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Entangled traditions of race: Physical anthropology

in Hungary and Romania, 1900–1940

Marius Turda

Abstract: This article discusses the relationship between race and physical anthro-
pology in Hungary and Romania between 1900 and 1940. It begins by looking at
institutional developments in both countries and how these influenced the most
important Hungarian and Romanian anthropologists’ professional and research
agendas. Drawing from a wide range of primary sources, the article reveals the sig-
nificant role the concept of race played in articulating anthropological and ethnic
narratives of national belonging. It is necessary to understand the appeal of the
idea of race in this context. With idealized images of national communities and
racial hierarchies creeping back into Eastern European popular culture and poli-
tics, one needs to understand the latent and often unrecognized legacies of race in
shaping not only scientific disciplines like anthropology, but also the emergence
and entrancement of modern Hungarian and Romanian nationalism.
Keywords: eugenics, Hungary, nationalism, physical anthropology, race, Roma-
nia, scientific racism

This article discusses the relationship between state, the national community became central to
race and physical anthropology in Hungary and the anthropological imagination of both coun-
Romania between 1900 and 1940. First, I out- tries. In this regard, the Hungarian and Roman-
line the institutionalization of anthropology in ian examples should give a sense of what an
both countries in order to understand its tra- eclectic and multifaceted national project phys-
jectory in terms of professional struggles for ical anthropology was during this period. The
scientific legitimacy and public acceptance. history of physical anthropology and race is, af-
Hungarians were exposed earlier and more fre- ter all, not only widely varied in itself, exhibit-
quently to anthropological thinking than their ing continuities and discontinuities; it is also a
Romanian counterparts; yet this institutional part of the European culture as a whole—at times
asymmetry was quickly compensated by con- a highly influential part—as well as a receptacle
ceptual symmetry and an analogous interest in influenced by a specific national culture.
racial sciences. As physical anthropologists in Second, I intend to outline some of the na-
Hungary and Romania increasingly placed their tionalist debates that centered on race, and how
scientific knowledge in the service of the nation- these debates ultimately shaped the evolution of

Focaal—Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology 58 (2010): 32–46

Entangled traditions of race: Physical anthropology in Hungary and Romania, 1900–1940 | 33

anthropology between 1900 and 1940. I further tional Archaeological and Anthropological So-
argue that the model of a closed, politically neu- ciety. Shortly thereafter, in 1881, the Department
tral professional caste governed by scientific of Anthropology was established at Pázmány
objectivity was a rhetoric which, however ser- Péter University in Budapest,1 and its first chair
viceable to some anthropologists, corresponded was the leading Hungarian craniologist Aurél
only tangentially with reality. Official state pol- Török (1842–1912). In 1882, Török launched the
itics sanctioned Hungarian and Romanian journal Anthropological Notebooks (Anthropoló-
physical anthropology, and anthropological giai füzetek), and eventually succeeded in estab-
texts should also be read in this light. At a time lishing the Anthropological Museum in 1884
when the political map of Central and Eastern (Bartucz 1932, 1942). Concomitantly, János
Europe changed drastically, anthropology as a Jankó (1868–1902), Antal Herrmann (1851–
discipline became strongly committed to the 1926), and Pál Hunfalvy (1810–1891) estab-
project of national engineering envisioned by lished the Hungarian Ethnographical Society in
the state. An even cursory examination of the 1889 and the following year its journal Ethnog-
main anthropological publications during this raphy (Ethnographia). Both journals were theo-
period demonstrates that many physical an- retically bound together by varieties of cultural
thropologists in Hungary and Romania became determinism and biological reductionism, but
committed nationalists, notably by generously otherwise representative of European anthro-
defending the ideological foundations of official pology and ethnography of the time (Balogh
propaganda. It is thus all the more important to 1939b; Hofer 1984; Sozan 1977).
insist that the politicization of physical anthro- Ethnic diversity was a popular topic among
pology was not a fortuitous ideological process, Hungarian anthropologists and ethnographers.
but the logical culmination of a series of reflec- A typical expression of this preoccupation is
tions on the nation’s historical destiny. Antal Herrmann’s comment occasioned by the
millennium festivities in Hungary in 1896:
“From an ethnological point of view,” he noted,
Institutionalization “[the Hungarian nation] consists of seven ele-
ments which perhaps contain each as many
In order to understand the evolution of physical ethnographical shades or variation.” Yet the het-
anthropology in Hungary and Romania one must erogeneous character of the Hungarian nation
evoke the individuals and institutions involved did not preclude, according to Herrmann, the
in maintaining the boundaries of the discipline, emergence of a certain ethnic homogeneity
determine how these individuals regulated rela- among Hungary’s communities based on the
tions with one another and with other scientific idea of “the common fatherland, the common
communities, how they initiated new members natural and biological relations, the continual
and, finally, how they established their scientific contact with one another, the mixture of blood,
priorities. The history of physical anthropology and the innumerable reciprocal influences of
in Hungary and Romania is a complex one about culture, which make themselves felt not only in
which we still know much too little. What I at- places of mixed population and on the frontiers
tempt in this section is but a brief overview. of languages, and peoples, but press in from the
The widespread support anthropology re- circumference on the more solid and apparently
ceived in Hungary during the second part of the unmixed elements in the centre” (Herrmann
nineteenth century was endorsed internation- 1897: 390ff).
ally during the Congress of Prehistoric Archae- For Herrmann, like others of his generation,
ology and Anthropology, which convened in anthropology primarily meant collecting infor-
Budapest in 1876. One significant outcome of mation about the various ethnic groups inhab-
the congress was the creation in 1878 of the Na- iting the Habsburg empire. In a programmatic
34 | Marius Turda

