Background in History


The establishment of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy as a result of „The Agreement” in 1867 opened a new era in the history of Hungary. The Monarchy created a stable system that went on to exist for half a century. The regained national self-determination enabled Hungary to develop rapidly and profoundly within the boundaries of this new dualist state formation. A new phase of modernization unfolded, laying the foundations of the modern Hungarian state. In its religious and national diversity, the new state formation was a unique phenomenon in Europe. It was the third most populous and the second largest state in Europe. At the time of the birth of the nation-states, the very existence of this multiethnic confederation, symbolized by Emperor Franz Joseph, was an anachronism. Nevertheless, this period rightly lives on in national memory as a period of significant ascendance both in the economy and in culture. Tragically, all this was shattered by the First World War.


In 1867, 75% of the country’s population worked in agriculture. Although this proportion fell by only 10% over the next forty years, changes were significant: smoke-belching chimneys appeared in the cities and the country was covered by railway lines. River controls on a scale unmatched in Europe transformed the millennia-old landscape. The rise of the capitalist market economy set the country in motion: more and more people settled in the cities. A bourgeoisie consisting of merchants, industrialists, and bankers was born, mostly of Jewish origin, and living in Budapest. As the Hungarian capital became the largest industrial center of the Monarchy, a substantial part of the large-scale industrial workforce was concentrated there.

Hungarian society of the dualist period was also characterized by a particular tension: there were still significant pre-capitalist layers of society, finding it difficult to adapt to modernization. Also, the country’s land holdings were largely in the hands of the historical aristocracy of a few thousand, while a great number of the peasantry did not own land. There was also a striking difference in living standards between the upper middle class and the nascent urban proletariat. The former possessed enormous wealth and economic power and had a direct influence on politics. At the same time, the average working-class family tended to have women and older children in the workforce, as the only way to survive. Many lived in poverty. The situation of children living in poverty was a grave issue.


After Buda, Óbuda, and Pest merged into a single city in 1873, Budapest developed enormously, soon with a population of 700 000. Private and public buildings, which still dominate the cityscape today, were constructed, including bridges, the Parliament, the Opera House, the Technological University, the Western Railway Station, and the first underground on the continent. The city was also famous abroad for its cafés, spas, and cultural life. The Millennium Exhibition of 1896 attracted crowds of visitors to celebrate the country’s millennial history.


The development of public education was intertwined with the name of József Eötvös. Baron Eötvös had already headed the ministry of culture in 1848, and in 1867 he once again took a role in the Monarchy’s first Hungarian government. The situation was alarming: the vast majority of the population could not read or write, the number of gymnasiums was less than 150, and there was only one university in the country, in the capital. Eötvös set out to change this, starting with the 1868 law on national education. Accordingly, church- or state-run folk schools were established in every village where there were enough children of compulsory school age. Eötvös’s work was extremely far-sighted, as at that time compulsory primary education was uncommon even in Western Europe. The law of 1868 set in motion a process that led to a marked improvement in the country’s educational conditions in the following decades.

The development of universities had already begun under Eötvös and was continued under the ministry of another great educational politician of the time, Ágoston Trefort. The University of Technology, seceding from the University of Pest, also developed remarkably: by the end of the century it had become the third-largest technical university in the world in terms of student numbers. During Trefort’s ministerial career of over 15 years, civic education also steadily advanced along the path set by Eötvös. Notable among his work is the 1883 Secondary School Act that unified the public education system and introduced, among other things, the maturation examination. Gymnasiums often employed eminent scholars as teachers.


It is no coincidence that among the important engineers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, we find Hungarian names. Hungarian scientists were among the great innovators of the era. To name a few: Donát Bánki, inventor of the carburetor necessary for the explosion engine; Ányos Jedlik, one of the first to design an electric motor and generator; Kálmán Kandó, inventor of the electric locomotive; Tivadar Puskás, inventor of the telephone exchange.

The driving force behind the scientific community was the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, albeit without major financial resources. During the decades of dualism, the presidents of the Academy (József Eötvös, Menyhért Lónyay, Ágoston Trefort, Loránd Eötvös, Albert Berzeviczy) also held positions as ministers of government.

Art life was vibrant. Societies and institutions of art were organized. The names of Ferenc Erkel and Ferenc Liszt were the hallmarks of musical life. In painting, Károly Lotz, Bertalan Székely, and Gyula Benczúr were prominent. In architecture, Art Nouveau emerged at a high level.


