In memoriam: Mark Pittaway (1971-2010)

Mark died on November 3. Two days earlier, on November 1, he wrote his last comment on this blog. He was a faithful reader of and contributor to Hungarian Spectrum for almost two years. At least this is what I was able to ascertain from my records.

Why was Mark interested in Hungarian Spectrum? Because he was an outstanding historian who devoted his scholarly life to modern Hungarian history. And by all accounts he was brilliant. As a fellow Hungarian historian wrote to me about Mark: "I usually don't use big words, but Mark is a loss not only to his family, his friends, but also to Hungary." He is certainly a loss to me and to Hungarian Spectrum.Mark Pittaway

Mark was born in Wakefield, England. He attended the University of Warwick as an undergraudate and moved on to the University of Liverpool for his postgraduate studies. His dissertation was entitled "Industrial Workers, Socialist Industrialisation and the State in Hungary, 1948-1958." As is clear from the title of his dissertation, his historical interests centered on Hungary's Stalinist period. At least in the beginning. But he ventured into the early Kádár period as well and also became quite an expert on Hungarian fascism. Among his publications one even finds books on the change of regime in 1989-90.

Reading some of Mark's publications, one is struck by his attention to detail. He even knew how many television sets were sold in Sopron in 1957 when the the state first launched a national television service. Why was this interesting or important? Because in Sopron, which is only 50 km from Vienna, people could watch Austrian television and thus could learn something about the outside world. Mark even found out that the owners of these sets made extra money by receiving weekend "television tourists." It tells a lot about the situation right after the revolution. I'm also convinced that he read all the party papers of every county and borough from the 1950s because he was equally at home in Sztálinváros and in Pit XII of the coal mine in Tatabánya.

But he was knowledgeable about a wide range of things. I, for one, learned a lot from him. He was the one who called my attention to an excellent source of information on national election results from 1920 on. If the question of Hungarian Jewry came up, Mark seemed to have known exactly how many Jews lived in such and such a city or county and what their social status was. And as everybody who wrote to me mentioned, he was extraordinarily generous with this body of knowledge. Always ready to share it with anyone who was interested. A former colleague wrote to me: "What stuck me about him aside from his brilliance and depth of knowledge was his generosity in sharing ideas and information with colleagues." Or from an other friend: "He was a friend to me …, and what was most extraordinary about him was not just that he was brilliant, but that he was so generous with it, always sharing his extraordinarily deep knowledge, and taking hours to explain." Two appraisals from two different countries.

Some people say that the Internet divides us, isolates us, instead of bringing us together. How wrong they are. I never met Mark in person, but I understand that he thought of me as a friend and the feeling was mutual. I have been thinking of practically nothing else since I found out that he died but how much we are going to miss him and what a void he is leaving behind in our lives and in Hungarian Spectrum.

What a tragedy. How cruel life can be.

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Guest

I’m only an average reader on this site and can’t comment on many things, but the aricles here and comments have been enlightening for me – especially Mark’s, so I will miss him too.
Still there are more commentators here whose postings I’d like to read and everybody will remember Mark as this site moves on …

mouse
Guest

I came here trying to find out a little more about this strange country that is my home for the next few years and Mark’s comments and writing really opened up discussions here. I’ll miss him.

Kata
Guest
I ‘m only an irregular reader of this blog, but feel the need to express my sense of loss over the passing of Mark Pittaway. When I first read the note about his death I thought that it was just another awkward internet hoax … I was not even certain that Mark is identical with the British historian on Eva’s FB page, but there were many remarks in the comments of the blogs over the years which indicated that it might be the case. Whenever I opened Hungarian Spectrum, I always made it my business to seek out Mark’s comments. I relished his level headed thoughts , audible and fair voice. Without ever knowing him personally his comments echoed very well the knowledgeable, enthusiastic and generous scholar that many of his friends, colleagues and students on whose life he touched remark in their tributes. Regarding myself an eternal student of history, I ‘d have liked to ask Mark so many questions… Well that window of opportunity has been shut by now, but I am grateful to this blog that it has recorded for us many of Mark’s insightful comments (together with the thoughts of other commentators).
Kata
Guest

Apologies, I meant laudable voice and not “audible”.

