As opposed to a history that is ideologically-motivated, Professor
Vermes aims at situating people and events in Hungary during the 18th
and 19th centuries in what he perceives as the reality of those times.
In that context, liberalism was not the dominating idea, certainly not
in the first three decades of the 19th century. Conservativism was,
supported by deeply-entrenched cultural trends and traditions. The
real struggle during those decades was not between conservatives and
liberals, because the latter were very few in numbers and were
isolated; the real struggle was between the majority of conservatives,
who thought that all was well in Hungary and an activist minority, the
cultural nationalists. They too were conservatives, because they did
not wish to alter the basic socioeconomic structure of the country
either but hoped to uplift Hungary and make it "western" by improving
culture, the Hungarian language, literature, an the theater. This idea
of changing the country through improvements in culture led to partial
various fields of culture but failed in its primary objective of
altering feudal society. This recognition led to the evolution of
political liberalism in the 1830s and even more so in the 1840s.
Nevertheless, the trajectory of this political liberalism was not
smooth but was characterized by many setbacks and reversals. However,
by the end of the decade of the 1840s, by 1848, this liberalism
triumphed under the leadership of Lajos Kossuth.
About the speaker
I left Hungary in 1956 as a recent graduate of the Eötvös
Loránd University. My field then was geology. After several months of
camp-life in Austria, I arrived to the United States in 1957. I worked
as a geologist in oil-exploration in Texas, Luisiana, New Mexico, Utah
and Wyoming. It was in Luisiana that I realized that notwithstanding the
fact that I had a very interesting life, I was in a profession that did
not suit me. I always wanted to become a historian, but in Stalinist
times the humanities were so distorted that I rather chose a career in a
natural science. However, once I was in America I could follow my
heart's desire. I started to apply to universities and was very
fortunate in having been accepted by Stanford University in California.
I started my new university studies at Stanford in history in October,
1958. I received my Master's Degree in 1961 and my Ph.D. in 1966.
After temporary teaching
jobs and scholarships (to Austria for a year), I became employed by the
Newark Campus of Rutgers University in 1972; I retired as professor
emeritus in 2001.
My research field has been
Hungarian history. In addition to articles and book reviews, my major
work so far is the biography of Count István Tisza, which attempts to
offer a portrait and analysis of his period as well. It was published in
1985 in the East European Monograph Series and distributed by Columbia
University Press. Agnes Deak, an outstanding Hungarian historian
translated it, and Osiris-Kiadó published it in
two editions, in 1994 and in 2001.
Currently, the title of my manuscript is: "In the Whirl of Cultural
Changes: Hungary between 1711 and 1848." I have a contract with the
Balassi-Kiado of Budapest, and if all goes well, it will be published in
Hungarian translation by Hungarian Book Week in June, 2011.