Monday, 25 February 2013

AN HUNGARIAN VIEW OF NATIONAL HISTORY

A particular historiography

What is 'history'? Even brief contact with Hungary reveals one particular approach to answer this question, certainly when it applies to the history of those who presently speak Magyar, the Hungarian language. Tourists visiting Hungary may come across it a lot, a quick delve into more formal histories of Hungary may find it hard to avoid, I believe that it is taught in Hungarian schools, and it seems rarely out of mind in Hungarian politics.

It does seem very important to many Hungarians to have an account of where their language came from, and by extension what are the origins of the peoples who spoke it, in the undocumented ages before they appeared in the Carpathian basin a little over a thousand years ago. A difficult conundrum this, what was their history in the time of their prehistory? A lot of effort and ingenuity has gone into trying to solve this conundrum, drawing upon possible sightings in the histories of other peoples, bits of archeology, kinds of anthropology, snatches of musicology, a lot of speculative linguistics, not a little myth, more than a touch of teleogy, and some imaginative narrative-building.

Yesterday, in the Kazan Herald, of all places, Yusha Kozakiewicz presented a classic of the genre. Early on it in this makes bold statement of what a national history is all about –
...answers to the eternal question which haunts every nation: 'Where do we come from?'
He then offer his extensive answer with respect to 'the Hungarians' and their origins in Central Asia:


A different kind of national history

To an English eye, this is all looks most unfamiliar, not just because of the actual content that emerges and the methodologies employed to construct it. Rightly or wrongly, and with emphases differing from generation to generation, British history seems to be builf upon the stories of the peoples who inhabit the British Isles, what has happened to them once they are here and, to some degree, what they have subsequently done elsewhere. Churchill's all-embracing notion of 'the English-speaking peoples' has not caught on much and those who have left these shores are welcome to go off and have their own, new, independent histories elsewhere, as Canadians, Australians etc. And as for our ancestors stories before they arrives here, well, that is not all that terribly interesting except to a few enthusiasts. They were people who lived their lives elsewhere, wherever that was, and with no disrespect to the validity and worth of their lives in those contexts, what they did and achieved was of little relevance to their stories of the present mix of people that they and their descendents subsequently joined, their language, culture etc., what they did and achieved here.

The above interpretation attempts to articulate that I have perceived and internalised through the myriad of cultural experiences of my own life, to create a particular set of assumption about what constituted the history of these islands. Perhaps others have incorporated other implicit assumptions about this, giving rise to different articulations. I suspect, however, that many share the implicit assumption that the history of those now living here primarily comprises the story of those who lived her before us. I do not claim that this model of viewing our history is right, just that it exists and is probably widepread on these islands. And by the way, before anyone reaches for a high horse, this view of mine predates the 'recent wave of immigration', though I have seen no reason to change it to reflect the new Volkswanderung of the second half of the twentieth century.

I cannot see that many in my own country will be much occupied by the question which haunts every nation: 'Where do we come from?' Though I understand that recent genetic technology suggests that we might not be a varies genetically as was once thought, the the long-established answer shill holds true: wherever. And ditto for our language, and our culture. There is no point in trying to follow such matters back beyond these shores, for their validity lies in what they have become as part of our present national mix.

Why even ask?

What an obscure line of questioning and, to real historians, probably what an odd conceptualisation in response. So why bother? Partly to explain to myself (and to suggest to others) why how may Hungarians seem to see their nation's history rather differently than many in my own society see ours – because they may be looking for answers to a different question.

I have been interested in the history of Conductive Education for some thirty or so years, particularly the history of its ideas – long enough for my early interest itself to have become historical! Inter alia, I am currently involved in a small project to chart some salient events in the CE story, in terms of when and where they happened. It is all turning out rather more complex a matter than originally expected. The devil is not in specific detail, tricky as it can be to nail down particular dates and locations – nor in the technology of presenting these. No, it lies deeper, in the implicit assumptions. How these manifest themselves in the context of this prticular project, we shall have to see, in the certain knowledge that the outcome will not satisfy everyone.

I should add that the three of us involved in this are all British – in our differing ways, very.


References

Kozakiewicz, Y. (2013) Retracing the fraternal steps of history, from Hungary to Tartary, Kazan Herald, 24 February
Sutton, A. (2013) Considering the history of CE, Conductive World, 11 February

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