The state of teaching history in Hungary

On such a beautiful, peaceful autumn Sunday when nothing terribly important is happening in Hungary it is time to return to a favorite subject of mine: the importance of historical knowledge. Alas, not gained the way some Hungarian high school history teachers want to teach their long suffering students.

I started learning history in grade five and finished with that miserable subject in grade twelve. Why was it miserable? Because I had a miserable teacher in miserable times. Even if she had been better at teaching, she wouldn’t have been able to give us more than she found in the book. Otherwise, she would have been fired, if not worse. Put it this way, I remembered mighty little about Hungarian history before I took it up again as a college and graduate student, of all places in Canada and the United States.

Then I was watching the video Swaan van Iterson provided for her article on the fascination of Hungarian youth with the far right. Youngsters raise their voices “Down with Trianon,” but I know from sociological studies that among these enthusiasts most likely only a handful have any idea about the demographic make-up of Greater Hungary in 1918-1919. And, unfortunately, I also know that most of these youngsters wouldn’t be able to answer the simplest questions about twentieth-century European and Hungarian history.

And that brings me to today’s topic which I have been planning to write about ever since I first read Judit N. Kósa’s article on the pitiful state of teaching recent history, current affairs, and the basics of the democratic system Hungary allegedly adopted in 1990.

Judit N. Kósa has been a regular contributor to Népszabadság for years. Because her topics often include education, a subject that also interests me, I normally take the time to read her articles. Last Monday she came up with an opinion piece whose message is close to my heart. Her suggestion is: don’t spend years and years on ancient and medieval history at the expense of the twentieth century and current events. The facts that were crammed into student brains will fade away, and since there is practically nothing else in Hungarian history teaching but facts and figures nothing will remain in their place, only emptiness.

The title of her article was “The people of Árpád.” Árpád was the Hungarian chieftain who led the Hungarian and Khazar tribes into the Carpathian Basin. She began her article with her experience in the United States as an exchange student in the 1980s. At the time she was a high school senior and was taken to a lecture on European history at an unnamed university. Great was her astonishment that antiquity as well as the middle ages were taken care of by the professor in ninety minutes.

The Hungarian exchange students were shocked. After all, they learned just Greece and Rome twice, once in grade five and again in grade nine, for a whole semester each time. But the next day these same students, who had never learned recent European history or civics in high school, were flummoxed when they were bombarded by their American hosts with questions about 1956, the Gulag, why Hungary fought on the side of the Nazis, and how it is that only the communists can win in Hungarian elections.

Even in the best Budapest high schools (according to a 2008 poll) only 50% of the students were able to answer questions about the constitution and the functioning of political institutions. Outside of the capital the situation was considerably worse: only 26% had the foggiest idea about any of this. And these students were supposed to be first-time voters in 2010. According to most people familiar with the situation, a fair number of young people don’t even know who Miklós Horthy and János Kádár were. Hard to imagine, but apparently true.

In the new basic curriculum only the second semester of grade 12 is spent on “the Kádár regime, its formation, consolidation, its characteristics and its crisis, the democratic transformation after 1990, the establishment of the market economy, the history of the European Union and its functioning, the constitution and the democratic institutions of today’s Hungary, the situation of the Roma in Hungary and  finally globalization.” Good luck, teacher; good luck, students.

Kósa’s American example prompted me to visit Yale University’s Open University website again. A fair number of courses are available online. I followed most of the history courses and was pleased to see that a new course had been added since I had last visited the website: Early Middle Ages, 284-1000. Well, I said to myself, despite my Hungarian education I know mighty little about the early middle ages, so let’s see what Professor Paul Freedman has to say about it. I enjoyed the first lecture thoroughly. I’ll bet that if you were to tell even a well-educated Hungarian that a lecture on the early middle ages can be absolutely fascinating, he or she wouldn’t believe it. Hungarian history teachers made sure that most students learned to hate history. And then later in life they fall for all sorts of absolutely misleading theories, for example on the reasons for Trianon,  because they don’t have a firm grounding in the country’s past.

