We are pleased to announce that Prof. Curtis Murphy’s book, From Citizens to Subjects: City, State, and the Enlightenment in Poland, Ukraine and Belarus, has just been published by University of Pittsburgh Press. The book challenges the common assertion in historiography that Enlightenment-era centralization and rationalization brought progress and prosperity to all European states, arguing instead that centralization failed to improve the socioeconomic position of urban residents in the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth over a hundred-year period.
Murphy examines the government of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the several imperial administrations that replaced it after the Partitions, comparing and contrasting their relationships with local citizenry, minority communities, and nobles who enjoyed considerable autonomy in their management of the cities of present-day Poland, Ukraine, and Belarus. He shows how the failure of Enlightenment-era reform was a direct result of the inherent defects in the reformers’ visions, rather than from sabotage by shortsighted local residents. Reform in Poland-Lithuania effectively destroyed the existing system of complexities and imprecisions that had allowed certain towns to flourish, while also fostering a culture of self-government and civic republicanism among city citizens of all ranks and religions. By the mid-nineteenth century, the increasingly immobile post-Enlightenment state had transformed activist citizens into largely powerless subjects without conferring the promised material and economic benefits of centralization.
Prof. Richard Butterwick-Pawilkowski of University College-London says of Prof.. Murphy’s book, “This ambitious and significant monograph challenges a widely encountered narrative that assumes the enlightened centralizing government brought progress and order in place of ‘archaic’ privileges and exemptions that held back growth in early modern Europe. Based on a wide range of sources and spanning the traditional Polish caesura of 1795, this is a refreshing work that should find its place in wider arguments about the efficacy of centralization and decentralization in modern states.”
You can learn more about the book and read a snippet from the introduction here: https://www.upress.pitt.edu/BookDetails.aspx?bookId=36781