The Department of Documenting Cultural Contexts
From 1 June 2020, due to the ongoing pandemic, we have implemented a number of regulations to allow for the safe usage of the MEK collections. We hope that despite these restriction we will be able to help you with your inquiries concerning our collections.
Inquiries are available solely by email (the department library remains closed until further notice).
We kindly request that all inquiries are as detailed as possible, including subject matter and the type of documentation searched for (photographs, drawing, texts), and what the materials are to be used for. We are able to offer a maximum of 20 digitally scanned items for each submitted inquiry.
Please write to firstname.lastname@example.org with your inquiry. You may also telephone +48 12 430 55 63 ext. 243 between 9am and 3pm Mon-Fri.
During your visit to the museum we kindly ask you to conform to the norms and regulations concerning safety in public spaces, such as keeping your mouth and nose covered and keeping your hands disinfected. Disinfectant is available in the museum and single-use gloves are also available if necessary.
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
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.