Finally, one more thing about Judit N. Kósa’s article. Sixty-four comments appeared after it was published. Most commenters felt compelled to say something negative about the United States and those uneducated Americans to whom the politicians can lie from morning till night. Or, what can Americans know about history when their own history is so short and also allegedly has nothing to do with European civilization? From here it was a short step to the atomic bomb and Hiroshima. Poor Kósa also received a earful as an unpatriotic person who looks down on the glorious history of the Hungarians; a knowledge of the dates of the Hungarian kings is necessary prerequisite to being a good citizen.

I get very discouraged at the comments on Hungarian websites and therefore I rarely look at them. I just don’t know how these jingoistic attitudes can be changed.

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32 comments

  1. Try telling virtually any Hungarian that Horthy was already Regent when Hungary signed the Trianon Treaty. Nobody will believe you.

  2. I’ve often wondered about the comments that get posted as response to any government that takes an anti-Fidesz government stance (whether it be on blogs like this, or online newspapers and magazines). They do often seem very persistent, and borrow from exactly the same repertoires. Almost as if it’s organised.

    Well, if it were organised, then it wouldn’t be unique. “Astroturfing” and has been used by several political actors as a way of disrupting any attempt at constructive debate in online fora.

    And, we do know that Fidesz have spent billions on ‘improving its image’ through PR.

    http://www.politics.hu/20120111/government-begins-new-era-of-budget-pruning-with-billion-forint-pr-bonanza/

  3. It’s not just factual data vs. explaining the interactions, the interests that lead to certain historical event. Children stop learning history with absolute lack of interest to learn more, to apply this knowledge to the events happening in the present around them. No interest to take classes go to the library and read more. Hungarians do not want to know more. That’s what the history education gives them.

    In high school there was an assay called “Why are called the middle ages dark?”. I wrote a cool paper (at least I thought it was cool). I explained that this is all wrong. It wasn’t dark at all. I compared it to lives of the slaves, I wrote about urbanization, education, you know, all the good stuff. I received a two (an “E”). I started to hate history.

    I’m not sure how will we be the people of Arpad. The Arpad dynasty is called now turul dynasty.

  4. Why Dictatorial Regimes Gobble Up The Visual Media

    Hungary has followed Putyin’s example of controlling the media. One example should suffice
    to show how it works. Let’s compare the short tv reports on Chatary and Bisztu: Chatary is shown leaving the police headquarters in company of his lawyer. Bisztu is shown going up the stairs to the police station in the company of four policeman who walk alonside two abreast.
    Clearly, one is an image of innocence and liberty and the other is one of guilt and arrest. Clips
    like these go a long way towards brain-washing the unsuspecting populace.

  5. Seems like there are two problems here: the quality of the curriculum and the quality of the teacher. You really need both: a dull, uninspired teacher can kill interest in the liveliest subject; a biased or poorly thought out curriculum can be too much for even the most gifted teacher. What are the expected outcomes for Hungarian students–that is, what are they expected to know once they finish secondary school? If there’s an official policy statement on that I think it would be very enlightening.

    This is particularly heartbreaking to hear because history is such an interesting subject. In my case, though, I learned more about history in spite of my formal education. In all the years I had to take American history we never made it past World War 2. We also had to take a year of Texas history (I think most states require a year of state-specific history). But I had to do my own reading to find the historical topics I found most interesting. I’m not a professional educator so I don’t know what the solution is, besides parents encouraging their kids to go to the library and do their own research.

  6. Apropos research … In the 70s when I was in elementary school our teacher gave us the research task to find out for an extra 5 (grade “A”) who said and why this: “Paris is worth a Mass”. Of course I did nothing as usual … Then I got it! There was a free telephone service called Special Inquiries (“különleges tudakozó”). You could ask anything from how to get out chewing gum from the dog’s hair to history questions. So I called them from a pay phone (we didn’t have telephone at home). After one minute wait I had my answer and got the extra 5. I was the only one.

    I have never told it to anybody. You are the first. Take this Google! It was 40 years ago on Planet Hungary!