text from 1889 he assigned the ethnographer the national community, but also for ensuring
the role of curator of certain artifacts, objects that future generations benefited from an appro-
that “are the relics of the domestic life of the priate biological environment to prosper and
people, to be preserved with reverence; they are expand numerically (M. Lenhossék 1915, 1918).
the petrified witnesses of their past, like geolog- The adaptation of physical anthropology to
ical layers of the evolution of their cultural soil” new developments in national politics was aided
(Herrmann 1890: 19). Tamás Hofer has de- by the relocation of Hungarian universities—
scribed this attitude as the “stratified model of after World War I—from Koloszvár (Cluj) and
folk culture,” one that “was used in Hungarian Pozsony (Bratislava) to Debrecen and Pécs, re-
ethnography because its political task was to ar- spectively. The appointment of Kunó Klebels-
ticulate the peaceful coexistence of ethnic berg (1875–1932) as the minister of Religious
groups in a multi-ethnic state, an image of con- Affairs and Education in 1922 marked the be-
temporary Hungary which could be accepted— ginning of a new cultural policy, devoted to
as they hoped—simultaneously by Hungarians, strengthening Hungarian research, coupled with
Slovaks, Romanians and the rest” (Hofer 1995: financial investment in institutes of research.
68). Within the imperial Habsburg system, Klebelsberg was equally successful in his efforts
physical anthropology supplemented the popu- to attract external sources of funding, such as
lar liberal opinion on assimilation and integra- the Rockefeller Foundation, and in his attempts
tion, wielding images of peaceful ethnic co- to implement educational reforms. This new cul-
existence (Frank 1999; Lafferton 2007; Turda tural management was refracted through the
2007c). prism of István Bethlen’s conservative govern-
The collapse of the Austro-Hungarian mon- ment (prime minister from 1921 to 1931), which,
archy in 1918, and the subsequent emergence of in turn, created a favorable environment for
the new Hungarian state, played a decisive role new anthropological ideas of race and nation to
in reconfiguring this style of anthropological emerge (Bartucz 1931). The appointment of
reasoning. On one level, physical anthropology zoologist and racial thinker Lajos Méhely (1862–
displayed a remarkable sense of continuity. The 1953) as the head of the Department of Anthro-
discipline’s main tenets were still defined in pology at the University of Budapest in 1920—
terms of essentially the same set of principles set in 1926 he (together with Frigyes Verzár) also
by the liberal anthropologists in the 1890s: so- became a member of the German Society for
cial fraternity, ethnic toleration, and political Blood Group Research (Deutsche Gesellschaft
patriotism. On another level, however, these für Blutgruppenforschung)—further accentuated
principles came under criticism. Mihály Lenhos- this trend.
sék (1863–1937), for instance, demanded the This development was further enhanced by
creation of a national anthropology, separated the rise of sero-anthropological studies in Hun-
from ethnography, one reflecting the historical gary. Frigyes (Fritz) Verzár (1886–1979), profes-
conditions of the new Hungarian state and fo- sor of experimental pathology at the University
cusing exclusively on the Magyar race. He also of Debrecen, was one of the first Hungarian sci-
wanted to broaden the array of subjects consid- entists to make use of the discoveries made by
ered worthy of anthropological inquiry. Going Karl Landsteiner (1868–1943) and Ludwig
beyond the ersatz cultural assimilation that had Hirschfeld (1884–1954; see Hirschfeld 1919) on
been the mantra of the pre-1914 political dis- ABO blood groups, and their application to
course, Lenhossék’s arguments fittingly came racial groups, especially the Roma (Verzár and
studded with a new representation of the nation Weszeczky 1921/22; 1922). That these new
and race. Physical anthropology was to become ideas were viewed as capable of offering better
part of a general concern with health, hygiene, anthropological results was illustrated by Endre
demography, and eugenics perceived as require- Jeney (1891–1970), then assistant at the Insti-
ments not only for the interwar regeneration of tute of Pathology at the University of Szeged, in
Entangled traditions of race: Physical anthropology in Hungary and Romania, 1900–1940 | 35

