Another Hungary
The Nineteenth-Century Provinces in Eight Lives
Robert Nemes



It is not down on any map; true places never are.

—Herman Melville, Moby Dick or, The Whale, chapter 12

The decision to write Another Hungary came, somewhat unexpectedly, from an obituary of the actor Tony Curtis, who died in 2010. The obituary told me much that I had not known about Curtis’s life and his work in Hollywood (I had seen Some Like It Hot but few of his other films). I read with particular interest that Curtis’s parents, Helen and Emanuel Schwartz, had left Hungary for the United States, where they had settled in New York City and started a family. Their son Bernard, who would later become Tony Curtis, had spoken Hungarian at home until he was five or six. The obituary suggested that his childhood had been “Dickensian.”1

The unhappy Schwartzes, I eventually discovered, came from the small Hungarian town of Mátészalka. I had been in Mátészalka just once, in the early 1990s, and had stayed long enough to walk from the train station to the main road, where a friend and I had hitched a ride to a village in the vicinity. I was on the trail of my late grandfather, who had been born in the region but left when he was very young. The little I saw of Mátészalka was uninspiring: empty streets, concrete apartment buildings, and fields that appeared suddenly at the edge of the town. I could understand why the Schwartzes, like my grandfather and so many others, had left this part of Hungary. So it had seemed at the time.

I now see things differently. Over the past decade, I have written a number of studies of small towns in the Hungarian provinces. The obituary helped me think about how these loosely connected microhistories amounted to something larger. It made me want to tell the story of people like Helen and Emanuel Schwartz. Instead of focusing on those who left, however, I would look at those who stayed; instead of starting with the time of the Schwartzes’ departure for America (the First World War), I would end with it. My book, in other words, would explore the region that had created Helen and Emanuel Schwartz, and it would tell its story through the lives of men and women who had lived there.

In Another Hungary, I revisit places like Mátészalka, “those out-of-the-way hamlets with tongue-twisting names,” as the memoirist Gregor von Rezzori once called them.2 Unlike my previous visit, I slow down and look more closely at prewar Hungary’s small towns and their inhabitants. I try to understand how locals earned a living, what they thought about politics, and how they got along with their neighbors, including those who might speak a different language or attend a church other than their own. I pay attention to their families and houses, peer into their schools and clubs, replay their weddings and funerals. Mostly I listen to what they said about their small towns and villages, and how they talked about the wider world. What I have learned has convinced me that the history of small towns in Central and Eastern Europe matters. Places like Mátészalka were not just a dull reflection of the capital city or of western Europe, but interesting and important in their own right. They mattered economically, they mattered culturally, and they mattered politically; their history deserves our attention.

This book focuses on the Hungarian provinces in the century before the First World War. “Hungary” in those days meant the eastern half of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the second-largest state in Europe after Russia. Hungary then was as large as Italy and more populous than Spain; it encompassed all or part of what is today Austria, Croatia, Hungary, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, and Ukraine. By “provinces” I mean, most broadly, everything that was not part of the capital city. Nineteenth-century Budapest had no equal when measured by its booming population, political power, economic activity, and cultural influence; it held the same position in the Kingdom of Hungary that Paris did in France or London did in England. Capturing the outsized role Budapest played, the novelist Dezső Kosztolányi had the residents of his fictional small town flock to the train station to meet the Budapest express: “They simply came to observe the passengers and, for a few short moments, to immerse themselves in the alluring glamor of metropolitan life.”3 As the opposite of “metropolitan,” the adjective “provincial” could be used to describe not just small towns and remote villages, but mentalities, dress, morals, speech, and food. Then, as now, “the provinces” had the same mix of positive and negative connotations in Hungarian, Romanian, Slovak, and other languages of the region that “small town” might have in American English. How the Hungarian provinces took on so many meanings is one of the stories this book tells.

I have approached provincial Hungary with three research questions in mind. How did their residents make sense of the dramatic changes of the nineteenth century, from the advent of the railroad to the outbreak of the First World War? Similarly, how did they respond to the army of political ideologies that marched through this region, one after the other: liberalism, nationalism, antisemitism, socialism, and Zionism? And finally, to what extent did people in the provinces not just respond to, but in fact influence, what was happening in the centers of political power?