  7. Looking back on it, it’s kind of unbelievable how there was no time left at all for the 4 or 5 topics covering the 20th century in my senior year at high school. We had to work out those topics totally on our own if we wanted to have the slightest chance to pass the matura exam. I remember how I copied lines from he history book and had no idea what I was reading about. That was the first time I had heard about those events or names. To this day, I feel I’ve been burdened by this lack of knowledge, even though as a young adult I decided to take matters in my hand and started to educate myself on history, but somehow it was always a different topic, never Hungarian history, never the 20th century. I couldn’t care less. I wanted to have a kind of global knowledge of history, to see the connections between events on different parts of the globe – at school we were never taught like this, so my historical knowledge was literally fragmented, that is, one event was isolated from the other in my head, and it annoyed me to no end at that point.

    Only when I started to get interested in recent politics in Hungary (3-4 years ago) came the painful realization that without a rudimentary knowledge of my ccountry’s history I had absolutely no chance to understand what those articles and opinion pieces in the media are about. And it bothered me a lot, being lost like that. How can I judge if what I’m reading is true or not if I am so ignorant? How do people judge these things for themselves? These were the questions I asked myself. Well, the answer is actually one of the keys to recent happenings in the country: the people simply don’t. They have absolutely no idea, and they don’t even have the inclination to inform themselves, even though there are multiple sources available nowadays.

    A person without sound historical knowledge is in my opinion just hanging in midair, living only in the moment, can’t see how there are patterns in history which repeat themselves, how there are mistakes which have been committed in the same way again and again and so could be prevented from being made again. To such people you can feed anything that suits your goals. Anything. And that is what’s happening right now. Ignorance on all fronts – that’s the biggest problem in Hungary nowadays.

  8. Mutt: That’s fantastic! What an interesting service–it would be a great start for a mystery novel, actually.

  9. “(…) a fair number of young people don’t even know who Miklós Horthy and János Kádár were. Hard to imagine, but apparently true.”

    Here is a good one: When the Reformed Church unveiled the Horthy-plaque in the Reformed Gymnasium in Debrecen in May, there was a small protest and press statement of MSZP and the Jewish community in front of the building. The school had the kids file out to form a human chain around (“protect”) it, singing hymns to blot out the protest (exorcism, calvinist version), and kids tore up a transparent saying “Horthy – never again”. In the video, the reporter asks some kids what they actually know about Horthy. A boy says, “he was a student of this school, and we are known to stand up for each other.” – “What else do you know about Horthy?” – “Ummm nothing comes to mind”, “here are the organizers, you can ask them.” An older boy in a black T-Shirt, apparently one of the organizers, doesn’t know either, just grins into the camera. Turned out he’s Minister Zoltán Balog’s son.

    http://egyenlito.blog.hu/2012/05/22/lebuktattuk_balogh_zoltan_miniszter_fia_enekelt_debrecenben

  10. First hand info from the fifth grade.

    The teacher started the first history class by quoting the Bible that God created the world.

    This is the state of the affairs in the nationalized public school system of Hungary.

  11. Mutt :
    Apropos research … In the 70s when I was in elementary school our teacher gave us the research task to find out for an extra 5 (grade “A”) who said and why this: “Paris is worth a Mass”.

    Alas, there is actually no evidence at all that Henri IV ever said this. The only (almost) contemporary source available is a popular satire published in 1622, attributing the sentence to… his minister, the duke of Sully. That’s rather poor, as far as sources go. It then disappears for more than a century, until it is attributed to the king himself, to criticize him… but at the end of the XVIIIth Voltaire mentions it again, this time to praise Henri IV (and demean Catholicism). The Revolution and later on the IIIrd Republic would eventually make this imaginary sentence a symbol of a legendary process leading to the separation of Church and State.

    I mention this, because in my view these debates on the contents of History courses (the same dispute exists in France) are absolutey missing the point. The teaching of History in Europe should be centered on what History really is, meaning the methods and tools of research. What’s an artefact, a document, a testimony etc. How History is written. This can be taught and experienced from an early age, and obviously with elements belonging to one’s local and national past, either contemporary or ancient. We need enlightened citizens, not an audience for new fairytales… whatever side they come from.