his 1923 review of racial biological research in of individuals and families. In the name of a
Hungary (Jeney 1923; Rosztóczy and Jeney 1933). healthy nation, eugenics served as a mechanism
This insistence on biology and heredity is pre- with which the state and the church were able to
cisely what physicians and biologists, in Hun- orchestrate its demographic policies, encourag-
gary and elsewhere, contributed to the new ing large families while protecting Hungarian
scientific foundations of anthropology after racial qualities (Farkas 1988).
1918. The pioneering serological reflections of Such eugenic and racial strategies were facil-
physicians like Verzár provided physical anthro- itated by the Heredity Section of the Hungarian
pology with a new biological framework from Psychological Society and the Eugenic Section
which to extract arguments to reinforce its bid of the Hungarian Union for the Protection of
for scientific credibility. the Family, as well as the Hungarian Institute for
The relevance of physical and sero-anthro- National Biology, founded in 1940, especially its
pology for the preservation of Hungarian na- section on Heredity, Racial Biology, and Eugen-
tional traditions was further promoted by Lajos ics. Under the aegis of the Stefánia Organization
Bartucz (1885–1966), Mihály Malán (1900– and the Society of Public Health, these associa-
1968), and János Nemeskéri (1914–2000). In tions endeavored to restore Hungary to its for-
1922, Bartucz established an Anthropological mer demographic and political position in the
Section within the Hungarian Ethnological So- region by promoting racial and serological re-
ciety and resumed the publication of Török’s search, population genetics and transfers as well
Antropológiai füzetek. In 1931, Bartucz became as natalist policies. By 1940, when Hungary re-
a lecturer in anthropology at the University of covered some of the territories lost in 1918,3 the
Budapest, and in 1940 the head of the Depart- twin forces of nationalism and politics were fast
ment of Anthropology at Horthy Miklós Uni- transforming both physical anthropology and
versity in Szeged. Malán, having completed his the larger texture of Hungarian cultural life.
studies with the German race-hygienist Eugen Distorted and manipulated by agile nationalists,
Fischer (1874–1967), established an anthropo- the anthropological theories of the 1920s and
logical laboratory at the College of Physical 1930s were recast as ideological arguments in
Education in Budapest in 1930, which he super- partisan disputes over contested territories, as
vised until 1942. Recognizing the importance of the case of Transylvania during the 1940s clearly
anthropological research for the new national indicates. But this was not a sudden eruption of
politics formulated after the return of neighbor- nationalist feelings among physical anthropolo-
ing territories to Hungary, a Department of An- gists; nor was it confined to Hungary. As the
thropology was established in 1940 at the Ferenc example of Romania suggests, physical anthro-
József University in Koloszvár (Cluj) in Transyl- pologists were often attracted to the new na-
vania with Malán as its chair. tionalist technologies of race developing in
During the 1930s and 1940s the symbiotic Europe at the time, contributing expertise and
relationships that linked physical anthropology guidance to government policies on population
to other disciplines like biology, sociology, and control and management.
geography and, more broadly, the various con- In contrast to Hungary, Romania experienced
ceptual incarnations of the idea of the nation, a rather protracted institutionalization of an-
determined the making and remaking of vari- thropology. Although the Geographical Society
ous ethnic communities perceived as important in Bucharest had a Section of Ethnology since
to the quest for specific Hungarian racial char- 1875, the first course in anthropogeography and
acteristics (Nemeskéri 1938). It is within this ethnography only began in 1909, and was taught
context that many physical anthropologists in by the geographer Simion Mehedinţi (1869–
Hungary were equally interested in eugenics.2 1962). Other Romanian scholars, like the art his-
The main issue was how to harmonize the inter- torian and founder of Romanian Folk Art Mu-
ests of the state and the nation with the interests seum Alexandru Tzigara-Samurcas (1872–1952),
36 | Marius Turda

