Hungary and the Habsburgs, 1765-1800: An Experiment in Enlightened Absolutism

Hungary and the Habsburgs, 1765-1800: An Experiment in Enlightened Absolutism

Hungary and the Habsburgs, 1765-1800: An Experiment in Enlightened Absolutism

Hungary and the Habsburgs, 1765-1800: An Experiment in Enlightened Absolutism

Excerpt

Habent sua fata libelli—the tag applies all the more to an author born in the twentieth century towards the eastern fringe of Central Europe. She became a medievalist but events in Hungary of the 1950s drove her to study the early modern age and contemporary history. Work was proceeding on the compilation of a new textbook for university undergraduates, and the author was assigned, almost by accident, the task of “re-evaluating” the era of Joseph II. Standard monographs and publications of primary source documents were at hand, and it would have been perfectly feasible to utilize these as a basis for the job. However, the creative urge took over: it is a medievalist’s instinct, primarily for personal satisfaction, to rush to the archives and mine for source materials in order to document a period. And that is what happened in this case as well. The textbook was published, even though the author—who had in the meantime grown to love the period and its main protagonists, both in Hungary and Vienna—found herself branded a “Josephist” in editorial reviews of the manuscript.

During the 1960s it became possible to visit archives not just in Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland. Permission might be gained to spend a whole month in Vienna, and by the end of the decade Hungarian researchers could even study documents in Paris—albeit within the rationed interval of a few weeks at a time. A synthesis of these repeatedly interrupted inquiries— along with the supplementary Hungarian material, of course— was eked out, rather belatedly, by the fruits of Western scholarship. It was not simply the delay with which British, Italian and even German publications reached Hungary; it was also their scantiness. The reasons for this were, respectively, political and financial. However, the author had the great fortune, from the latter half of the 1980s onwards, to make repeated visits to the Max . . .

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