Of communism, compromise and Central Europe
The scholarly persona under authoritarianism
in How to be a historian
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This chapter engages with the question how institutionalized repression influences the nature of historical scholarship and the historian’s persona. It does so by interrogating the work, life and self-fashioning of a leading Hungarian historian of the communist period, Péter Hanák (1921–97), whose achievements were significant in placing Hungarian history in a transnational perspective and studying it with the most up-to-date research methods. The chapter outlines Hanák’s main lines of research, including the intellectual heritage of fin-de-siècle Austria-Hungary, and shows how he instrumentalized that tradition for the forging of his persona. It also reveals how Hanák’s engagement with that tradition in a somewhat nostalgic fashion and in his role as a public intellectual served as a symbolic warning against the dangerous nature of increasing nationalistic overtones in the intellectual sphere during the late communist period. All in all, the chapter reveals that historiographical production in the former ‘Eastern bloc’ was not necessarily permeated with communist ideology, certainly not to the extent that this undermined professional quality.

Editor: Herman Paul
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