also contributed to the popularization of eth- on those inhabiting the eastern regions, like the
nography. Both authors subscribed to an organic Gagauz of southern Moldavia and the Ukraini-
ordering of mankind in cultures and peoples, ans in the Bukovina (Necrasov 1940, 1941, 1943).
and practiced an understanding of ethnography Chelcea (1932, 1944), for his part, became in-
as the science of gathering and exchanging in- terested in the evolution of the Roma commu-
formation about customs, traditions, and rituals. nities and their traditions.
Human geographical differences were codified In 1933, the Society of Anthropology was
culturally not racially. founded in Cluj due to the efforts of a handful
One of the first anthropological and cranio- of hygienists and physicians affiliated with the
logical surveys of Romanians was attempted by Medical Faculty and the Institute of Hygiene
the physician Mihail Obedenaru (1839–1885), and Social Hygiene. Active members included
who presented three skulls to the Anthropolog- the anatomist Victor Papilian (1888–1956), the
ical Society of Paris (Société d’Antropologie de eugenicist Iordache Făcăoaru (1897–?), and the
Paris) in 1874—one of which, he asserted, was physiologist and pharmacologist Constantin C.
“Dacian,” as it “resembled the Dacian figures Velluda (1893–1978), as well as the ethnogra-
represented on the Trajan Column” in Rome pher Romulus Vuia (1887–1963). The Society
(Obédénare 1874). Obedenaru’s incipient cran- existed until 1940, providing institutional con-
iological research was further developed in his text for promising Romanian anthropologists
1876 Romania (La Roumanie), where he sug- like Făcăoaru and Chelcea to present their re-
gested that the Romanians were “brachycephalic” search through professional seminars and pub-
(short-headed). It was no accident that one of the lic lectures (Făcăoaru 1973).
first Romanian anthropologists readily adjusted The circulation of key individuals from Cluj
his craniological research to reflect the current to Bucharest further encouraged these devel-
national preoccupation with ethnogenesis and opments. The Transylvanian statistician Sabin
historical continuity. The debate over the Roma- Manuilă (1894–1964), for instance, organized a
nians’ racial origins would become the defining section on Demography, Anthropology, and
context for anthropological narratives developed Eugenics at the National Institute of Statistics in
in Romania until World War II and beyond. Bucharest in 1935. A section of Bio-Anthropo-
But it was the creation of Greater Romania logical Studies was established at the National
in 1918 that gave physical anthropology its long- Institute of Statistics in 1936 and given to Făcăo-
awaited impetus. Like in Hungary, demands aru in 1941. The Romanian Institute of Anthro-
were put forward for the creation of a national pology was established in Bucharest by Francisc
anthropology, one reflecting Romanian tradi- Rainer (1874–1944), professor of anthropology
tional values and the correspondingly specific and biology at the University of Bucharest, and
racial characteristics (Preda 1924). Yet the first officially inaugurated in 1940 (Turda 2007a,
chair in Anthropology and Palaeontology was 2007b).
established at the University of Iaşi only in 1930, Although dispersed geographically, Roman-
and given to the paleontologist Ion G. Botez ian anthropologists worked on a common cor-
(1892–1953). The position was disbanded in pus of topics, including racial morphology,
1938, but re-established in 1943 under the soci- serology, racial psychology, as well as social hy-
ologist and anthropologist Ion Chelcea (1902– giene and eugenics. That they were also unified
1991). Olga Necrasov (1910–1200), a former by their efforts to demonstrate that anthropol-
student of the German racial psychologist Egon ogy was a respected science in Romania became
von Eickstedt (1892–1965), also lectured there clear in 1937, when the Seventeenth Interna-
on anthropology during this period. Like her tional Congress of Anthropology and Prehis-
colleagues in Transylvania, Necrasov was par- toric Archaeology was organized in Bucharest.
ticularly interested in the racial composition of On this occasion, official patronage coupled
Romania’s various ethnic groups. She focused with extensive media coverage brought renewed
Entangled traditions of race: Physical anthropology in Hungary and Romania, 1900–1940 | 37

