To fully understand northeastern Europe’s cultural pluralism, it helps to apply a concept first coined for a very different time and place: “intersectionality.” This idea begins with a simple recognition that every person embodies a cluster of identities, some personally embraced and some imposed by others. All of these identities are positioned within cross-cutting relationships of power and privilege that interact in complicated ways. Although the term “intersectionality” dates back only three decades, those of us who study northeastern Europe are familiar with the underlying issues. Both the people of that region, and those who study them, were thinking about this problem long before anyone had a word for it. The virtue of the intersectional approach is that it prevents us from even attempting to walk the tightrope balanced between the blunt reification of national communities on the one hand, and the totalizing story of a singular (unmarked) “Polish” history on the other. It allows us to see, and when appropriate to prioritize, the various categories of gender, religion, language, status, or class that swirled around everyone living along the Vistula River basin. At the same time, it allows us to avoid the fraught dualisms of a “Polish-Jewish History” approach, which by its very label assumes that those two adjectives will everywhere and always be the most important ones.

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