  12. Mutt :
    Apropos research … In the 70s when I was in elementary school our teacher gave us the research task to find out for an extra 5 (grade “A”) who said and why this: “Paris is worth a Mass”. Of course I did nothing as usual … Then I got it! There was a free telephone service called Special Inquiries (“különleges tudakozó”). You could ask anything from how to get out chewing gum from the dog’s hair to history questions. So I called them from a pay phone (we didn’t have telephone at home). After one minute wait I had my answer and got the extra 5. I was the only one.
    I have never told it to anybody. You are the first. Take this Google! It was 40 years ago on Planet Hungary!

    I remember that! I mean the “Special inquiries” hotline. I was always wondering how did they know everything. We did not have a telephone either. Not until 1976. Luckily there was phone booth right in front of the apartment building.

  13. pusztaranger :
    “(…) a fair number of young people don’t even know who Miklós Horthy and János Kádár were. Hard to imagine, but apparently true.”
    Here is a good one: When the Reformed Church unveiled the Horthy-plaque in the Reformed Gymnasium in Debrecen in May, there was a small protest and press statement of MSZP and the Jewish community in front of the building. The school had the kids file out to form a human chain around (“protect”) it, singing hymns to blot out the protest (exorcism, calvinist version), and kids tore up a transparent saying “Horthy – never again”. In the video, the reporter asks some kids what they actually know about Horthy. A boy says, “he was a student of this school, and we are known to stand up for each other.” – “What else do you know about Horthy?” – “Ummm nothing comes to mind”, “here are the organizers, you can ask them.” An older boy in a black T-Shirt, apparently one of the organizers, doesn’t know either, just grins into the camera. Turned out he’s Minister Zoltán Balog’s son.

    I am not at all surprised. Many Hungarians follow Jobbik or Fidesz not according to what they are really all abut but how they fit into their worldview. It is very superficial. THen again the PR goes according what people want to hear. It is like buying a toothpaste. You never look at the ingredients, and likely the first toothpaste a kid buys on his/her own is the toothpaste their used at home or the one that has the best marketing campaign THis is the level HUngary slid down to.
    I remember an addition to history. I think it was Grade 11, 12 or only in 12. It was called Basics of our worldview. It was taught by our high school principal. THis is where they crammed in how fantastic communism is, and how awful capitalism is. I just called it the brainwash class. I am not sure if that subject still exist. Maybe they do not needed any more as Fidesz does it as a public service. TV was only available from 8AM-12Pm and then again from 4PM-11PM. In the morning it was only educational classes, so was the early afternoon. Now Fidesz does this 20 hours a day, and they also have some newspapers to go with it.
    As far as a well rounded education on Hungarian history? I think we have to wait for that one.

  14. The teaching of history in its schools reflects the opinions of the ruling elite of a country. A cursory examination of the the content of history courses after ‘liberation’ in Hungary, what was included and what was excluded, is a prime example. Erdely was not even mentioned even though it constituted an important part of the country’s history.

    In Chicago there was no requirement when I attended grade and high school there to take any history courses except civics, that gave an overview of the American system of governing. There was no requirement to know about events outside of our borders that ultimately transformed and shaped US society. Thus our electorate is hardly in the position to make rational decisions, due to a glaring lack of knowledge, to what extent we should be engaged in the world.

  15. The sorry state of the history education cannot be blamed only on the FIDESZ (one of the rare things they didn’t screw up alone). Nobody since the fall of the communist regime tried to rework the curriculum. As Csaba mentioned it they only threw out the obvious marxists garbage but nothing else happened. The memorization and the lack of the “connecting the dots” approach was still missing. None of the post-communist governments took on the task. Has anybody written in the past 22 years an alternative curriculum that at least can be debated?

  16. An :
    @Csaba K. Zoltani: Re: Erdely wasn’t even mentioned, right…. Then why was it on the erettsegi (high school school leaving exam)? It must have been mentioned somewhere if students got tested on it.
    http://erettsegi.com/tortenelem/erdely-fejlodese-aranykora-es-hanyatlasa/

    Well, this is a good example what professor Balogh is trying to say. The history of Transylvania ends in the 17th century. We learned the same exact things during the ancient regime, in the 80s.

