Review of The Polish Peasant in Europe and America

Walter Roloff

THOMAS, W. I. and ZNANIECKI, F. The Polish Peasant in Europe and America. Vols. I and II. (New York: Knopf. 1927, Pp. xv, 1115; vi, 1133. $15.)

This is a monumental trail-blazing work, If and when as valuable material is collected in the study of other social groups as for instance, the Negro, the Indian, the Mexican, then we shall have the foundation not only for the comparative study of group and individual behavior under changing environment, but a wealth of material will be available for intensive analysis of special problems in economics, sociology, ethnology and ethics.

"Systematization and classification of attitudes and values prevailing in a concrete group" is the essence of this opus. Volume I contains fifty series of nearly eight hundred letters and each series presents a distinct type of situation. This material is all the more valuable because of its naive spontaneity. Group organization and its disintegration and reformation can be studied in these letters with a reliance on their genuineness as perhaps from no other source. These family letters are free from a rationalization which would otherwise make them of far less value. Wherever possible similar materials should be collected from other groups. Poland's history with its conflict of races and institutions presents periods of transition no more significant than does, for instance, the history of the colored race in America. The authors show sound judgment in refraining from the temptation to draw definite conclusions from their observations of special problems such as abnormalities and the relations of sexes.

The introduction (216 pages), containing a succinct account of the social, economic, and religious life of the Polish peasant, is commendable for its full treatment of economic and religious attitudes. The interaction of these attitudes in the determination of standards and values is not clearly defined, but the detailed account, particularly of religious and magical attitudes, is so complete as to make it invaluable for comparative studies. Similar study should be made at the earliest possible moment of the American Indian, and this should reach far back into the findings of the archaeologist. To take a familiar example, the snake dance of the Hopi with its origin in the need for rain would remain a part of the life of these people for years to come even though rain should become plentiful in that arid land. Such a task calls for collaboration as we have it here.

Volume II deals with disorganization and reorganization in Poland and America. The material is drawn from many sources such as newspapers, court records and the publications of cooperative societies and of church parishes. It concludes with a three hundred page "Life record of an immigrant" which for genuineness belongs with the primary sources in volume I. In all these chapters the source material is plentiful.



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