Another Hungary answers these questions through a collective biography. It tells the story of the Hungarian provinces through the lives of eight loosely linked individuals.4 This approach is not without risks: biography has been called the historical profession’s “unloved stepchild, occasionally but grudgingly let in the door, more often shut outside with the riffraff.”5 Its thick tomes on American presidents and European dictators seem only distantly related to the streamlined cultural and social histories produced by many scholars (including me before this project!). But I have plunged ahead, heartened by historians who see in biography an opportunity to engage rather than run away from important questions about the past. In the words of one American historian, “At its best, biography, like history, is based on archival research, interweaves historical categories and methodologies, reflects current political and theoretical concerns, and raises complex issues of truth and proof.”6 In Another Hungary, I have tried to sketch a collective portrait that is intimate and panoramic, grounded and speculative, and confident in its reconstruction but also aware of its own limitations.

In choosing the eight individuals, I selected men and women who were in some ways representative of their era. Together they help us understand the profound changes that remade Europe over the course of the “long” nineteenth century, as historians have called the period from the French Revolution to the First World War.7 The subject of the first chapter thus lived from 1725 to 1801; the subject of the last was born in 1880 and died in the global flu pandemic of 1918. Although the lives of these men and women overlap in meaningful ways—half of them lived through the 1848 revolutions and another half were alive at the turn of the twentieth century—the chapters are roughly chronological, and each sheds light on particular historical events.

The eight allow us to view the provinces from multiple perspectives. They include six men and two women, three Jews and five Christians (two Roman Catholics, one Calvinist, one Lutheran, and one Greek Catholic). Most of them spoke and wrote two or more languages: Hungarian, Romanian, German, Yiddish, Polish, and, in the case of the aristocrat whose father cleverly changed his name from the Florentine Guidagni to the Hungarian-sounding Gvadányi, Italian. They pursued a range of occupations, from engineering to journalism. As the chapter titles indicate, I have tried to capture a range of social types, even as others have eluded my grasp: no peasants or landowners appear here, nor craftsmen, doctors, or musicians. A thorough study of the Hungarian provinces would encompass all these groups and many more besides.8 In the end, I settled on a relatively narrow swath of society, what we might call provincial Hungary’s movers and shakers: hard-working, educated, public-minded, outspoken men and women. These are the provinces’ thinkers, writers, and doers.9

These eight individuals are exceptional, and for many reasons. Five of them lived into their seventies, a striking achievement in an era marked by high infant mortality, low life expectancy, and recurrent epidemic diseases. The aristocrat studied in the first chapter died at the age of seventy-six; none of his ten siblings survived to adulthood. Similarly, at a time when most people stayed in place—a census taken in 1880 reported that 74 percent of Hungary’s residents lived where they were born—these eight were highly mobile.10 Work, study, and travel set them in motion, as did war and revolution. Several of them spent time abroad; at some point more than half quit the provinces and lived in Budapest, if only for a few years. Finally, these men and women are unusual in that they left behind sufficient documents to allow me to reconstruct (if only partially) their families, careers, and thoughts. These sources include sermons, poems, newspaper articles, novels, letters, business contracts, and wills. When possible, I have also visited their graves, tracked down their portraits and photographs, and inspected their residences; one belonging to “the editor” has become a house museum, while the birthplace of “the novelist” contains apartments, a photo studio, and a fish shop.

The available sources leave much unsaid. We hear little about their parents and even less about their childhoods. All but one of the eight married—and some more than once—but few wrote about their spouses or children. Typical is the memoir of “the rabbi,” which lists all his yeshiva teachers but does not give the names of his wife and children! It does not help that little of their private correspondence has survived, to the extent that it once existed. But the intimate lives of these men and women are not wholly closed to us. Listening carefully, we can hear them grumble about their careers, sense their loneliness, share pride in their accomplishments, and nod as they recount the cares of old age.

These are, above all, public lives. The subjects of Another Hungary wanted their words to be heard and their books to be read. They spoke in synagogues, town halls, learned societies, and schools; their writings appeared in scholarly journals, literary magazines, trade publications, and small-town newspapers. They grappled with the questions of the day, diagnosed problems, and offered solutions. These men and women did not wield political power, and none served in parliament or played a leading role in county or town politics. Yet nearly all of them joined the political process in other ways. They wrote newspaper articles, appealed to officials, and took up subscriptions. The eight allow us to trace the remarkable growth of a realm of informal politics across the nineteenth century.11 The emergence of what scholars have called “civil society” or “the public sphere” in the Hungarian provinces is one of the themes of this book.

