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Marczali, Henrik

(1856–1940), historian. Born Henrik Morgenstern, Marczali’s father was Mór Morgenstern (1824–1889), the Neolog rabbi of Marcali, Hungary (the family’s name change in 1875 was inspired by the town). Marczali attended Benedictine high schools in Győr and Pápa. He was 14 when he started studies at the University of Budapest, earning his history and geography teacher’s diploma in 1873. Between 1875 and 1877, he attended universities in Vienna, Berlin, Paris, London, and Oxford, and in 1878 earned a doctorate at the University of Budapest. Marczali became the most significant Hungarian historian from the 1880s until the first decade of the twentieth century.

After returning from abroad, Marczali joined the Pulszky Circle, a salon that played a formative role in liberal cultural politics. By the 1880s and 1890s, he was moving in prestigious social groups, making full use of opportunities offered by assimilation, though he could not be appointed as a university professor for yet another decade, as he refused to convert. From 1878, Marczali was the assistant director of the Budapest Model High School, where he then worked as a regular teacher from 1880. From 1878 he was also a private lecturer (privat-docent) and assistant professor of universal history at the Pázmány Péter University in Budapest. At that institution, from 1887 he supervised the history seminar; from 1895 was a full professor of Hungarian history; and from 1912 directed the history seminar. He was inducted into the Hungarian Academy of Sciences on 12 May 1893 as a corresponding member.

Marczali published numerous articles and studies in leading journals of Hungary and abroad (among these, Historische Zeitschrift and the Revue historique). He also wrote sections on Hungarian history for the British Encyclopedia, the Historians’ History of the World, and the Cambridge Modern History. Of his 20 or so monographs and synthetic surveys, only the second volume of his monumental history of Hungary in the reign of Joseph II, Magyarország története II. József korában (The History of Hungary during the Reign of Joseph II; 3 vols., 1881–1888) was translated into English (as Hungary in the Eighteenth Century; 1910).

Marczali conceptualized the method of the history seminar in Hungary. He was an important representative of bourgeois historical views and one of the first historians of his country to employ critical source research. He took a positivist approach and sought scientific objectivity, possibly because he wanted to counterbalance a bias resulting from his Jewish origins. He was always exceedingly sensitive to this; as a Jew, in 1878 he declined to comment during debates on the issue of church property. His widespread studies range over almost all of Hungarian history, though he specialized in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century economic, social, and cultural topics. Marczali’s interest in universal history extended to the modern era as well. In his view, the state and the nation had a definitive role, and ideas shaped history through institutions.

From 1898 to 1905, Marczali edited and partially wrote the series Nagy Képes Világtörténet (Great Pictorial World History); his particular contributions were to volumes seven to twelve on the modern age. He was the first to call attention to eighteenth-century Hungarian history with respect to economic, social, and cultural factors, and he highly admired the Habsburg government. In the strained political and social atmosphere after the turn of the century, particularly in 1900–1901 and 1910, he came under sharp attack for his loyalty to the empire and to Judaism. Consequently, he was excluded from the board of directors of the Hungarian Historical Society (1903) and never achieved regular membership in the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

During the Hungarian Soviet Republic (1919), Marczali was president of the otherwise nonfunctioning archival council; after the collapse of the republic in the fall of 1919, he was sent on leave, and in 1923 he was pensioned with a severance. During the last decades of his life, as Hungary entered upon a neobaroque Christian course, Marczali’s career was shattered. He wrote his reminiscences during these years, recently republished as Emlékeim (My Reminiscences, with an afterword by Péter Gunst; 2000).

Suggested Reading

Péter Gunst, Marczali Henrik (Budapest, 1983); Péter Gunst, “Marczali Henrik történetírói pályakezdése,” Századok 121.5 (1987): 903–932; Péter Gunst, “Marczali Henrik és a ‘kortörténetírás,’” Századok 135.1 (2001): 181–190; Póli Marczali, Apám pályája, barátai: Emlékek Marczali Henrikről (Munich, 1973); Gyula Szekfű and Zoltán Tóth, “Marczali Henrik,” Évkönyv: Izraelita Magyar Irodalmi Tarsulat 65 (1943): 125–137.



Translated from Hungarian by Veronika Szabó