Bronisław Geremek obtained his MA at the Faculty of History of the University of Warsaw in 1955 on the basis of the thesis “Ze studiów nad stosunkami gospodarczymi między miastem a wsią w Prusach Krzyżackich w pierwszej połowie XV w.” (From studies on economic relations between town and country in Teutonic Prussia in the first half of the 15th century) and began his doctoral studies, co-founding a group of historians gathered around Professor Marian Małowist. In 1956, he became a scholarship holder of Section VI of the École Pratique des Hautes Études in Paris. He found himself in the circle of historians forming the historical scientific school “Annales”, his champions being the leading French historians Fernand Braudel and Maurice Lombard. The “Annales” school created a new research method – by focusing attention on economic and social phenomena, the living conditions of ordinary people, it described changes in terms of long duration, the formation of civilisation, the culture of coexistence, economic exchange.
In 1962, his doctoral thesis ‘Mercenary labour in the crafts of Paris 13th to 15th century: a study of the medieval labour market’ was published. It was subsequently published in France (1968 and 1982) and Italy (1975). From 1962 to 1965, Bronisław Geremek again worked in France, heading the Centre for Polish Culture at the Sorbonne.
His greatest fame came with his studies of poverty and social marginality, initiated in the 1960s in the circle of historians gathered around Michel Mollat. During this period, he was also the author of a number of articles on prominent French scholars Marc Bloch, Luc Febvre, Fernand Braudel, Jacques Le Goff, and the first Polish edition of a collection of Braudel’s articles (‘Historia i trwanie’ in 1971). In 1962, he published the pioneering article ‘Mentality and collective psychology in history’ in the pages of the Historical Review.
The habilitation he obtained in 1970 was devoted to marginal groups in medieval Paris. In the 1970s, Bronislaw Geremek wrote the books ‘Mercy and the Gallows. A history of misery and charity and ‘The world of “beggar’s opera. The image of vagabonds and paupers in European literature from the 15th to the 17th century’, which were published abroad due to a censorship clause imposed on him at home. Both books were not published in Poland until 1989. In 1978, he held a one-year fellowship at the Woodrow Wilson International Center.
Professor B. Geremek made an enormous contribution to the world historiography of the Middle Ages. He was one of the earliest published and cited Polish authors in the multilingual historiographical literature. The bibliography of his works includes more than 300 items, including 10 books that have been translated into 10 languages, including French, English, German and Italian. He was a master of linking the history of Poland with the history of Europe and the fate of Europe with the fate of Poland (“The Common Roots of Europe”, Cambridge 1996).
Prof. B. Geremek’s research covered such areas as: relations between village and city in Teutonic Prussia, the history of medieval Polish culture, the history of “marginal people” in France, the image of Paris in the time of François Villon. He studied the history of the largest city in medieval Europe, Paris. He was also close to the problems of the German Reich, Rome, Venice, Aragon, Castile and England. In his research he reached out to Novgorod the Great as a place of contact between the Catholic and Orthodox faiths.
Bronisław Geremek was also the author of publications on the history of medieval culture in Poland. He was a co-author of its first volume (published in 1985), and from 1976, for the next 10 years, he headed the Team for the History of Late Medieval Culture, created by him at the Institute of History of the Polish Academy of Sciences, whose task was to prepare the second volume (14th – 15th centuries). For political reasons, the work was published many years later (Kultura Polski średniowiecznej: XIV-XV w., 1997). Bronislaw Geremek was the author of the following parts of this work: Levels of culture: oral transmission and literary culture, Man and play: ludic culture, Public life and political culture, Sense and awareness of geographical space, Revival of the history of culture.
In 1985, he was removed from his job at the Polish Academy of Sciences for political reasons. He then took up a job at the Jesuit Writers’ Library. He returned to the Institute in 1989. He was then appointed Associate Professor and in 1995 Ordinary Professor at the Tadeusz Manteuffel Institute of History of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw.
The international recognition of Bronisław Geremek’s academic achievements was reflected in his nomination for the International Chair at the College de France in the academic year 1992/1993. The only Pole to have previously held the Chair at the College de France was Adam Mickiewicz in mid-XIX century. In 2002, Professor Bronislaw Geremek took over the Chair of European Civilisation at the College of Europe in Natolin focusing on the study of European history and cultural identity.