The eight men and women all spent at least part of their lives in the same region, the northeastern corner of Kingdom of Hungary. Nineteenth-century uses of “northeastern Hungary” lacked clarity and consistency, but they often identified it with the lands adjoining the upper reaches of the Tisza River.12 This book defines the region even more broadly, trading a narrow geographic focus for a wide range of settings and stories. “Northeastern Hungary” thus includes everything to the north and east of Debrecen, a large city 140 miles east of Budapest.13 It bordered Transylvania to the east and the Austrian provinces of Galicia and Bukovina in the north. In 1900 this entire region fell within the confines of the Kingdom of Hungary; today it lies at the intersection of Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and Ukraine. Mátészalka, the hometown of Tony Curtis’s parents, can be found here, still in Hungary and close to the Romanian border.

“Northeastern Hungary” does not have a strong identity. The region contained a dozen or so counties, the building block of local administration in Hungary. But cartographers rarely unified these counties on maps, and officials divided them into overlapping military, educational, medical, and financial jurisdictions. Even the region’s claims on the collective imagination were weak. Unlike the adjacent Transylvania and Upper Hungary (the Hungarian felvidék, largely coextensive with Slovakia today), the northeastern counties rarely fixed the attention or stirred the emotions of outsiders. Instead, the northeast was closer to the amorphous “no place” described by historian Kate Brown in her study of the Polish-Ukrainian borderlands: a region without significant political power or economic weight.14 Like other peripheral regions in Europe, the defining features of northeastern Hungary seemed to be its remoteness, poverty, and cultural diversity. These characteristics require some explanation.

Northeastern Hungary was physically far from the centers of power in Austria-Hungary. The Schwartzes’ hometown of Mátészalka lay more than 170 miles from Budapest and 320 from Vienna. Geography stretched out distances, particularly as the land climbed from the wide plains in the south to the high Carpathian Mountains in the north. The crumpled foothills in between produced Tokaj, the best wine in Hungary, and deflected the Tisza, the Danube’s largest tributary and the most important river in this region. This “slothful Hungarian Nile,” as the writer Kálmán Mikszáth dubbed it, was only partly navigable and prone to flooding, which created vast wetlands in low-lying areas.15 Trees were rare in the south but abundant in the north, where unending forests of walnut, oak, beech, and pine sheltered bears and wolves. Travelers in the mountains marveled at what they took to be primeval forests and untouched villages. But here, as elsewhere in the region, locals had long worked the land and altered the landscape. Change accelerated in the nineteenth century, as residents and outsiders cleared forests, straightened rivers, drained marshes, and opened mines. They also built roads, telegraphs, and railroads, which gradually linked the northeastern counties more closely to other parts of Hungary, Austria, and Europe.

Geography in turn influenced the region’s social and economic relations. In the south, the plains allowed large-scale agriculture, which in nineteenth-century Hungary often meant vast estates owned by the nobility and worked by poor tenant farmers. In the mountainous north, people lived from pasturage, forestry, and mining. Merchants risked bad roads and bandits to bring their products to markets. The region had many towns, including a handful with more than ten thousand residents.16 Most settlements, however, were little more than large villages; the statistician Martin Schwartner noted with disapproval in 1809 that “most craftsmen in [the towns] have fields and barns, and not infrequently still carefully pile manure under their windows, according to the old custom.”17 Exceptions to this rule surprised visitors: “Nagy Bánya, is rather a pretty little town,” noted an English traveler, “with a large square and some buildings, so good, that one wonders how they ever have got there.”18 These towns had some rich families, and the countryside held both wealthy nobles and well-to-do peasants. But many residents of the region, including noblemen and burghers, struggled to make ends meet. One of the more reliable products of the northeast, with its early marriage ages, high fertility rate, limited arable land, and tradition of male inheritance, was a steady stream of emigrants to other parts of Hungary, Vienna, and points beyond. On a train in Austria, the poet Endre Ady, a native of this region, once saw “a small piece of northeastern Hungary” (egy kis darab északkeleti Magyarország): bent, hungry Ruthenians on their way to Trieste, and from there to America.19

