Contemporary history in Szeged

Although other departments at the University of Szeged also dealt with modern periods of history, the Department of Contemporary History was created in 2015 to give greater emphasis to research and teaching on the more recent past. Toward this goal the department hosts an MA program in contemporary history, as well as a Hungarian and English-language doctoral program. Furthermore, over the past years members of the department have succesfully completed numerous research projects, their work has been released by respected publishing houses (such as, Osiris, MTA Institute of History, CEU Press and Routledge), and they have organized prestigious conferences (such as the 3rd Sapporo-London-Szeged Workshop in Slavic and Eurasian Studies). Most recently, in 2019, the MTA-SZTE-ELTE Globalization History Research Group was established under the direction and with the collaboration of members of the department.

What is contemporary history?

The short answer is, the history after 1914. If we wished to give a more elaborated definition, then we would note that contemporary history ends with the present, but its starting point is not so clear. The beginning depends on scholarly perspectives and the traditions of historical schools: the period after 1918, or 1945 is also often considered the subject of contemporary history. What researchers on contemporary history focus on also differs from place to place: “Zeitgeschichte”, “histoire contemporaine”, “histoire du temps present”, “storia contemporanea”, “historia contemporánea”, and “soudobé dějiny” each have differing thematic foci.

Contemporary history is often criticized because it is allegedly impossible to carry out objective research on the recent past, and because necessary sources are not yet available. These criticisms can easily be dealt with, for there are disputes on interpretation and problems with sources related to all periods of history. For the scholarship on the Twentieth and Twenty-first Centuries, it is often the uncomprehensible amount of sources and academic literature which causes difficulties. Indeed, contemporary history is the only period of history which continually widens as time passes, and this also poses constant challenges to researchers and teachers of this period.

Contemporary history as a sub-discipline

Research on contemporary history – by which we mean the post-1914 period, in accordance with Central European historiographical traditions – is a unique, and fully institutionalized field of Hungarian and international historical scholarship. Besides historians, the wider public has also shown great interest in twentieth-century history, and this interest has only grown as time has passed. This places great demands on university-level education and research into the Twentieth Century, as emotions and passions must be met with the results of systematic academic research. There are a variety of yet to be clarified, but heavily debated periods and problems related to twentieth-century history – issues that are important for social cohesion, the development of national identity, or even the successful integration of Hungarian society into the broader European environment – which need professional attention.

Over the past three decades, research on the Twentieth Century has gone through great changes in Hungary. While there have been some negative phenomena – such as political attempts to intervene in scientific research –, the overall direction of the transformation has been positive: access to sources on contemporary history has been expanded, most historians have become more professional, and historical research has adopted important international trends and results.

Writing on contemporary history was for long dominated by political history, but this has become less and less the case. In accordance, contemporary history – though it does have its own methodology – is defined chronologically in this doctoral school rather than as a specific methodological or thematic direction. The program accepts doctoral students dealing with the period from the First World War to our days, or with individual periods within this longer time, and not merely in political history, but in social and economic history, as well as the history of ideas and other fields.

Themes and approaches

The department strives to cover every important aspect of twentieth and twenty-first century history in its courses, and to examine regional, national and global processes as a whole. Education in new research trends is served by, for example, courses on visual history. It is also one of our goals to present students with a variety of professional approaches, and thereby to help them master the basics of critical thinking. Naturally, the research of each member of the department is more focused on certain fields. Among ongoing projects is work on modern authoritarian regimes, nineteenth- and twentieth-century national stereotypes, the Holocaust and political violence, boundaries and territorialization, as well as the history of twentieth-century consumption, population, family and social policies.