  17. Mutt :
    The sorry state of the history education cannot be blamed only on the FIDESZ (one of the rare things they didn’t screw up alone). Nobody since the fall of the communist regime tried to rework the curriculum. As Csaba mentioned it they only threw out the obvious marxists garbage but nothing else happened. The memorization and the lack of the “connecting the dots” approach was still missing. None of the post-communist governments took on the task. Has anybody written in the past 22 years an alternative curriculum that at least can be debated?

    1. Csaba K. Zoltani was not making the point you attribute to him. He was bashing the pre-Fidesz “liberal” education for being politically biased, citing an example that turns out to be incorrect.

    2. On the other hand, there is an excellent post above from Marcel De on what an education in history should look like, which is in line with your call for “connecting the dots”.

    3. Re: Alternative curriculum…. the idea of having a centrally-decided uniform curriculum itself is something that dates back to the Kadar era (and probably to even before that). I’m not necessarily against setting up some kind of standard across all schools in the country, but it should allow some kind of flexibility for the schools and teachers.

  18. Pusztranger’s example on video. Absolutely frightening. One of the “organizers” is the son of a cabinet minister in whose family the name of Horthy not exactly a household word. But he organizes an event to honor the man about whom he knows nothing. In addition, the Orbán government vehemently denies that it has anything to do with the growing Horthy cult while a family member of one of the ministers is actively participating in building that cult.

    The kids shown here are at least 16-17 years old who can be herded out without ever inquiring about the man they are honoring. Madness.

  19. Mutt :

    An :
    @Csaba K. Zoltani: Re: Erdely wasn’t even mentioned, right…. Then why was it on the erettsegi (high school school leaving exam)? It must have been mentioned somewhere if students got tested on it.
    http://erettsegi.com/tortenelem/erdely-fejlodese-aranykora-es-hanyatlasa/

    Well, this is a good example what professor Balogh is trying to say. The history of Transylvania ends in the 17th century. We learned the same exact things during the ancient regime, in the 80s.

    I don’t know what you learned in school, but in my school the history of Transylvania did not end in the 17th century. It definitely did not get the detailed attention for later periods than for this one… and yes, this stuff probably doesn’t seem to be updated much since the 80s. The question really is not what was taught about the 17th century, but what was taught about more recent history.. and that got tweaked around a lot more.

    I still don’t get how it is possible that those students demonstrating did not know anything about Horthy. Very scary.

  20. Csaba K. Zoltani :
    The teaching of history in its schools reflects the opinions of the ruling elite of a country. A cursory examination of the the content of history courses after ‘liberation’ in Hungary, what was included and what was excluded, is a prime example. Erdely was not even mentioned even though it constituted an important part of the country’s history.
    In Chicago there was no requirement when I attended grade and high school there to take any history courses except civics, that gave an overview of the American system of governing. There was no requirement to know about events outside of our borders that ultimately transformed and shaped US society. Thus our electorate is hardly in the position to make rational decisions, due to a glaring lack of knowledge, to what extent we should be engaged in the world.

    I do agree with you until the last sentence. I do not understand why when is something not working in the USA, that is the example they use in Hungary, and when something works fantastically in the USA, they use Romania or a thord world country as an example in Hungary.
    I think your post just hit the nail in the head for the general Hungarian problem, “always measure our achievement to the worst examples and never aim higher”.

  21. I would be grateful if someone could furnish verifiable proof that during the communist era that the history of Erdely was taught in the high schools. What was the question about Erdely that was asked on the erettsegi? Thank you in advance.

  22. Eva S. Balogh :
    Pusztranger’s example on video. Absolutely frightening. One of the “organizers” is the son of a cabinet minister in whose family the name of Horthy not exactly a household word. But he organizes an event to honor the man about whom he knows nothing. In addition, the Orbán government vehemently denies that it has anything to do with the growing Horthy cult while a family member of one of the ministers is actively participating in building that cult.
    The kids shown here are at least 16-17 years old who can be herded out without ever inquiring about the man they are honoring. Madness.

