The Institute of History, Czech Academy of Sciences


The Institute of History of the Czech Academy of Sciences (further as IH) builds on the tradition of the Czechoslovak State Historical Publishing Institute, which was founded in 1920 – shortly after the creation of the Czechoslovak state itself – with the primary aim of making rich source material relating to Czech and European history accessible (editions). In 1952 this became part of the (then Czechoslovak) Academy of Sciences. As a consequence of the events of the Prague Spring, at the turn of the 1970s the IH was not only renamed (from 1970–1990 it was the Institute of Czechoslovak & World History) but also suffered from forced departures (including that of František Šmahel, among others) and even the imprisonment of some its leading experts (Jaroslav Mezník). The palette of themes for research was also restructured. Nevertheless, even during this period a series of valuable works came to be (e.g. synthetic histories of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Lands to 1848, and a series of monographs, in particular on early Czech history).

A new phase of development came in the democratic conditions after the 1989 revolution, particularly due to the extraordinary efforts of the Institute’s new leadership, headed by prominent European medievalist Prof. František Šmahel (1990–1998). Further evolution of the IH towards international excellence in research, the application of new methodological stimuli, expanding collaboration with other countries and strengthening the Institute’s role in higher education, as well as in building the basic infrastructure of the discipline (editions, bibliographies, large lexical/encyclopedic series, journals etc.) followed under Šmahel’s successor, Prof. Jaroslav Pánek (to 2005), a specialist in the Central European cultural history of the Early Modern period, and later under Prof. Svatava Raková (2005–2012), a leading Czech Americanist, and Prof. Eva Semotanová (2012–2017), an expert in historical geography who played a crucial role in establishing this promising field in the Czech Republic.

At the present time (since January 1st 2007), the IH is a ‘public research institution’. Basic research is undertaken in the fields of Czech, Czechoslovak and general history. It is among the foremost workplaces systematically concerning itself with the past of the Czech and Czechoslovak state throughout its historical existence, from the Early Medieval to the Modern and contemporary periods. Its original orientation until 1945 (or rather 1948) has over time moved ever more towards the area of the history of Communist Czechoslovakia.

The IH conducts its research not only in Prague, but also in branches in Brno and České Budějovice (a join centre with the University of South Bohemia). It also encompasses the Istituto Storico Ceco di Roma (further as ISCR), part of a network of international archaeological, historical and art-historical research institutions present in Rome, in large part since the 19th century. The traditional primary purpose of the ISCR is to investigate source material from Vatican and Italian libraries and archives, making it accessible in modern editions (the Monumenta Vaticana res gestas bohemicas illustrantia and the Epistulae et acta nuntiorum apostolicorum apud imperatorem; it also publishes the Bolletino dell´Istituto Storico Ceco di Roma and an independent series of books).

At all of its workplaces, the IH brings together outstanding specialists in their fields, who are not only significantly broadening the boundaries of their specialisations, but through their teaching at universities and the IH itself (training Ph.D. students, some of whom are employed by the institute directly) are contributing to the formation of the next generation of historians and professionals in related areas. The organisation of various activities in the international research space, like organizing a range of conferences, also contributes to the internationalisation of Czech science, and the diffusion of its findings abroad. Since 1990 the IH has been the most important representative of Czech science at prestigious international congresses of the historical sciences (organising special meetings at Madrid in 1990, Sydney in 2005, Jinan in 2015 and Poznań in 2020), contributing meaningfully to the organisation of international scientific collaboration within the framework of international commissions.

The IH and its colleagues also have a key part to play in the area of popularisation. Professional reflection on the past and the role of the historical sciences in preserving the national memory and the formation of national identity and culture, in the broadest, multicultural sense, is an indispensable attribute of a civilised society, contributing to the development of its positive value norms, and through analytical and critical discourse providing necessary feedback to the professional and broader public.

The IH’s other activities are also important, however; in addition to various forms of putting knowledge into practice, these include in particular creating infrastructure for the discipline in irreplaceable form, by publishing a whole series of source editions covering the period from the Middle Ages to modern history (the Regesta diplomatica nec non epistolaria Bohemiae et Moraviae, the Documenta res gestas Bohemicas saeculorum XVI.–XVIII. illustrantia, Dokumenty československé zahraniční politiky / Documents on Czechoslovak Foreign Policy  and Programy politických stran / Programmes of political parties etc.) used by a broad range of researchers, as well as specialist periodicals for medieval, early modern and modern history, historical geography, and area studies from Central, South-Eastern and Eastern Europe. Further, work continues on a continual bibliography of the field in the form of a unique, complex database (the IH for long being the only place in the Czech Republic undertaking such a role), as well as on the preservation, modern processing and opening up of valuable collections (e.g. the August Sedláček collection and others) to the lay and professional publics, and the development of libraries at individual workplaces, these being publicly accessible and well used (over 265,000 volumes in total).





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