significance to Romanian anthropology. Pre- ularly active in this field nationally and interna-
sided over by the Swiss anthropologist Eugène tionally. In 1875, J. Lenhossék, for instance, pub-
Pittard (1867–1962), the congress was used by lished his acclaimed study of human craniology,
Romanian anthropologists to inform foreign and was the first Hungarian anthropologist to
scholars of their achievements in such diverse study artificial cranial deformation (J. Lenhos-
disciplines as paleontology, archeology, folk- sék 1875, 1878). Another direction of research
lore, serology, and eugenics (Turda 2009a). was to focus on cranial differences. Török (1882)
By the early 1940s, for all its geographical offered one of the first detailed investigations
diversity, Romanian and Hungarian physical of cranial characteristics of Romanians in Tran-
anthropology supported a single narrative of sylvania.
national identity. In some measure, political de- Around 1900 a growing skepticism about the
velopments, increased institutional networking utility of cranial research for racial purposes led
and institutional trends imposed this discursive many leading anthropologists to question its
homogeneity. Conversely, one must understand scientific credentials. It was Török who produced
these anthropological narratives in their own one of the simultaneously most comprehensive
conceptual terms. Thus physical anthropology, discussions and substantial critiques of craniol-
in both countries, exhibited a number of practi- ogy in 1890. His main scientific opus, Principles
cal and theoretical strata, and these intersecting of systematic craniometry (Grundzüge einer sys-
layers must be appropriately contextualized in tematischen Kraniometrie), is arguably the most
order for the disciplinary matrix of Hungarian detailed craniological analysis of a single skull
and Romanian anthropology to be revealed. in the history of craniology, including an as-
tounding 5,371 measurements. Notwithstand-
ing this admirable professional dedication, Török
Universal epistemologies: (1890) reached conclusions unfavorable to cra-
Neighboring areas of research niology. Ultimately, he argued that the cephalic
index was irrelevant to racial differentiation,
The discussion so far has focused on institutions that there was no scientific possibility of prov-
and the individuals associated with them. This ing the existence of a “pure” dolichocephalic or
section explores some areas of research where brachycephalic race.
Hungarian and Romanian anthropologists were Such somber assumptions about the usage of
particularly active. Despite the similarities be- craniology did not deter physical anthropologists
tween the two professional groups, there were concerned with racial cartography from further
also important differences. Crucially, nationalist elaborating schemes of racial classification. In
cultures in both countries were frequently an- 1911 the Hungarian anatomist Jenő Davida
tagonistic. This was inevitable given the politi- (1884–1929), for instance, published his exten-
cal disagreement over territories like Transyl- sive craniological research (Davida 1911); and
vania (Case 2009; McMahon 2009). There was, even Bartucz never abandoned craniology in his
therefore, a certain amount of interaction be- anthropological studies (Bartucz 1917, 1935). A
tween nationalist cultural activities and anthro- similar devotion to craniology characterized the
pological research, although the interaction was first treatise on racial anthropology published
qualitatively different in the 1920s and 1940s. In in Romania after World War I, Alexandru Bor-
this sense, anthropologists and anthropologi- cescu’s 1919 Notions of craniological anthropol-
cal societies were indirectly instruments of state ogy (Noţiuni de craniologie antropologică).
policy. In fact, craniology continued to provide a
Craniology was one field in which both coun- conceptual framework for physical anthropol-
tries excelled. At the beginning of the nineteenth ogy throughout the interwar period, as exem-
century two important Hungarian scholars, plified by research into differences between
József Lenhossék and Aurél Török, were partic- Romanian and Hungarian cranial characteris-
38 | Marius Turda

tics. In 1928, Davida researched the cranial col- ing proportions amongst several ‘ethnic groups’,
lection housed by the Hungarian University of from which it can no longer be differentiated
Cluj (Kolozsvár) prior to 1919, within which he except by a process of delicate analysis” (Den-
thought to have found “pure” Hungarian and Ro- iker 1900: 8). It was also a historical entity, both
manian crania. The Hungarian came from largely physical and spiritual, the result of specific geo-
Protestant communities, while the Romanian graphical conditions (Topinard 1879, 1885).
crania were collected from Greek Orthodox and There was no consensus on what a race actu-
Greek Catholic communities. Davida (1928) did, ally constituted, and anthropologists could hence
in fact, refuse to accept Török’s condemnation not agree on how many races populated Europe.
of “pure” racial characteristics, thus reinstating Attempts to work through this problem are de-
craniology to its former scientific status and tectable in the effort to standardize racial car-
suggesting that its methodology was commen- tography. Here, three models of racial mapping
surate with post-1920s nationalist narratives. competed for prominence. The first was pro-
The Romanian anthropologist Ion Chelcea posed by Joseph Deniker, who identified six
endorsed this view in his 1935 study “Types of primary races: Northern, Eastern, Ibero-Insu-
Romanian skulls from Transylvania: An anthro- lar, Western or Cenevole, Littoral or Atlanto-
pological study” (Tipuri de cranii româneşti din Mediterranean, and Adriatic or Dinaric; along
Ardeal: Cercetare antropologică). Chelcea based with four sub-races: sub-Northern, Vistulian,
his analysis on the crania collection held at the North-Western, and sub-Adriatic. Another
Museum of Natural History in Vienna, assembled model was outlined by the American racial car-
by the Austrian anthropologist Augustin Weis- tographer William Z. Ripley (1867–1941), who
bach (1836–1914) in the second half of the nine- insisted that there were only three European
teenth century. Although he did not subscribe to races: Teutonic, Alpine (Celtic), and Mediter-
Davida’s idea of racial purity, Chelcea suggested ranean (Ripley 1899; Winlow 2006). The Ger-
the existence of a dolichocephalic “Dacian ra- man racial anthropologist Hans F. K. Günther
cial type” concentrated among the inhabitants (1891–1968) suggested that there were five Eu-
of the Apuseni (western) Mountains in Transyl- ropean races: Nordic, Western, Dinaric, East-
vania (Chelcea 1934/35). ern, and Baltic (Günther 1926).
Racial and sero-anthropologists repeatedly Importantly, all three authors considered the
singled out methodological deficiencies associ- cephalic index to be a reliable instrument for
ated with craniology (Steffan 1932). Some classification, meaning that cranial capacity ulti-
doubted craniology’s scientific validity while mately differentiated between races: some were
others preferred to tackle the issue from a differ- dolichocephalic (mainly the Northern and Ibero-
ent angle (Făcăoaru 1934; Fehér 1942). During Insular); others were brachycephalic (the East-
the interwar period racial terminology was fluid ern, Western and Dinaric); and, finally, some
and undermined by divergent interpretations. were mesocephalic.4 It was assumed that the
Race, especially, was severely criticized for its closer such measurements and indexes of racial
conceptual laxity (Romsics 2010). Accordingly, type corresponded to the arithmetic average
Hungarian and Romanian physical anthropolo- value, the more a given racial type could be un-
gists struggled to formulate a definition of race derstood as “pure”; conversely, the more a racial
able to encompass both the latest developments type diverged from this ideal average, the more
in racial science and local, nationalist tradi- “cross-bred” it was (Turda 2006).
tions. Race was a physical entity, described by But according to Mihály Lenhossék as a sci-
French anthropologists Joseph Deniker (1852– ence craniology failed to harmonize the “sterile
1918) as being the “sum-total of somatological trend” and “the anthropology of the Hungarian
characteristics once met with in a real union of people” (M. Lenhossék 1915). In other words,
individuals, now scattered in fragments of vary- the focus had to account for both the importance
Entangled traditions of race: Physical anthropology in Hungary and Romania, 1900–1940 | 39