    The fact that the Minister’s sone knew nothing about Horthy suggests that the Minister
    was probably not a great believer either; but again, what arises is the suspicion that this is the wish of Him-Whose-Wish-Must-Be-Realized….the Viktator, the Orbanor, the Great
    Azeri Negotiator Himself…Herr Orban of the First Hungarian Reich!

  23. Csaba K. Zoltani :
    I would be grateful if someone could furnish verifiable proof that during the communist era that the history of Erdely was taught in the high schools. What was the question about Erdely that was asked on the erettsegi? Thank you in advance.

    Well, I went to high school in the 80s, and we did learn about the history of Erdely. As I don’t have my schoolbooks anymore, I cant; give you “verifiable proof”.

  24. “Has anybody written in the past 22 years an alternative curriculum that at least can be debated?”
    What frequently debated isn’t an alternative curriculum, but loads of alternative historical facts, as I see it.
    Sound strange? Smithboroug up front quite correct – no “fact” good enough if it doesn’t fit to the “politically correct” view of the ruling parties. Alternatively, if there is a way they twist the facts shamelessly. Just look back to the Nyírő-reburial story for one.

    Because of the quasi religious approach to politics today in Hungary – people believe, because they want to, not because they have reason – feels quite hopeless sometimes even trying to explain and argue.
    You know, the “I made up my mind already, don’t try to confuse me with facts” kind…

    Don’t think, that these changes in the education happened by chance, the narrow minded approach far from being only the result of dilettantism. In my opinion it’s a well planned motion – the brain washing of the coming generations an large, breeding the obedient masses for the greater glory of our almighty leader.
    And it only has begun.

  25. Csaba K. Zoltani :

    I would be grateful if someone could furnish verifiable proof that during the communist era that the history of Erdely was taught in the high schools. What was the question about Erdely that was asked on the erettsegi? Thank you in advance.

    That’s ridiculous. The Transylvania Principality and its achievements were taught even in the Rákosi period. So, when I was asked by the Hungarian Reformed minister in Ottawa sometime in 1957 or 58 to give a little presentation about Dutch-Hungarian relations in the 17th century I was able to do so.

  26. An :
    1. Csaba K. Zoltani was not making the point you attribute to him. He was bashing the pre-Fidesz “liberal” education for being politically biased, citing an example that turns out to be incorrect.
    2. On the other hand, there is an excellent post above from Marcel De on what an education in history should look like, which is in line with your call for “connecting the dots”.
    3. Re: Alternative curriculum…. the idea of having a centrally-decided uniform curriculum itself is something that dates back to the Kadar era (and probably to even before that). I’m not necessarily against setting up some kind of standard across all schools in the country, but it should allow some kind of flexibility for the schools and teachers.

    This one, two, three sounds like my history classes in the 80s … 🙂

    1. Nah.

    2. Indeed. But I would add that this (approaching history from research) should be part of the history education. This part should spark the interest in history and politics that can lead later to responsible citizens. But you still can’t expect the students to Google by themselves what happened in the past. You need to teach it.

    3. There has to be a curriculum that is the backbone of the history education. This isn’t a communist idea. That curriculum should talk about everything with as much neutrality as possible. Teachers have to have flexibility but there should be a guideline to explain what is not an appropriate explanation. You don’t want Bela Varga to teach history. Again, it’s not just the curriculum. The idiotic repetition of subjects in secondary education should go away too.

    Csaba, probably a large chunk of the readers learned the same about Transylvania in the communist era. Ok, it is not the 17th century where it ended, but definitely nothing after the Ausgleich and absolutely nada about the 19th century magyarization or the 20th century.

  27. Memories again. I bet the most frequent phrase during my history classes was this:

    “they recognized, that …” (felismerték, hogy …). History was a serious of revelations. Marxist light bulb history.

