Kathryn Ciancia

Position title: Director of Undergraduate Studies; Associate Professor of History

Email: ciancia@wisc.edu

Phone: 608.263.2366

Office: 4133 Mosse Humanities
Mailbox: 4019 Mosse Humanities
Office Hours: TBA

Kathryn Ciancia headshot


I am a historian of modern eastern Europe, with a research focus on Poland in the first half of the twentieth century.

In my first book, On Civilization’s Edge: A Polish Borderland in the Interwar World (Oxford University Press, 2020), I explore how, after the end of the First World War, an eclectic group of Polish men and women—from border guards and urban planners to teachers and military settlers—attempted to modernize a poor, war-torn, and multiethnic eastern province. In their daily encounters with Jews, Ukrainians, Poles, and other populations in what had, until recently, been part of the Russian empire, they competed to define what it meant to be “civilized” within shifting local, national, and global contexts. Despite their ostensible appeals to national tolerance and inclusivity (which always featured exclusions of their own), I show how Polish “civilizers” developed increasingly radical demographic experiments prior to the Second World War.

I have now begun work on a new transnational history that traces the relationships between the Polish interwar state and its citizens abroad, with a particular focus on the institutional role of consulates across the globe.

My teaching interests include modern Europe and eastern Europe, Poland, mass violence, nationalism and transnationalism, citizenship and migration, and the Second World War. I like to experiment with innovative class assignments, including those that ask students to create and develop fictional historical characters. My most recently developed undergraduate class asks students to carry out genealogical and historical research into the life of an ancestor who migrated.


Ph.D., Stanford University
M.A., University College London
B.A., University of Oxford


Videos & Podcasts

Selected Publications

  • “An Anti-Imperial Civilizing Mission?: Claiming Volhynia for the Early Second Republic,” in Rethinking Modern Polish Identities: Transnational Encounters, edited by Agnieszka Pasieka and Pawel Rodak (Rochester, NY:  University of Rochester Press, forthcoming in 2022).
  • “External or Internal Enemies?: Polish Citizens in Interwar France and the Ethnic Politics of Citizenship,” in Enemies Within: The Global Politics of Fifth Columns, edited by Harris Mylonas and Scott Radnitz (New York: Oxford University Press, 2022).
  • “The Local Boundaries of the Nation: Borderland Guard Activists in Polish-Occupied Volhynia, 1919-1920,”Slavic Review 78, no. 3 (Fall 2019).
  • “Borderland Modernity: Poles, Jews, and Urban Spaces in Interwar Eastern Poland,” Journal of Modern History 89, no 3 (September 2017).
  • “Creating Lives: Fictional Characters in the History Classroom,” Perspectives on History (October 2013) (with Edith Sheffer)

Advisor To

Selected Awards

  • Fall Competition, Recipient of Funding for “Consular Powers” Book Project, WARF, UW-Madison, 2020-21
  • Resident Fellow, Institute for Research in the Humanities, UW-Madison, Fall 2020
  • Distinguished Honors Faculty Award, College of Letters and Science, UW-Madison, 2018
  • Karen F. Johnson Teaching Award, History Department, UW-Madison, 2017-18
  • 2015 Center for the Humanities First Book Award, UW-Madison.
  • Mellon Foundation Dissertation Fellowship, 2011
  • Vice Provost for Graduate Education Diversity Dissertation Research Award, 2008-09
  • History Department Five-Year Fellowship, Stanford University, 2005-10

History Courses