The Department of Documenting Cultural Contexts


We regret to inform you that, from 1 October 2020 to 31 August 2021, we are forced to suspend all preliminary research activities at The Department of Documenting Cultural Contexts (MEK Archives). Collections will not be available in the reading room nor in digital form.

This is due to the need to focus on the last stage of the project “Digitisation and online accessibility of the historic collection of glass plate negatives and photographs from the second half of the 19th century and early 20th century present in the collection of The Seweryn Udziela Ethnographic Museum in Kraków (co-financed from the Regional Operational Programme for the Malopolska Region 2014-2020)”. As we have found out, it is not possible for a small team of employees to create a database of 2,423 photograph scans and their descriptions in a timely manner and simultaneously search our collections in response to preliminary research queries and share the results.

We have long strived to pursue these efforts in parallel, but we must now conclude that there is a serious risk to the completion of the project on time, which – in itself – entails numerous consequences.

On the other hand, our present work on the project aims to expand and modernise access to these unique collections. Next year you are going to see close to two and a half thousand photographs with descriptions in our online gallery.

Thank you for your understanding of the difficulties that have arisen and our decision to suspend preliminary research.

Who can access them?

The MEK archives are available to anyone interested, including those who are curious about the archives for personal reasons.

Using the collections (preliminary research):

Please indicate the topics/time period which interests you, either by mail, telephone, e-mail, or in-person. We will work with you to find a convenient time, a way to address your interests and which kind of access to the archives will serve best (either in electronic form or on-site in the museum, depending on availability).

Availability of the collections for preliminary research:

After you choose which collections you are interested in, please submit your request (either online or on-site utilising the appropriate form). A request should include:

  • The catalogue number(s) of the archive
  • A brief description of the topic/time period
  • A brief summation of why you wish to access the material
  • The first and last name of the person making the request (this also could include the institution which the person represents)
  • The date of the request

MEK’s archives are accessible only on-site in the reading room, which is located in the museum building at pl. Wolnica 1. In order to use our collections, you must present a form of personal identification.

There are no costs for conducting preliminary research in the collections.

Borrowing items from the collection: One must always submit a request, in writing, to the Director of the Museum. This request should include all necessary information, as well as a guarantee of safety. If the Director agrees (taking into account the feasibility of preparing materials for transport), the Head of Inventory will arrange the appropriate contract. 

A Brief Description of MEK’s Archives
Seweryn Udziela, before founding the Ethnographic Museum in Kraków, began collecting his personal ethnographic collection at the end of the 19th century. He saw “models, murals, drawings and photographs” as occupying an important place in this collection. After the Museum was opened, this part of the collection was systematically enriched with valuable materials donated by researchers, collectors, and enthusiasts, and after the Second World War it began to function as a collection in its own right. In the 1980s, it was grouped into the following categories:

  • hand-written and typed manuscripts
  • watercolours, drawings, graphics
  • photographs, postcards, prints
  • glass slides, celluloid slides, films
  • glass plates, celluloid negatives
  • vinyl records, audio tapes, CDs, DVDs
  • posters, placards
  • brochures, booklets, flyers
  • newspaper clippings
  • maps

Currently, the collection of the The Department of Documenting Cultural Contexts includes about 250,000 items. The most numerous group is the photographs (over 80,000), drawings (over 13,000), and texts (close to 5,000).

Apart from the photographs from the 1930s depicting, for example, young boys praying at the REMU Cemetery in Kazimierz in Kraków, wooden churches from Lower Silesia, Spanish landscapes from the 1950s, and scenes from the everyday life of Indian tribes from South America between the 1950s and 1970s, we can find, above all, portraits of tens of thousands of people looking seriously into the camera. These photographs have an important documentary value – we not only see people of diverse races, classes and ages, but also their surroundings (a flat, courtyard, town or village landscape). In the background we often observe other, no less important, characters – running children, workers focused on their work, bored merchants at the market, a startled animal. These pictures, taken during rituals, games and celebrations, are both informative and emotionally charged.

The Museum’s watercolours and drawings demonstrate quite tangibly the texture and colours of clothes, details of architectural styles, and the variety of craftsmanship. Here we can find samples of patterns for coloured eggs, children’s painting books, ceramics, ritual art, embroidery, examples of furniture ornamentation and everyday objects. There are even drawings of criminals tried in Nowy Sącz 140 years ago.  

What is remarkable about the Museum’s collection is its variety of texts which describe the cultures of Poland, Europe and countries outside Europe – hand-copied prayer books, diaries, peasants’ last wills, ethnographic description of towns, notes about oral and musical folklore, materials from field research, including recent research.

The archive is supplemented by a second collection acquired in 1997 from the former Workshop for Folk Art Research in the Institute of Art of Polish Academy of Sciences. The Workshop was founded by Roman Reinfuss, who – together with his colleagues and students – intensively carried out field research, investigating declining folk culture in all its forms and manifestations. All materials are collected in 823 files and they include descriptions, interviews, drawings, and colourful boards. About 70,000 photographs supplement the collection.