  28. @Mutt: Memories… as I was graduating in 1989 from high school, history classes were a lot of fun, as history was “rewritten” as we were going along in the year 🙂

    We liked to make fun of our history teacher who happened to be the one of the authors of the textbook we were using (on the history of the 20th century). It was an old-fashioned Kadar regime textbook, calling 56 a counter-revolution. Despite being one of the authors, my teacher’s oral lectures in class were different than what was in the textbook….my favorite saying of hers was “OK, if you close the doors, I’ll tell you how it really was” (we used to keep the classroom doors open to get some fresh air)

  29. A different viewpoint concerning history..

    My interest in history started at an early age and it was interesting but at times painful. Nearby where I lived during the war, Ferenc Mora was doing a fair amount of excavations, the results of which are in the Szeged Museum. The war interrupted these archeological studies, but many of the locations were partly excavated holes in the ground. I decided that finding old things is fun, particularly after my father whacked me pretty hard for trying to dig up newer things like unexploded bombs around the oil refinery. I was successful and dug up a prize scull and some , what looked like, shinbones. Having only limited but relevant knowledge of other sciences I knew that dead things can spread disease, and I dutifully put the skull and the bones into my mother’s large soup pot and “sterilized” the bones on the kitchen stove. Of course, I was interested in other things also and went doing something in the yard, forgetting about the bones boiling in the soup pot, until I heard my mother’s screech from the kitchen. This resulted in another painful experience regarding my historical studies.

    When some excavations resumed, I was asking questions from everybody who was involved, and I learned that there were cemeteries of Jazigs, Sarmatians, Huns, Gepids, Avars and so on in the various sand layers of sand in the ancient area where the Maros joins the Tisza river. In the then little village of Szoreg, there were only Hungarians and Serbs so I was wondering what how all those other folks got there and where they went. My brother is six years older then me, and he was already studying about the geese of the Capitolium, but he couldn’t help me. My father only told me that those folks lived around there and fought too much and did not survive as such,. But who knows, he said, some of the folks in the village could be descendents of one or the other groups. When I asked him how was that possible, he reminded me of the sole black man in the area, who was an African soldier and married a local girl and left (deserted) the French army in 1919. This brought up more questions, like what was the French army doing near Szoreg and so on, which is already modern history. After the war (other than living through the war) I lost interest in “ancient” history for a while. But another opportunity arose when we had to cart books removed from the school library to a collection point because they did not agree with the. Tenets of the new regime. Volunteering for pulling and pushing the handcart, there was an opportunity to remove and hide some books that looked interesting and because the cart’s path went by my house, many were thrown into a ditch near my house for later retrieval. Some were not interesting, (you cant judge a book by its cover) but there were interesting history books and magazines with colorful maps, and pictures of supposedly ancient events.

    Formally, I was never taught ancient history except for the Romans and a little for the Greeks> But the why and how about those other folks never satisfactorily answered to me in classes. Particular interest occurred later when the we had to cut out pages from newly handed out history books and glue in replacement pages. From this I learned that history can change… and nothing is static. Of course we learned about the Huns and Attila and how he lost a fantastically murderous battle at Catalaunum and then lo and behold the next year he was leading his troops into Italy, reaching Rome. Not everything sounded logical, but somehow the cutting out of pages and re-gluing new ones gave an inkling of what may have happened.

    I was lucky when I got to Budapest, because through friends and acquaintances I met actual historians (the ones who write the books!) I was politely listening to many a presso and cigarette sessions about much more sophisticated and divergent history in circles of Szekfu and Gogolak and many others whose name I do not remember. Those discussions fueled my interest in history which was dormant until I settled in the USA and had access to all sort of books and could immerse myself in my hobby (it never was and will be my major love which is technology) but like a lover besides a wife I am still very interested in learning the how’s and the whys of history.

    I firmly believe that one can not start learning history FROM a certain point in time, just as one can’t build a house from halfway up. And to recite the famous saying “those who don’t learn their history are sentenced to repeat it..”

    Western history is also woefully inadequate in its coverage. American history of Europe is restricted to British and French plus a little from other folks with whom the US was at war at one time or another,. Until Norman Davies wrote the “Europe A History” there was not a comprehensive European history book published in the west that covered all of Europe. A similar book in Hungarian would be an ideal book to teach broken into segments by time.

    In my opinion, current events are not history, it is wrought with many strictly personal opinions which were not filtered by enough elapsed time.

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