As Ady’s tart observation suggests, the residents of northeastern Hungary spoke many languages and belonged to many faiths. Here lay the linguistic and religious fault lines of Central Europe: the places where Hungarians and Romanians lived alongside one another, where eastern and western Christianity met, and where Hasidism bumped into other Jewish traditions. The landscape helped create this diversity, and one scholar has written of “the many local identities being enhanced by mountain ranges and fast-flowing rivers.”20 So did history: the Reformation had swept across this region, and centuries of migration, conversion, and de facto tolerance only muddied the religious waters even more. For many contemporaries, this remarkable diversity was a source of pride. The jurist Johann von Csaplovics bragged in 1829 that Hungary was “Europe in miniature,” explaining that it contained “nearly all European peoples, languages, religions, occupations, and cultural levels, as well as ways of life, customs, and traditions.”21 Such assertions, however, could not fully disguise the many sources of economic, social, and political conflict in northeastern Hungary. Particularly during moments of crisis—peasant rioting in 1831, revolution and war in 1848–49, and antisemitic agitation in 1882–83—social relations on the ground came under tremendous strain. Intolerance and violence punctuate the chapters that follow.

These chapters draw on a deep reservoir of local studies, county histories, published sources, archival materials, and newspapers. In recent years, excellent studies have appeared on everything from the northeast’s Romanian peasants and urban Jews to its ethnic boundaries and symbolic geography.22 In more general works, however, the northeastern counties appear only rarely; they are peripheral to the larger problems that define the history of Habsburg Hungary and its many peoples. But outlying regions can sometimes help us see the whole more clearly, and it is my contention that unexceptional places can help us understand the wider processes remaking nineteenth-century Hungary. This investigation of the provinces traverses several fields of research that have recently attracted the attention of scholars, including “backwardness,” the history of nationalism, and Jewish history.

First, Another Hungary seeks to revise the conventional view that the Hungarian provinces were uniformly backward, their development belated, and their leaders blinkered.23 In recent decades, scholars have done much to refine our understanding of social and economic conditions in nineteenth-century Hungary. Fine-grained analysis has revealed a complex society, stratified but dynamic, in which generational differences and family strategies require as much attention as modes of production and property relations.24 The overall economic indicators nonetheless remained grim: Hungary had lower incomes and a slower growth rate than much of Europe. The result was what economists today call underdevelopment, which was pronounced in regions (including much of the northeast) ill-supplied with roads, schools, doctors, and banks. What this meant to the residents of provincial Hungary, however, has not been fully explored. One still reads of “dull and sleepy” provincial towns, which look good only when compared with “the primitive and motionless conditions of the villages and farmsteads of the countryside.”25 Another Hungary in contrast takes seriously the idea that many men and women in the provinces took pride in their towns and sought to make them better. In particular, it argues that underdevelopment, far from being stifling, often encouraged bold plans for reform. This book tells the story of an unlettered merchant who became an enlightened patron of education, a water engineer who hoped to tame Hungary’s wild rivers and transform the countryside, and a tobacco booster who saw the plant as a cure-all for the ills that plagued prewar Hungary.

Another Hungary is also meant to contribute to the history of nationalism. It joins a growing scholarly literature that challenges the long-held view that prewar Central and Eastern Europe was hopelessly divided into a number of antagonistic national groups, which states either rewarded or punished but rarely left alone. Admittedly, the Hungarian case presents obstacles to a revisionist course. Unlike in Austria, where the Habsburg state long tried to stay above the nationalist fray, in Hungary the state increasingly became a source of jobs and patronage for Hungarian elites and a vehicle for Hungarian nationalism. Particularly after 1867, when Hungary gained a large measure of autonomy, officials used the state’s power to encourage the wider population to learn and use the Hungarian language (to “Magyarize,” in a word), a nearly impossible task in a region with few schools and trained teachers, and where fully half the population spoke languages other than Hungarian. At the same time, state officials attempted to quash competing national movements among Romanians, Serbs, and Slovaks. The most visible and dismaying results of their actions—the shuttered schools, censored newspapers, and fixed elections—revealed clearly the underlying lack of equal opportunities and protections for the wider population. Another Hungary documents many of these issues. But it also attempts to understand what nationalism meant in the provinces, far away from the center of power.26 Useful here is scholarship that has begun to look at nationalization in new ways, emphasizing the importance of sociological factors such as urbanization and social mobility, as well as work that underscores the practical motives that drove language use and people’s refusal to let their lives be defined by nationalist agendas.27 Another Hungary, in short, examines both the spread of nationalism and its limits; it looks closely at indifference to nationalism and at patterns of cultural exchange. A good example of the latter is Béla Bartók, who ventured into the highlands of northeastern Hungary to collect Romanian folksongs. In them he identified examples of Hungarian-Romanian melodic borrowing; he also wrote letters to local teachers in both Hungarian and Romanian. In one, he approvingly described a poem of Endre Ady, which, Bartók explained, “says that the Hungarians, Romanians, and Slavs in this country should all be united, since they are kindred in misery.”28 With Bartók, we can see evidence of an imagined kinship between ethnic Hungarians and Romanians, as well as hints of a political outlook at odds with more intolerant forms of nationalism.

