Compiled by John J. Bukowczyk,
Professor of History, Wayne State University

With the assistance of the Polish Government-in-Exile and the support of several Americans and American Poles, on May 15,1942 a group of Polish émigré scholars who had fled the Nazi onslaught founded the Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences in America (PIASA) in New York City.  According to historian and PIASA president Jan Kucharzewski, the new Polish institute vowed "to assemble, preserve, and harness for posterity the values of a nation" and "to represent Polish thought in the world."   PIASA was organized into four "Scholarly Sections," including a section devoted to the "Historical and Political Sciences," headed up by the renowned Polish émigré historian, Oskar Halecki. 

At the first meeting of the latter, on September 11, 1942, Halecki proposed creating "a special Committee for the study of the history of Poles in the United States" and, once approved, enticed Miecislaus Haiman of the Polish Museum in Chicago to head it.  Open to "all students of Polish immigrant," without regard to their ethnic background, and headquartered at the Polish Museum in Chicago, the new Commission on Research on Polish Immigration held its first conference and meeting December 29-30, 1943, in New York City.  At is second meeting, held at Orchard Lake Seminary in Michigan in October 1944, the organization changed its name to the Polish-American Historical Commission and that year began to publish its own scholarly journal, "Polish-American Studies".   In June of 1947, both the organization and journal dropped the hyphen from their names, and the Commission formally joined both the American Historical Association (AHA) and the Catholic Historical Association.

After the death of Miecislaus Haiman, in January 1949, leadership of the organization increasingly shifted to American-born Poles, prominent among whom were nuns and priests, the most active of whom was Rev. Joseph Swastek, who served as president of the organization and its long-time journal editor.  In that year, the Commission also  changed its name to the Polish American Historical Association (PAHA).  Reflective of the growing role of Polish-American religious in PAHA affairs, in 1950 the organization moved its headquarters to St. Mary's College in Orchard Lake, Michigan. 

The role of Polish-American religious in the life of PAHA remained prominent through the long tenure of service of Rev. M. J. Madaj, a past president and long-time executive secretary.  Rev. Madaj--together with a few other lay officers like Eugene Kusielewicz--spearheaded the modernization and professionalization of PAHA, including the creation of local chapters (now defunct), a 1965 resolution to hold PAHA annual meetings in concert with the annual meeting of the American Historical Association, and the creation in 1965 of an annual scholarly award, the Haiman Award (the first of many that the organization would establish in future years). 

In 1969, Madaj oversaw the movement of PAHA headquarters from Orchard Lake to St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein, Illinois, and shortly thereafter back to the Polish Museum in Chicago.  On October 16, 1972, PAHA was incorporated  in Illinois as a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization, finally ending its formal connections to PIASA, and in 1975 the group was accepted as an affiliate society of the American Historical Association.  In 1980, PAHA became a contributor to the AHA's National Coordinating Committee for the Promotion of History (NCC).

During these years, increasing professionalization of PAHA was accompanied by increasing secularization, as a generation of university-educated Polish-American Ph.D.s. took up service as PAHA officers and council members and in editorial roles for the journal.  By the mid-1980s, both the organization and journal had become, for all intents and purposes, lay professional  projects. 

In 1981, the organization conferred its first annual Halecki (best book) Prize and first annual Swastek Award (best article published in Polish American Studies); subsequently, the organization created the Stanley A. Kulczycki Prize (for graduate and post-doctoral research in Polish-American studies), a Distinguished Service Award, a Civic Achievement Award, a Creative Arts Award, the Amicus Poloniae Award, and, most recently, a Graduate Research paper award.  In 1998, PAHA's headquarters returned to St. Mary's College at the Orchard Lake Schools campus in Orchard Lake, Michigan, and in 2004 found a permanent home at Central Connecticut State College in New Britain, Connecticut, under the sponsorship of the CCSU Polish Studies Program and the Polish Chair there (named after the late CCSU professor and past PAHA president Stanislaus A. Blejwas).

Since its founding in 1942, PAHA has become a modern, secular, interdisciplinary academic and professional organization with a diverse, international membership of individuals and institutions.  As of this writing, in 2008, PAHA sponsors an annual conference, held in conjunction with the annual meeting of the American Historical Association; awards about a dozen annual scholarly, publication, and civic prizes and awards; publishes a semi-annual journal, Polish American Studies, and a semi-annual newsletter; and is a funder of the Ohio University Press Polish and "Polish-American Studies" Series and, on an ad hoc basis, a sponsor of various other publication and scholarly projects, conferences, and public programs.  In 2008, Polish American Studies joined the History Cooperative and also accepted an invitation to participate in the JSTOR archival project.


Source:  Information for this brief history was drawn from John J. Bukowczyk, "Harness for Posterity the Values of a Nation'--Fifty Years of the Polish American Historical Association and Polish American Studies," Polish American Studies 50, no. 2 (Autumn 1993): 5-99; and  Anna D. Jaroszyńska-Kirchmann, "The Polish American Historical Association: Looking Back, Looking Forward," Polish American Studies 61, no. 1 (Spring 2008): 57-76.

Both articles have been reprinted in PAHA: A 75th Anniversary History of the Polish American Historical Association, edited by James S. Pula and available on Amazon.com. More information on PAHA website.