The scientific legacy of B. Geremek is arranged in two main cycles of studies. The first of these includes books: „Najemna siła robocza w rzemiośle Paryża XIII-XIV wieku” (1962, Hired labour in artists’ studios in Paris in the 13–14th centuries), „Ludzie marginesu w średniowiecznym Paryżu: XIV -XV wiek” (1971, The Margins of Society in Late Medieval Paris, transl. J. Birrell Cambridge, 1987) as well as „Życie codzienne w Paryżu Franciszka Villona” (1972, Everyday Life in Paris of François Villon). The second series begins with a book written for the Parisian series Archives „Inutiles au Monde. Vagabonds et marginaux en Europę aux XIVe-XVIe siècle” (A picture of vagrants and paupers in 15th–16th century European literature, 1980) and also includes later works: „Litość i szubienica. Dzieje nędzy i miłosierdzia” (1989, Mercy and the gallows. The history of penury and charity) and Świat „opery żebraczej”. Obraz włóczęgów i nędzarzy w literaturach europejskich XV-XVII wieku” (1989, The world of the “beggar’s opera.”). Two collective works also followed under his editorship: „Kultura elitarna a kultura masowa w Polsce późnego średniowiecza” (1978, Elite culture versus mass culture in late medieval Poland) and „Kultura polski średniowiecznej XIV-XV wieku” (1997, Culture of medieval Poland in the 14th-15th centuries). In 1995 his joint book was published with the French historian Georges Duby „Wspólne pasje” (Common Passions).
He has been awarded more than twenty honorary doctorates worldwide for his scholarly activities, including universities: François Rabelais in Tours (1982), Utrecht (1986), Columbia (1989), Bologna (1989), Oberlin College (1990), Sorbonne (1991), Université libre de Bruxelles (1995), Leicester (1992), Brown University (1994), University of Turin (1997), Sofia University (1998), Brandeis University in Waltham (1999), University of Quebec in Monreal (2000), Marc Bloch University in Strasbourg (Université de Strasbourg II, 2000), Free University of Belin (2000), Waseda University (2000), University of Padua (2001), Hungarian Academy of Sciences (2001), University of New South Wales in Sydney (2003), Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj (2003), Lumière-Lyon-II University (2005), Jagiellonian University (2005), Viadrina University (2006).
He has also received following awards: the Alfred Jurzykowski Foundation of New York (1986), the Louis Weiss Prize (1989), the Gottfried van Herder Prize (1990), the František Palacky Gold Medal of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences (1991), the International Prize of the Société européenne de culture (1992), Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement (1999), Prix de Société Européenne de Culture, The Pierre Lafue Prize (1999), Grand prix de la francophonie (2002), Medal of the Tadeusz Manteuffel Institute of History of the Polish Academy of Sciences (2003), The Jean Rey Prize.
He was a member of: Polish Historical Society, European Medieval Academy, Academia Europea, L’Académie Universelle des Cultures, Société européenne de culture, Academy of Yuste, Polish and French PEN Club, Collegium Invisibile, correspondent member of the Royal Historical Society, honorary member of the Hungarian Academy of Science, correspondent member of the Historical and Philosophical Faculty of the Polish Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Encyklopedia Solidarności: Bronisław Geremek https://encysol.pl/es/encyklopedia/biogramy/15919,Geremek-Bronislaw.html
Andrzej Friszke „Bronisława Geremka droga do wolnej Polski”, https://wiez.pl/2017/03/06/bronislawa-geremka-droga-do-wolnej-polski/
Halina Manikowska „Bronisław Geremek” https://ihpan.edu.pl/zmarli/bronislaw-geremek-1932-2008/
Magdalena Pasikowska-Schnass „Bronisław Geremek. W poszukiwaniu zjednoczonej Europy” https://www.europarl.europa.eu/thinktank/en/document/EPRS_BRI(2021)698820
Patryk Pleskot „Siła alternatywnej dyplomacji. Polityka zagraniczna „Solidarności” w latach osiemdziesiątych – rola Bronisława Geremka”, [w:] Bronisław Geremek. Ojciec polskiego liberalizmu, Warszawa 2010
Tomasz Wiślicz „Bronisław Geremek. Historyk niemarginalny”, [w:] Bronisław Geremek. Ojciec polskiego liberalizmu, Warszawa 2010