The third field of research that informs Another Hungary is Jewish history. The northeastern counties had a large, diverse, and vibrant Jewish population, and Jews played an active role in the region’s political, economic, and cultural life. In contrast to neighboring Russia and Romania, Hungary had Jewish city councilors, medical officials, policemen, and mayors. Yet antisemitism also lurked in the region, and it emerged at moments of political and economic crisis. There exists a rich tradition of Hungarian Jewish history, but it occupies an uncertain place in historical writing about modern Hungary as a whole. Important works have appeared on certain topics: Budapest Jewry, the rise of Ultra-Orthodoxy, antisemitism, and the Holocaust, most notably.29 Less attention has been paid to relations between Jews and Christians in Hungary’s small towns and villages, where the bulk of the population lived. Another Hungary examines interactions among Jews and other residents of the provinces in multiple contexts: schools, taverns, stores, newspaper offices, and town governments. It explores a world in which the mother of Lajos Kossuth, a Lutheran and future leader of the 1848 Revolution, might take her sick son to a celebrated Hasidic rabbi in a nearby town, hoping for counsel or even a cure.

The Hungarian provinces were no earthly paradise. But neither were they sites of unrelenting economic crisis, social strife, political corruption, or ethnic and religious conflict. In a recent study of provincial Russia, historian Catherine Evtuhov set out to argue that nineteenth-century Russia was not, as is often believed, “a vast, uniform, centralized state, socially and economically polarized, and primarily agrarian and resistant to change.”30 Another Hungary has a similar aim. Through a collective biography, I hope to bring to light not just the contradictions of the countryside, but also the patterns of economic innovation, political bargaining, and everyday coexistence that have too often been obscured.

A character in The Emperor’s Tomb, Joseph Roth’s 1938 novel about the last years of Austria-Hungary, remarked that “Austria’s essence is not to be central, but peripheral.”31 I am wary of searching for the “essence” of Hungary in the northeastern counties. But I have taken Roth’s dictum to heart. In this book, I shift the perspective from the center to the periphery, from the state administration to local institutions, and from political luminaries to the residents of a relatively isolated and poor region. In telling the stories of these eight men and women, I hope to show what can be gained if we approach the history of Hungary from a new perspective.

A fascinating “map” of historic Hungary may emerge. None of the eight men and women examined were cartographers or geographers (although “the engineer” did make exquisite maps of rivers he surveyed), and none spent their entire lives in this region. Yet all of them had clear mental maps of northeastern Hungary, which revealed a strong if sometimes ambivalent sense of “home” and a deep attachment to its landscapes and peoples. In these “imagined geographies,” to borrow terms from Benedict Anderson and Edward Said, we can see how the eight marked the boundaries of northeastern Hungary and what qualities they attributed to it.32 As Said wrote, such geographies “can help the mind to intensify its own sense of itself by dramatizing the distance and difference between what is close and what is far away.”33 This process of mapmaking helped the eight men and women explain the relationship between the countryside and the capital city, and also locate their “homes” within the Kingdom of Hungary, Austria-Hungary, Europe, and the world beyond. In short, it helped these eight men and women to define what it meant to be “provincial” in nineteenth-century Hungary.

Mapmaking often led to mythmaking. These men and women were careful observers of the provinces, documenting the region’s cuisine and costumes, landmarks and languages, flora and fauna, train stations and taverns. But their well-grounded observations often gave way to flights of fantasy, as the eight dreamed and schemed. Eastern Europe, historian Larry Wolff has shown, has long been “particularly fertile imaginative terrain,” and this was especially true of northeastern Hungary, where will-o’-the-wisps and dragons were said to dwell.34 The book’s first chapter opens with an old, garrulous cavalryman (“the aristocrat”), who begins to spin what I call the “myth of the provinces,” according to which northeastern Hungary was a region of great economic potential, harmonious ethnic relations, and peaceful confessional coexistence. The following six chapters both unravel and add to this myth: two take up economic questions through transportation (“the engineer”) and agriculture (“the tobacconist”), two more (“the merchant” and “the rabbi”) examine the place of Jews in the provinces, and the last two consider ethnic relations from Hungarian (“the teacher”) and Romanian (“the journalist”) perspectives. The subject of the final chapter (“the writer”) is the most critical of the “myth of the provinces,” but even she cannot—or will not—entirely let go of it.