Economic development and the unfolding of capitalism in the second half of the 19th century were largely driven by the wealthy assimilated Jewish families of cities, e.g. the Hatvany-Deutsch, Weiss, Ganz, and Goldberger families. A mass immigration of Galician Jews took place in the mid-19th century, and the immigrants played an important role in the urbanization process. By 1910, half of the Jewish population lived in cities, while almost a quarter of the inhabitants of the capital were Israelites – both extremely high proportions. There was a great deal of differentiation within the Jewish population: alongside the assimilating urban bourgeoisie, there were traditional Orthodox communities. Jews were able to adapt to the new circumstances very successfully. Along with it, antisemitism strengthened. The over-representation of Jews, especially in economic and intellectual fields, sowed the seeds of „the Jewish question” in public thought. Antisemitism, which was increasingly present, relied on centuries-old prejudices (manifest, for example, in the Tiszaeszlár blood libel in 1882-83), misconceptions (e.g. about continuous Jewish immigration), and assimilation problems related to orthodox jewry (living in isolation). Most of all, however, it was a reaction to the dominant position of Jews in modern and profitable sectors. By the 1880s, anti-semitism had infiltrated politics, although with little success at that time. Jews had become largely assimilated and had already played a part in the 1848-49 War of Independence against the Habsburgs. Social rejection remained, nonetheless; the aristocracy kept a distance from the wealthy Jewish bourgeoisie, the Christian middle class feared for its livelihood, and the lower classes saw the exploiter in the Jewish industrialist, shopkeeper, and creditor.


By the turn of the century, left-wing currents of thought had gained momentum in Hungary. This was marked by the formation of the Hungarian Social Democratic Party in 1890, which soon organized mass marches of tens of thousands of people in the streets of Budapest. It was not until 1914 that the bourgeois radicals became a party, with a program that focused on what was then considered extreme democratic ideas but with little social support. A new generation of young urban intellectuals played a significant role in the emergence of social democracy and bourgeois radicalism. In the 1900s, they organized their main forums, such as the Galilei Circle, and published periodicals called Huszadik század (Twentieth Century) and Nyugat (West). People of Jewish origin were highly represented among the followers of left-wing progressive ideas in Hungary, which had serious consequences in the period following the First World War.

Recovery from the First World War meant significant progress for psychology overall. Under the initiative of Kuno Klebelsberg, 3,500 new classrooms were built in 5 years in the countryside to eradicate illiteracy. Hungarian cultural institutes were established throughout Europe, and foreign academic scholarships were introduced, which enabled many young Hungarian scientists to study at the best foreign universities. Klebelsberg also advocated the study of children. This area was increasingly linked to the institutionalization of psychology and psychotherapy through public and private initiatives. In 1928 the Hungarian Psychological Society was founded and its journal, the Hungarian Psychological Review, was published. Pál Ranschburg and his students played a decisive role in both aspects. The aim of the Society and the Journal was to promote the recognition of psychology as an independent science, to promote the professionalization of psychology and its extension into practical areas such as educational and career counseling, mental ability and aptitude testing, psychological and neurological care, mental health and the education of disabled children. The Hungarian Individual Psychological Association, founded in 1927, was also active in educational issues and maintained a network of advisory services for parents within the framework of the Children’s League. In 1931, the State Educational Counselling Center was established under the leadership of János Schnell, a student of Ranschburg. “Psychotechnical’ laboratories were set up in factories and in the army, where specialists were primarily concerned with measuring mental ability. The expansion gradually extended to practical areas such as educational and career counseling, psychological and neurological care, mental health, education of disabled children, mental ability and aptitude tests, and industrial, military, commercial, and advertising psychology. Academic, educational, and scientific research also advanced. The presence of the most acknowledged scientist of the period, Paul Ranschburg, was significant throughout the period, in the fields of experimental psychology, therapeutic pedagogy, and child psychiatry, in particular.
As a result of the territorial losses due to the Trianon treaty, Hungary lost its University of Kolozsvár (Cluj), which had played a major role in Hungarian science and culture, and also the newly founded University of Pozsony, which had been in operation barely for four years. The higher education system had to be reorganized, which was achieved in a short time. In the consolidation period, and again due largely to the efforts of Kuno Klebelsberg, universities in the countryside began to strengthen. The lost University of Kolozsvár moved to Szeged, where the country’s first permanently and successfully functioning university institute of psychology was established in 1929 under the leadership of Dezső Hildebrand Várkonyi. Psychology was also strengthened at the universities of Debrecen and Pécs. At the University of Budapest, Gyula Kornis established a Psychology Seminar within the Philosophy Department. In 1936, Pál Harkai Schiller became its head – thus, the initiative started by Géza Révész at the end of the First World War to set up an experimental psychology department at Pázmány University in Budapest was realized.

Between the two world wars, the situation of “neurotic children”, the mentally ill, and all kinds of “deviants” was an important issue. Hungarian professionals were influenced by the increasingly influential mental health and eugenics movements in the West. At the same time, the need for humane treatment of mental illness, the exploration of environmental and social roots, and research into heredity were on the agenda. The sterilization practice in the Scandinavian countries and the United States had its advocates in Hungary, but no such measures were introduced in Hungary.


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