The Polish American Encyclopedia – a Review

The Polish American Encyclopedia

Edited by James S. Pula

ISBN 978-0-7864-3308-7

A review by Jerome Biedny

In its nicely bound 600 pages, this book does an admirable job of distilling Polonia into one place and time.  Its nine editors have compiled articles from over 100 academics into an alphabetical listing of our past and present.  It is a herculean effort that must be commended as it is currently the most complete collection of its kind.

The book contains large, excellent articles on broad issues like literature, food, religious life, women, fine arts, and customs.  The same fine coverage is given to specific topics such as the Felician Sisters and Jamestown.  Actually, the coverage of the current Census results is the best summary I have every read.  There is also pithy coverage in scores of smaller entries on topics as diverse as the Polish White Cross to the Birds of Passage. Certainly over half the volume’s pages are taken up in biographical notes on hundreds of Polish and Polish American persons- living and dead.  All the traditional favorites are included between Abramowicz and Zygmund- literally.  These entries are from two paragraphs to two pages long and include a breath of cultural, political & religious leaders.

There are some nagging issues with this first edition that will hopefully be polished in the future.  Specifically, the articles lack the kind of evocative nature useful in telling our story to generations that have not lived the events.  For example, the entry on Dyngus Day records the history of the holiday in Poland and says nothing of the all-day drinking and dancing affair that it has become in America. Also, many items are double covered in a large article under, say ‘food’ and then a specific entry, say ‘pierogi’.  Usually, the specific entry holds no more information then was in the general.  So, coordinating them using references from general to specific could allow more room for other topics.  Further, some geographic regions get a specific entry (Pana Maria and Hamtramck) but others (Buffalo, Chicago, etc) are simply referenced in multiple topical entries.

The use of space might also be re-evaluated. The length of an article seems to have no correlation to the importance of the item being discussed.   The placement of photos and graphics are unbalanced.  One page may have three, and then several pages get nothing.  Some simple entries get a one-third page photo while others get two column inches.  There is also a lack of maps and graphs helpful in explaining topics such as Kashibia. Finally, the selection of the biographical subjects seems to be less than comprehensive.  It seems the articles were not commissioned under some organized structure but rather simply collected.

Every library should have this in its collection of ethnic information.  Whether you are doing serious research on people or events, or simply want to understand what your spouse means when they are talking about opɬatek, you can find it in this tome.  Hopefully, if a second edition fixes some of the content and format issues, the price drops, and the digital version becomes available, this work should be on the laptop of anyone doing solid Polish American genealogical work.  My very best to Dr. Pula and the hundreds of people that helped create this fine work.

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