The title of this book—Another Hungary—has a number of meanings. Its immediate inspiration came from an older book called Another Germany, a collection of historical essays published in 1988. In their introduction, the editors of Another Germany asked why so many residents of the German Empire were “basically pleased with the society in which they had found themselves.”35 I might not phrase the question so sunnily—this is, after all, Hungarian history! But the underlying impulse to push back against a bleak assessment of the period appealed to me. So too did the personal meanings of this title: my first book was on Budapest, and this work on the provinces has been a new departure for me. Research trips to small towns in Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia have only confirmed my belief that the provinces hold untold riches for historians, if only they are willing to look for larger truths in small-town newspapers and largely-forgotten memoirs.

The sources I found in these provincial archives and libraries provide the final and most important meaning of the title. Another Hungary communicates the hopes and aspirations of the eight men and women I write about in the chapters that follow. All eight sought, in their own ways, to imagine a very different Hungary from the one they saw before them. I have tried to record their visions faithfully. Of course, we also need to recognize the limits and inconsistencies of their ideas. But this should not blind us to one of the central premises of this book: that surprising, interesting, and valuable ideas can sometimes emerge from the most unlikely of places.


1. Dave Kehr, “Tony Curtis, Hollywood Leading Man Dies at 85,” New York Times, Sep. 20, 2010, (accessed Aug. 10, 2011).

2. Gregor von Rezzori, Memoirs of an Anti-Semite: A Novel in Five Stories, trans. Joachim Neugroschel and Gregor von Rezzori (New York: New York Review Books, 2008), 6.

3. Dezső Kosztolányi, Skylark, intro. Péter Esterházy, trans. Richard Aczel (New York: New York Review Books, 1993), 188.

4. Krista Cowman, “Collective Biography,” in Research Methods for History, ed. Simon Gunn and Lucy Faire (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2012), 83–101, makes the case for the study of “linked lives.”

5. David Nasaw, “Historians and Biography: Introduction,” American Historical Review 114, no. 3 (2009): 573.

6. Lois W. Banner, “Biography as History,” American Historical Review 114, no. 3 (2009), 579. My thinking about the possibilities of biography has been influenced by many works, including Mary Gluck, George Lukács and His Generation, 1900–1918 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985); Deborah R. Coen, Vienna in the Age of Uncertainty: Science, Liberalism, and Private Life (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007); Mark Cornwall, The Devil’s Wall: The Nationalist Youth Mission of Heinz Rutha (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012); György Kövér, Biográfia és társadalomtörténet (Budapest: Osiris, 2014), esp. 17–53, 373–87.

7. On periodization: David Blackbourn, The Long Nineteenth Century: A History of Germany, 1780–1918 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), xiii–xv; György Kövér, “Inactive Transformation: Social History of Hungary from the Reform Era to World War I,” in Social History of Hungary: From the Reform Era to the End of the Twentieth Century, ed. Gábor Gyáni, György Kövér, and Tibor Valuch, trans. Mario Fenyo (Boulder, CO: Social Science Monographs, 2004), 26–36.

8. Some of the groups I have missed appear in Kövér’s masterful Biográfia és társadalomtörténet.

9. Describing a similar group in Russia, Catherine Evtuhov calls them the “purveyors of the provinces.” Evtuhov, Portrait of a Russian Province: Economy, Society, and Civilization in Nineteenth-Century Nizhnii Novgorod (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012), 15.

10. Kövér, “Inactive Transformation,” 76.

11. See the exemplary studies: Alice Freifeld, Nationalism and the Crowd in Liberal Hungary, 1848–1914 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000); Keely Stauter-Halsted, The Nation in the Village: The Genesis of Peasant National Identity in Austrian Poland, 1848–1914 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2001); as well as the synthesis in Gary B. Cohen, “Nationalist Politics and the Dynamics of State and Civil Society in the Habsburg Monarchy, 1867–1914,” Central European History 40, no. 2 (2007): 241–78.