of human interdependencies and the complexi- mines the character of the nation, thereby re-
ties of human actions that took place within ducing it to a unique formula (innate charac-
social and institutional structures, as well as teristics), or it makes national identity seem
emphasize the particularity of a given nation’s adventitious (constantly created through cul-
biological capital. As Lajos Bartucz insisted in tural mythopoeia). Concretely, this approach
his 1938 The anthropology of the Hungarians (A had two aspects. First, an investigation into the
magyarság anthropológiája), anthropology’s task racial history of the nation, tracing its migra-
was “the planned and systematic investigation tions and contacts with other races. Second, re-
of the inhabitants of our country according to search into the physical and spiritual character
geographic and political regions from anthro- of the nation (Rainer 1937). In approaching the
pometric, ethnographic and demographic per- latter problem, two methods suggested them-
spectives” (Bartucz 1938: 94). Furthermore, the selves to the anthropologist: a comparative one,
main principle guiding physical anthropology based on analogy, and a hereditarian one, which
in Hungary should be a description of “the assumed that there were innate characteristics
medium type of the Magyar race” and how it that always survived (Wellisch 1938).
underwent changes due to the mixing of the Hungary and Romania’s troubled histories
blood among groups of peoples and nationali- confirmed what nationalists repeatedly pro-
ties living with or next to the Hungarians” claimed with respect to the national past: only a
(Ibid.). Indeed, it was this attempt to describe race superior in its qualities could have survived
the Hungarian and Romanian racial specificity centuries of dislocations and foreign domina-
that led physical anthropologists in Hungary tions. Questions as to what constituted that race
and Romania back to craniology for scientific were subjected to heated debates, as commen-
evidence. Cranial methodologies that had char- tators could not agree whether it was Roman,
acterized European anthropology during the Dacian-Roman, Dacian or Turanic, or Fino-
last decades of the nineteenth century were thus Ugric. Nevertheless, it was a race that the Ro-
being revived and replicated in Hungarian and manians and Hungarians deemed theirs and
Romanian anthropology (Turda 2008). that gave them the right to rule over territories
where descendants from that race now lived or
had lived (Kollarits 1927).
The nation’s racial character In the late 1930s Lajos Bartucz, for instance,
largely concentrated on the typology of the
Concerns with the nature of the racial character “Magyar racial type” and the “Magyar race.”
were certainly not Hungarian or Romanian an- With respect to the first, Bartucz insisted that
thropology’s exclusive scientific pursuit. None- centuries of interaction between a particular
theless, attempts to define the nation’s racial racial type and specific geographical conditions
character were both distinctive and powerful in generated a racial fusion. “Is there a Magyar
the Hungarian and Romanian anthropological type?” Bartucz asked; and his answer was posi-
discourses of the interwar period (Balogh tive. As a result of the “millenary biological his-
1939a). Lajos Bartucz, for instance, confessed tory” a particular racial type emerged, one that
sternly that: “one of the most difficult problems was previously named “Mongoloid-Caucasian,”
of anthropology is to establish the characteris- and that Bartucz recoined as the “Alföld type (or
tics of the Magyar race” (1927: 211). Bartucz the type of the Hungarian plain).” The main
further argued that national character was not racial characteristics of the “Alföld type” could
racial, and that racial typology made the dis- be found in other races and in other countries
tinction between the homogeneous and hetero- as well. However, there are two essential condi-
geneous either wholly unusable or arbitrary. The tions for the individual to become physically
racial type hence either fundamentally deter- and spiritually “Magyar”: the first was to live,
40 | Marius Turda

