A Hungarian historical atlas

Every time the topic of historical atlases comes up I have to think of an old story when I tried to buy a good historical atlas. The salesman who waited on me was obviously not quite fit to work in a bookstore because he looked at me as if I came from the moon. I tried to help him out: "You know, in the last couple of thousand years the political map of the world has changed a bit." I don't think it registered. In the end I ordered a three-volume German historical atlas for Bavarian high school kids. It's excellent.

In Hungary the historical atlas that was available during the Kádár regime was poor–a few pages long and not very informative. For the last seven years a much larger and more detailed historical atlas has been available. It is almost 120 pages long and includes a 20-page historical chronology. Recently a group of experts took a look at it and found it wanting. They especially objected to the almost total neglect of Jews and Gypsies in the chronology section of the atlas. The chronology skims over the holocaust, never once using the word. The authors of the study admitted that this atlas and chronology are used in conjunction with textbooks in which some space is given to the holocaust. In the case of the Gypsies, however, the problem is more acute. About 10% of the students who use this atlas are of Roma origin. The Gypsies are marginalized in the atlas and the textbooks ignore them completely. Thus Roma children learn absolutely nothing about the past of their own people.

I find the complaint that there are 106 "graphic pictures" of Greater Hungary in the atlas less justified. Yes, just as I told the salesman in the bookstore, the world has changed over the centuries. One cannot discuss Hungarian history, let's say in the thirteenth century, without having a map that reflects the country's borders at the time. The critics complain about the number of these maps especially in light of the habit of some people of placing a decal of Greater Hungary on their cars. I understand the worry but one cannot change history. What students must be taught is why the map of Hungary has changed.

The nationalities are dealt with extensively. It seems almost like overkill. For instance, seven separate maps show the areas inhabited by the Alans  (jászok in Hungarian). On the other hand, I don't quite understand the authors' complaint that the "jászok" are also called "alánok." Obviously they don't think that this information is necessary. They also complain that the atlas mentions that the Romanians were also called "vlachs" or "oláhs" and that the Slovaks used to be called "tótok." In fact, I consider these pieces of information important, especially when reading older texts. I know that "oláh" for Romanian or "tót" for Slovak today has a prejorative meaning, but in the old days that was not so. A hundred years ago, the 1910 census called the Slovaks tótok and the Romanians oláhok in the official publication.

The complaint about the lack of information about the Roma seems to be more justified. The word "Roma" doesn't appear at all, and Gypsy (cigány) only on a map entitled "Immigration and inner migrations in the eighteenth century." This map gives the wrong impression that Gypsies arrived in Hungary only in the 1700s. Moreover, no explanation is given about their origin, their occupations, or what language they spoke. Although there are pictures of peasants and artisans in different centuries, there is not one picture of a Gypsy. And a couple of obvious choices would have been to portray a Gypsy as a musician or a bricklayer.

The situation is not better when it comes to the Jews. They first appear on the same map as the Gypsies showing immigration in the eighteenth century, again giving the false impression that Jews arrived in Hungary only in the 1700s. On maps showing religious composition, Jews are simply not mentioned. In the chronology section there is only one reference to the Jews: "1942. Beginning of the Nazi program of the Jewish question (January 20)." That's all. That is mighty little for sure. Not a word about the numerus clausus of 1920 or the so-called Jewish laws between 1938 and 1942. This is indeed a serious problem.

The historical knowledge of the younger generation is appalling. Apparently Hungarian sociologists just finished a study based on a sample of people under the age of 30. The results are not yet public but Mária Vásárhelyi, one of the sociologists involved in the study, calls the results "depressing." The lack of knowledge is "frightening." I will be very interested to see the published results and will certainly pass the information on to you. 

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ESB – “They especially objected to the almost total neglect of Jews and Gypsies in the chronology section of the atlas.”
If the anecdote below is any indication of how Hungarians see the world, it should be no surprise that Jews and Roma are excluded from historical atlases.
“Globetrotting reporter John Gunther repeated an anecdote about the way Hungarians are intensely patriotic and passionate about their heritage: An 8-year-old girl entering geography class is given a new globe by her father. The girl bursts into tears, wailing “Papa, I want a globe with only Hungary on it!”


Is “oláh” (vlach) i.e. Romanian considered pejorative in Hungarian? In what way?


It made me curious and I checked the most recent geographic atlas for secondary school for a map on the ethical diversity of Hungary.
The map that comes most close to this is labelled “Nationalities of the Carpathian basin”. There are 13 ethnical groups represented on the map, lacking both Jewish and Gypsy. The full listing is Hungarian, German, Czech, Slovak, Ukrainian, Poles, Romanian, Slovenian, Croat, Serb, Bosnian, Bulgarian & Russian. It is actually my suspicion that the map is derived from a language map of the Carpathian basin, originally published by the Geographical Research Institute of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.


It wasn’t pejorative. But it became pejorative during the 20th century.
Olah/Valch is a Germanic word which meant “foreigner” or “roman” .
For instance “Wales, Welsh” which used by the invading anglo-saxon tribes to name the local britano-romans of England.
In the East-Europe the word was borrowed from the Germanic-tribes by the Slavs (Polish, Bulgars, etc) and from the Slavs by the Magyar to refer to romanians and italians (“romans”-by their latin-derived language)
For instance Italian and Italia are “Olasz” and “Olaszország”, respectively “Wloski” and “Włochy” in Polish.