12. Some examples: the influential Hungarian-language Great Pallas Encyclopedia, published in sixteen volumes between 1893 and 1897, contains articles on the “Northeastern Dialectical Region” and “Northeastern Railway,” which describe overlapping but not identical areas. A Pallas nagy lexikona, vol. 6: Elektromos hal—Fék (Budapest: Pallas, 1894), 493–94. Aladár György, ed., A föld és népei. Népszerű földrajzi és népismei kézikönyv, vol. 5: Magyarország, ed. Aladár György (Budapest: Franklin-Társulat, 1905), 441, equated “The Northeastern Highlands” with the valleys of the Tisza River and its tributaries. In an interwar study, geographer Jenő Cholnoky identified “Northeastern Upper Hungary.” Although Cholnoky could distinguish the region’s western border (the Tapoly or Top’la River, which matches the boundaries I have described), he struggled to find an eastern boundary in the Carpathians. Cholnoky, Magyarország földrajza (Budapest: Danubia, 1929), 113–14.

13. I have followed the lead of scholars such as László Szabolcs Gulyás, who locates northeastern Hungary’s western border on the “Fülek-Pásztó-Hatvan line” and its southern border on the “Várad-Túr-Tiszavarsány line” (the northern and eastern borders were identical with the kingdom’s borders). Gulyás reminds us that northeastern Hungary “never existed as an autonomous and unified region.” László Szabolcs Gulyás, “Megjegyzések az északkelet-magyarországi mezővárosok középkori fejlődésének jellemzőihez,” Századok 147, no. 2 (2013): 319.

14. Kate Brown, A Biography of No Place: From Ethnic Borderland to Soviet Heartland (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003).

15. Kálmán Mikszáth, Szent Péter esernyője (Budapest: Révai, 1903), 82.

16. The region possessed a variety of settlements, including market towns, mining towns, royal free towns, and ecclesiastical towns. Gulyás, “Megjegyzések az északkelet-magyarországi mezővárosok,” 319–20.

17. Martin v. Schwartner, Statistik des Königreichs Ungern, vol. 1 (Ofen: Königl. Universitäts Schriften, 1809), 165.

18. John Paget, Hungary and Transylvania (London: John Murray, 1850), 2: 250.

19. Endre Ady, “Levelek a hazátlanságból,” in Ady Endre publicisztikai írásai, ed. Erzsébet Vezér, vol. 3 (Budapest: Szépirodalmi Könyvkiadó, 1977), 412; on emigration: Kövér, “Inactive Transformation,” 56–58.

20. R. J. W. Evans, The Making of the Habsburg Monarchy, 1550–1700: An Interpretation (Oxford: Clarendon, 1979), 236.

21. Johann v. Csaplovics, Gemälde von Ungern (Pest: Hartleben, 1829), 201.

22. On Romanian peasants: Gail Kligman, The Wedding of the Dead: Ritual, Poetics, and Popular Culture in Transylvania (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990). On Jewish communities: Tamás Csíki, Városi zsidóság Északkelet- és Kelet-Magyarországon (Budapest: Osiris, 1999). On ethnic boundaries: Patrik Tátrai, Az etnikai térszerkezet változásai a történeti Szatmárban (Budapest: MTA Földrajztudományi Kutatóintézet, 2010). On symbolic geography: Elena Mannová, “Southern Slovakia as an Imagined Territory,” in Frontiers, Regions and Identities in Europe, ed. Steven G. Ellis and Raingard Eßer, with Jean-François Berdah and Miloš Řezník (Pisa: Plus-Pisa University Press, 2009), 185–204. The individual chapters indicate further scholarship on the region.

23. For classic accounts of this view: István Bibó, “The Misery of Small European States,” in Bibó, Democracy, Revolution, Self-Determination: Selected Writings, ed. Károly Nagy, trans. András Boros-Kazai (Boulder, CO: East European Monographs, 1991), 13–86; Jenő Szűcs, “Three Historical Regions of Europe (An Outline),” Acta Historica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 29, nos. 2–4 (1983): 131–184. For nuanced approaches to Hungarian “backwardness”: Andrew Janos, The Politics of Backwardness in Hungary, 1825–1945 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982); László Kontler, A History of Hungary (New York: Palgrave, 2002); Gyáni, Kövér, and Valuch, Social History of Hungary.

