - it shows indolence, the sterility of thought and J. Charvat's unwillingness to carry out in-depth research of primary sources, which he, in his position, had to cover up by undemanding compilation work; 2. The style of (not many) published works, which was highly indebted to the ruling ideology and which intentionally sought an overexaggerated self-affirmation, based on taking credit for the historical-fiction work of Vladislav Vancura, the outstanding writer and national hero from the period of anti-Nazi resistance; 3. An attempt to join the pantheon of national historiography by exercising pressure on the non-Communist historian Frantisek Kutnar, who had to ‘buy out’ the consent for the publication of his seminal work on the history of Czech historiography (1978) by lavishing praise on Jaroslav Charvat and Vaclav Husa's Marxist Historical Group as the zenith of the one thousand year long tradition of Czech historiography; 4. His attitude as a university professor to candidates for academic honours and the abuse of power to humiliate the human dignity of one of Charvat's ideological opponents, in addition to his documented professional humiliation. The case of Jaroslav Charvat is a sad example of the role of a hugely ambitious yet academically limited historian in the history of the discipline. It is also a peculiar testimony to the twisting and turning, often tragic, even tragi-comic development of Czech historiography and its discontinuity at times when it was directed by people for whom not merely their own discipline, but also elementary human dignity meant much less than their politically inspired career. A more profound research of this theme unlocks questions on the abuse of power, infringement of the human dignity of other scholars and on elementary ethics in a politically deformed academic environment. When researching the paths of Czech historiography in the 20th century, these questions cannot be side-stepped.
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  • Historický ústav AV ČR, v. v. i., Prosecká 76, 190 00 Praha 9, Czech Republic,
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