physically in Hungary for generations; the sec- munity, both created by history and the mil-
ond was to become spiritually assimilated by lenary environment of our country” (1940: 318).
the Hungarian nation (Bartucz 1939a, 1939b). He concluded by faithfully combining the sci-
“Is there a Magyar race?” was the second entific nature of anthropology with the official
question Bartucz addressed. In strict, zoological narrative about the nation. Bartucz embraced
terms (i.e., subspecies), he argued, one cannot the latter as fully as professionals from other
speak of a Magyar race. However, if one consid- disciplines such as history and sociology did.
ered race to be a “biological symbiosis” with a This metamorphic quality of racial research
“special racial structure” then those living on a meant that the racial type was, in fact, flexible.
territory for a thousand years formed a “harmo- As Bartucz envisioned it, the problem of physi-
nious race,” both in hereditary and spiritual cal anthropology was not simply one of explain-
terms, a race that is Magyar. As with his empha- ing national identity. Rather it rested on the
sis on the Magyar race, Bartucz’s description of need to recognize that perhaps no conclusive
the “Alföld type” encapsulated the ultimate def- consensus on what the nation represented
inition of the “Magyar racial type” offered dur- would arise, apart from the anthropological
ing this period. This definition was then term of “racial type.”
popularized in articles and books that Bartucz The law professor István Csekey (1889–1963)
published in the early 1940s, both in Hungary reinforced this view when he commented that:
and abroad, especially his acclaimed Racial “Race is therefore something constant, but the
question, racial research (Fajkérdés, fajkutatás). people and the nation vary frequently. The race
It is important to note that in the highly po- is what is hereditary” (Csekey 1939: 111). In ad-
liticized environment of the 1940s, Bartucz dis- dition, Csekey rejected the idea of racial purity
sociated himself from Nazi racism. He treated and commended that the Hungarian race was
the concept of race with skepticism once more, racially heterogeneous:
and suggested that the term “national body”
was appropriate for describing the racial history “It is precisely in her particular racial composi-
of the nation instead. This metaphor implied tion, resulting of the quantity and the quality of
that the prophylactic measures necessary for the racial elements represented in her that this
the protection of the Hungarian national body Hungarian nation differs from all other nations
had to be the result of specific Hungarian racial of the world. And as such, one can indeed call it
conditions: ‘a unique and solitary branch.’ In this sense a
Hungarian race exists. It is a mosaic, a mixture
“The special methods for the protection of the that itself cannot be found anywhere in the
Magyar race could only be established based world” (1939: 114).
on the results obtained by Hungarian racial
anthropology; otherwise, we would act as the It was exactly this ethnic mosaic that physical
physician who recommends a prescription or anthropology hoped to disentangle. Even those
medicine to one patient based on the consulta- Hungarian and Romanian anthropologists who
tion of another patient. This is another argu- specifically rejected theories of racial supremacy
ment for the national importance and necessity and ethnic purity were too deeply engaged with
of racial research” (1940: 317). the nationalistic milieu of the 1930s and 1940s
not to be affected in great measure by the intel-
Moreover, Bartucz labored to devise a com- lectual persuasiveness of national idealism (La-
pressed definition of racial character, conclud- hovary 1929; Marót 1940).
ing that the “Magyar national essence is formed The impact physical anthropological research
from three essential sources: a special physical had on public consciousness and official politi-
and spiritual racial structure of the national cal discourses in Hungary and Romania needs
body; the biological; and the reproductive com- further study, but here we can at least glimpse
Entangled traditions of race: Physical anthropology in Hungary and Romania, 1900–1940 | 41

