Environmental Impacts of Medieval Uses of Natural Resources in the Carpathian Basin

Beatrix F. Romhányi, Zsolt Pinke, and József Laszlovszky
Károli Gáspár University of the Reformed Church; Eötvös Loránd University; Central European University
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Hungarian Historical Review Volume 9 Issue 2  (2020): 241-283 DOI:10.38145/hunghist.2020.2.241

Various natural resources were abundant in medieval Hungary, and contemporary sources offer a portrait of the kingdom as rich because of these natural conditions. The different forms in which these resources were put to use were decisive for the history of the Carpathian Basin, including its environmental history. In the Middle Ages, there were two key economic activities which played an especially significant role both in the sphere of local production and in foreign trade and which also had a significant environmental impact: livestock farming on the Great Plain (primarily but not exclusively of cattle) and mining, including the processing of primary metals, which was closely related to mining in certain mountain areas. On the basis of analyses of sources drawn from the monastic network, medieval rural churches, and selected archaeological findings and written evidence, we examine the environmental consequences of these activities with particular focus on the changes in the settlement network and relative population density. Our data suggest that the long-term effect of the prevailing practices in the most lucrative, export-oriented economic sectors of the late medieval Kingdom of Hungary—both of which contributed to the ability of the country to withstand pressures from the advancing Ottoman for about 130 years and to some extent even beyond—was serious environmental degradation in the affected regions. The environmental problems caused by these practices could not be fully overcome for a long time. Certainly, the impact was increased by the consequences of the Ottoman wars and the changing climatic conditions of the Little Ice Age, but the process began well before the Early Modern crisis, in some respects as early as in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries.

Keywords: natural resources, environmental impact, settlement network, medieval mining regions, Middle Ages, Kingdom of Hungary

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Evaluation of the Floodplain Farming of the Settlements of Nagykunság Based on the First Cadastral Survey*

Sándor Rózsa
Eszterházy Károly University
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Hungarian Historical Review Volume 9 Issue 2  (2020): 213-240 DOI:10.38145/2020.2.213

River control was perhaps the most significant form of anthropogenic environmental intervention in the Carpathian Basin, and in recent decades it has been the focus of considerable attention in the scientific community. However, in order to be able to evaluate this intervention, we need to know more about the floodplain management before the river regulations. In this essay, I provide data concerning the eighteenth-century floodplain management, on the basis of the first cadastral survey documents.
According to Klára Dóka and other researchers, the settlements of the region along the Tisza River were in crisis in the early nineteenth century because the floodplain farming system was not adequate to sustain the growing population. However, they based this conclusion on sources concerning population growth, and they did not substantiate their essential contention concerning overpopulation with accurate data on production and consumption. I have sought to determine whether there really was an overpopulation crisis in Nagykunság at the end of the eighteenth century. The main question concerns the relationship between production and needs. The next question is whether the farmers had excess grain which they could take to markets. In other words, was the floodplain farming system profitable? My research constitutes a contribution to the debate between Bertalan Andrásfalvy and Miklós Szilágyi on floodplain management.
The first cadastral survey documents contain detailed and reliable data on the management of the settlements, and I contend that they are more accurate and useful than the tax censuses which were compiled at the same time. The first step in the research was to establish the average annual consumption of the population.
According to the data of the cadastral survey, production exceeded the needs of the population in each settlement, and the value of the production surplus covered the tax burdens. Wheat had a marketable share of the yield, come to 30–40 percent of the total. Assuming that livestock breeding was even more advantageous, one could contend that the floodplain farming system was profitable. However, natural resources are distributed disproportionately as a result of property relations. In Nagykunság, this found its most dramatic embodiment in the redemptus-irredemptus contrast.
There were several events in the late eighteenth century, such as the construction of the Mirhó dam and migration to Bácska, on the basis of which researchers have inferred that the floodplain farming system was in crisis, but the cadastral survey suggests otherwise.

Keywords: floodplain farming system, carrying capacity, overpopulation, production statistics

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Weather Anomalies and Their Economic Consequences: Penury in Northeastern Hungary in the Late 1870s*

Éva Bodovics
Hungarian National Archives, Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén County Archives
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Hungarian Historical Review Volume 9 Issue 2  (2020): 179-212 DOI:10.38145/2020.2.179

This study investigates an episode of penury in 1879–1880 in Borsod and Zemplén Counties which occurred as one of the negative consequences of a short-term weather change which was experienced across Europe in the late 1870s and early 1880s. From the mid-1870s on, due to the wetter and cooler weather, the annual crop yields repeatedly fell below the usual and expected averages in Hungary. After a catastrophic harvest in the autumn of 1879, when the quantity of harvested cereals was sufficient neither for reserves nor for spring sowing, the situation became severe. 1878 had also been a bad year for agriculture: the severe floods in the second half of 1878 not only had washed the crops from the fields but had also covered them with thick sludge that made it impossible to sow in autumn.
Since the spring of 1879 was characterized by unfavorable conditions for agriculture (increased rainfall, widespread floods, low average spring temperatures), the local and national authorities continuously kept their eyes on the crops. Thanks to this preliminary attention, the administration was able to respond quickly and in an organized manner to the bad harvest in July and August and could avert catastrophe at national level.
The leadership of the two counties responded more or less in the same way to the near-famine conditions. First, they asked the Treasury to suspend tax collection until the next harvest at least so that the farmers who were facing financial difficulties would not have to go into debt. Second, they appealed to the government for financial and crop relief to save the unemployed population from starvation. For those who were able to work, they asked for the approval of public works and major construction projects from the Ministry of Transport and Public Works. For many, such state-funded road construction or river regulation projects were the only way to make a living. Third, the county administrations also gave seeds for spring sowing to the farmers. While Borsod county survived the years of bad harvests without dire problems due to the higher proportion of better quality fields, in the more mountainous region of Zemplén, most landowners had smaller and lower quality lands, and they often chose to emigrate to avoid starvation. These difficult conditions may have provided the initial impetus for mass emigration to Western Europe and America.