Paul
Guest

Thank you Éva.
I suspect Kata sums it up well for many of us when she says “I always made it my business to seek out Mark’s comments. I relished his level headed thoughts , audible and fair voice”. And I’m sure her comment about wanting to have asked Mark so many questions echos one of the many reactions to this awful news that most of us felt.
With all due respect to Éva, and the many excellent posters on this blog, Hungarian Spectrum will just not be the same without Mark. As wolfi says, the site will move on, but right now it feels hard to believe.
No matter how convinced I was on a topic, agreement from Mark always made me feel that I really was correct im my understanding/analysis. But even the faintest words of doubt or contradiction from him were enough to stop me in my tracks and make me reassess my views.
It’s an old cliché, but it really does feel like a light has gone out.

Paul
Guest

Mark’s tribute page on the OU site: http://www.open.ac.uk/Arts/mark-pittaway/

Julie
Guest

What a loss to Hungarian scholarship, and to the blog. Mark made such thoughtful comments and was unfailingly kind in his responses. All the best to his family and friends, who must miss him very much.

Hank
Guest

I was immensely shocked to learn of Mark’s death when I came back from Warsaw this morning. As so many have said, it is a great loss, not only because of his knowledge and expertise but also because of his willingness to share, to debate in earnest and to stay civilized. A true democrat. Thanks Mark.

NWO
Guest

He will definitely be missed. He was by far the most informed and insightful contributor to this blog, and seems to have been a top flight academic. It is very sad news.

Paul
Guest

If anyone hasn’t yet looked at Mark’s OU tribute page at http://www.open.ac.uk/Arts/mark-pittaway/, it’s really worth a read.
And, even if you have looked at it, have another look. It’s been updated today to include all the dozens of tributes received over the weekend.

Sandor
Guest

Strangely, my comment from yesterday has disappeared from the list.
In essence I was suggesting that if everybody is remembering Mark so fondly and appreciate his writing as well as they should, perhaps it would be worthwhile Eva, if you could collect all his postings and under the side bar you could open a “Mark Collected Postings” permanent subfolder. It would also serve as a stylish memorial that he certainly deserves.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Sandor: “Strangely, my comment from yesterday has disappeared from the list.”
I don’t think it disappeared. We even talked about it. I mentioned that I was thinking about something like that.

Paul
Guest

Sándor, I remember your post, and Éva’s reply (and my reply!). But I think it was on a different thread to this.
I would look for it for you, but I have already spent far too much time on HS tonight!

Sophist
Guest

Found a link to an old blog of Mark’s
http://rethinkingeurope.blogspot.com/

Paul
Guest

Thanks Sophist. Some interesting reading – and it makes Mark’s early death seem even more unjust.
Are you, by any chance, a colleague of Mark’s, or do you work in the same field?

Sophist
Guest

Paul,
I’m a post-graduate student at the OU ( Education not European studies) so I have access to their servers. But I only ever had contact with Mark through HS, I only learnt he was an academic from a remark of Eva’s.
For me, that was the most amazing thing: he wore his learning so lightly, never broadcasted the fact that he was an expert in this field, never argued from a position of authority: what an example, what a loss.

Paul
Guest

“what an example, what a loss”
Very true. I had no idea of the real person behind the simple signature ‘Mark’. Obviously he knew his stuff, but he always seemed a little ‘unrelaxed’ to me (that’s the nearest word I can think of, but doesn’t really describe what I mean), and his sense of humour very rarely showed (or was allowed to show?) through.
But I spent an hour or so the other night reading through his OU tribute page and a completely different person emerges. I wish I had known him longer and much better than I did.

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