24. See especially Katherine Verdery, Transylvanian Villagers: Three Centuries of Political, Economic, and Ethnic Change (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983); Gyáni, Kövér, and Valuch, Social History of Hungary; András Gergely, Magyarország története a 19. században (Budapest: Osiris, 2003).

25. Kontler, A History of Hungary, 311.

26. See the important study Zoltán Tóth, “Die kulturelle Integration der ungarischen Ethnika in einer Kleinstadt um die Jahrhundertwende,” in Etudes historiques hongroises 1990, ed. Ferenc Glatz, vol. 2: Ethnicity and Society in Hungary (Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1990), 191–223. I have also been guided by recent work on the Austrian half of the Monarchy: Pieter Judson, Guardians of the Nation: Activists on the Language Frontiers of Imperial Austria (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006); Tara Zahra, Kidnapped Souls: National Indifference and the Battle for Children in the Bohemian Lands, 1900–1948 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2008).

27. The literature on nationalism in Hungary is vast. Works that have shaped this book include Verdery, Transylvanian Villagers; Viktor Karády, “Egyenlőtlen elmagyarosodás, avagy hogyan vált Magyarország magyar nyelvű országgá?” Századvég 2 (1990): 5–37; László Szarka, “Magyarosodás és magyarosítás a felső-magyarországi szlovák régióban a kiegyezés korában,” in Polgárosodás Közép-Európában, ed. Éva Somogyi (Budapest: MTA Történettudományi Intézet, 1991), 35–46; Sorin Mitu, National Identity of Romanians in Transylvania, trans. Sorana Cornea (Budapest: Central European University Press, 2001); Joachim von Puttkamer, “Kein europäischer Sonderfall: Ungarns Nationalitätenproblem im. 19. Jahrhundert und die jüngere Nationalismusforschung,” in Das Ungarnbild der deutschen Historiographie, ed. Márta Fata (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 2004), 84–98; Rogers Brubaker, Margit Feischmidt, Jon Fox, and Liana Grancea, Nationalist Politics and Everyday Ethnicity in a Transylvanian Town (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006).

28. János Demény, ed., Béla Bartók Letters, trans. Péter Balabán et al. (London: Faber & Faber, 1971), 113.

29. Michael K. Silber, “The Emergence of Ultra-Orthodoxy: The Invention of a Tradition,” in The Uses of Tradition: Jewish Continuity in the Modern Era, ed. Jack Wertheimer (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1992), 23–84; Viktor Karády, Zsidóság, modernizáció, polgárosodás. Tanulmányok (Budapest: Cserépfalvi Kiadó, 1997); János Gyurgyák, A zsidókérdés Magyarországon: Politikai eszmetörténet (Budapest: Osiris, 2001); Paul Hanebrink, In Defense of Christian Hungary: Religion, Nationalism, and Antisemitism, 1890–1944 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2006).

30. Evtuhov, Portrait of a Russian Province, 21.

31. Joseph Roth, The Emperor’s Tomb, trans. John Hoare (Woodstock, NY: Overlook Press, 1984), 17.

32. On “imagined geography”: Edith W. Clowes, Russia on the Edge: Imagined Geographies and Post-Soviet Identity (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2011), 4–5, who usefully combines Benedict Anderson’s concept of “imagined communities” with Edward Said’s “imaginative geographies.” See Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, rev. ed. (London: Verso, 2006), 6–7; Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage Books, 1979), 49–73.

33. Said, Orientalism, 55.

34. Larry Wolff, The Idea of Galicia: History and Fantasy in Habsburg Political Culture (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2010), 7. Other works that have inspired me include Wolff, Inventing Eastern Europe: The Map of Civilization in the Mind of the Enlightenment (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994); László Kürti, The Remote Borderland: Transylvania in the Hungarian Imagination (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001); Ábraham Barna, “Szlovákok és szlovjákok: a nemzet határai,” Limes 16, no. 3 (2003): 55–66; Maciej Janowski, Constantin Iordachi, and Balázs Trencsényi, “Research Dossier: Symbolic Geographies,” East Central Europe/L’Europe du Centre-Est 35, nos. 1–2 (2005): 5–58; David Blackbourn and James Retallack, eds., Localism, Landscape, and the Ambiguities of Places: German-Speaking Central Europe, 1860–1930 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007).

35. Jack R. Dukes and Joachim Remak, eds., Another Germany: A Reconsideration of the Imperial Era (Boulder, CO: Westview, 1988), x.