Keywords: weather anomalies, penury, crisis management, Hungary, late nineteenth century

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Volume 9 Issue 1 CONTENTS


The Hungarians in Europe: A Thousand Years on the Frontier *

Pál Fodor, and Attila Pók
Research Centre for the Humanities
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The paper is a revised version of the first in a series of twelve lectures on Hungarian history at the University of Vienna, starting on October 5, 2017. It discusses some key issues of Hungarian history around the theme of continuities and discontinuities. Namely, a particular dynamism of Hungarian history derives from the incongruence between the historical narrative of the Hungarian state and the historical narrative of the Hungarian nation for extended periods during the last thousand years. The survey addresses political, social, economic and cultural aspects of Hungarian history and concludes by arguing that the adoption of Christianity and the foundation of the Hungarian state by the first king, Saint Stephen, are the longest-lasting achievements of Hungarian history, properly commemorated by the most important national holiday on August 20.

Keywords: Hungary, geopolitics, frontier experiences, periodization, continuity, discontinuity

Volume 9 Issue 1 CONTENTS

Addressing the Trianon Peace Treaty in Late Socialist Hungary: Societal Interest and Available Narratives

Réka Krizmanics
Central European University/University of Leipzig
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In the 1970s and 1980s, the state socialist regime of Hungary was aware of its failure to provide serious ideological reflection on the national question. The party actively sought information about contemporary historical and national consciousness and reacted both in policy and institutional terms. Within the framework of these developments, discourses about the Trianon Peace Treaty of 1920, which constitutes an especially traumatic episode of twentieth-century Hungarian history, also started to become more varied. Historians were in the center of these processes, although they operated often in a reactive manner both with regard to domestic journalistic and literary circles and to foreign scholars who discussed the same issue. The article provides an overview of the dynamics of late socialist science policy pertaining to the national question and the different discourses about the Trianon Peace Treaty that emerged during this period.

Keywords: socialist patriotism, Trianon Peace Treaty, historiography, science policy

Volume 9 Issue 1 CONTENTS

“It Is an Unpatriotic Act to Flee”: The Refugee Experience after the Treaty of Trianon. Between State Practices and Neglect*

Balázs Ablonczy
Research Centre for the Humanities
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In the wake of World War I, the collapse of the Habsburg Monarchy and creation of new political borders in accordance with the peace treaties prompted more than 400,000 people from the lost territories to seek refuge in Hungary. In this essay, I map the policies adopted by the Hungarian state in its efforts to integrate and pacify refugees, but also at times to discourage refugees from coming to Trianon Hungary. These policies were implemented with the participation of ministries, refugee organizations, large state-run enterprises, and municipal councils. I also interpret the various strategies used by individual actors in these processes. Taken together, the policies and strategies adopted by the state demonstrate the de facto prolongation of wartime administrative practices and offer examples of how the state turned against its own Christian, nationalist, and authoritarian ideology in the course of its efforts to keep prospective refugees from entering post-Trianon Hungary. How the questions raised by the refugee crises were tackled in the country was conditioned by multiple considerations and perspectives. The ambiguities of the policies that were adopted explain in part the long silence that has fallen over the issue of post–World War I refugees in Hungary.

Keywords: refugees, Trianon Peace Treaty, state administration, government, memory

Volume 9 Issue 1 CONTENTS

Summer of 1919: A Radical, Irreversible, Liberating Break in Prekmurje/Muravidék?*

Jernej Kosi
University of Ljubljana
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In this article, I examine political, cultural and social circumstances in Prekmurje/Muravidék after its occupation by Yugoslav forces in August 1919. Since the mid-19th century, Slovene national activists in Cislanthania had considered this part of the Kingdom of Hungary as a territory densely populated by Slovene compatriots and therefore as an integral part of Slovene national space. Drawing on this belief, in 1919 Slovene officials, politicians, and journalists celebrated the act of occupation of Hungarian territory as an event that brought to the end of Hungarian oppression to the locals and with it a radical, irreversible and liberating break with the past. By examining archival sources and secondary literature, I confront the victorious Slovene discourse with the reality on the ground. In addition, I also assess how a set of administrative ruptures and legislative changes imposed by the Yugoslav government in the immediate post-1919 period influenced the everyday lives and experiences of the local population.

Keywords: Prekmurje, Muravidék, Treaty of Trianon, transition, transformation, imperial legacies