the wider meanings of race, and how they influ- and Csángós, in order to demonstrate their racial
enced certain scientific agendas. Imbedded origins. The conclusions Râmneanţu reached
within the Romanian and Hungarian obsession reflected his passionate nationalism when he in-
with certain territories, like Transylvania, was sisted that the Szeklers were in fact Magyarized
the characteristically amorphous concept of na- Romanians, and the Csángós racially Romanians.
tional identity: an identity created in order to This was only one symptom of a wider process
deepen the historical character of a country, of racial appropriation in which the biological
region, community, and landscape. Anthropol- structure of an ethnic group was actively rein-
ogists were supposed to do more than just cata- vented for nationalist purposes. János Gáspár
logue skulls and record physical differentiations (1944), for example, had similarly argued that
among groups and individuals. They were sup- the Ruthenians in the sub-Carpathian Ukraine
posed to create new foundations for political preserved ancient Magyar racial elements, thus
decisions. As Iordache Făcăoaru declared, “In distinguishing them from the Slovaks and other
our national politics, anthropology has the role Slavs. Unhesitatingly, both Râmneanţu and
to clarify some of the most important issues Gáspár condensed a variety of racial ideas into
concerning our political rights over the terri- the concept of Romanian and Hungarian na-
tory we possess and over territories we do not tional identity, respectively. Theirs was not an
possess” (1938: 358). ordinary anthropological classification of ethnic
The mapping of the race’s somatic character- communities but an anthropologically inclined
istics was based on the wider assumption that political technology of re-establishing connec-
it was legitimate to categorize ethnic groups tions between territory and identity. As Râm-
through varying forms of measurement and neanţu explained:
that it was equally legitimate to represent these
measurements graphically. Visual representa- “The application of the serological investigations
tions of the race, such as craniology, were thus in the populations is one of the most important
accepted as examples of racial differentiation achievements for anthropology. In this way,
and environmental determinism. As noted, both based on the variations among fixed limits of
Hungarian and Romanian anthropologists used the classical blood groups, we are able to deter-
craniology until the late 1930s to produce a nar- mine to which nation belongs every population
rative of descriptive anthropology that could be nucleus. We are convinced that the distribution
utilized for nationalist purposes. Paralleling this of the blood groups gives better indication
trend was one that drew its vitality from serol- about the extension of an ‘ethnie,’ than the lan-
ogy and blood group research. It was assumed guage, the culture, and the customs” (1939: 329).
that blood groups could offer more accurate
means for classifying human races. It should come as no surprise that claims made
According to Lajos Méhely (1934), for in- by Romanian physical anthropologists and serol-
stance, blood group research was necessary for ogists about the racial origin of the Hungarian
“the strict protection of racial borders.” This communities in Transylvania reverberated par-
view was also advocated by the Romanian eu- ticularly painfully in Hungary.5 Although many
genicist and racial anthropologist Petru Râm- Hungarian scientists and politicians considered
neanţu (1902–1981), who argued that “blood is the loss of Transylvania unjust, the Romanians
the real, perhaps the unique, source which re- argued that the region was ethnically part of
mained untouched by the vicissitudes of time” Romania. It was within this polarized context
(Râmneanţu and David 1935: 40). In a series of that physical anthropology was assigned a new
articles and books published during the 1930s mission in both countries: to provide the nation
and 1940s, Râmneanţu applied this theory to with a corresponding racial narrative (Turda
his research on the ethnic groups in Transylva- 2007a). Most fundamentally, at a time of war
nia, especially Romanians, Hungarians, Szeklers, and accelerated nationalism, when the politics
42 | Marius Turda

and significance of territory were actively re- duced by the opposing camp. Indeed, when it
composed, anthropology was deployed to inter- came to the subject of race, both Hungarian and
rogate the racial coexistence of Hungarians and Romanian physical anthropologies functioned
Romanians (S. Manuilă 1924; S. Manuilă and in parallel universes, always concomitant but
Popoviciu 1924). Hungarian anthropologists never interacting.
and geneticists like Mihály Malán (1900–1968)
and Lajos Csík (1902–1962) serologically exam-
ined the filtered ethnic composition of northern Conclusions
Transylvania after its return to Hungary in 1940,
only to argue that the traces of Romanian rule Between 1900 and 1940, in Hungary and Roma-
had left were only ephemeral memories on the nia alike, an impressive emphasis was placed on
retina of the Transylvanian Hungarians’ nation- defining race and its connection to biological
alist imagination (Csík and Kállay 1942; Malán mechanisms of identification and classification.
1940). Physical anthropology, in turn, became associ-
Moreover, and as elsewhere in Europe at the ated with all the other processes intrinsic to the
time, Hungarian and Romanian physical an- discussions on national identity, such as national
thropologists became supporters of the new de- particularity, historical destiny, and ethnic assim-
velopments in genetics and eugenics, and ilation. It is for this reason that, toward the end
accepted that heredity determined the trans- of the 1930s, Hungarian and Romanian physical
mission of pathological and racial characteris- anthropology more closely resembled a nation-
tics (Birău 1936; Dumitrescu 1927; Ionescu and alist program than a scientific research agenda.
Ionescu 1930). Accordingly, they struggled to In this convoluted dialogue between science and
formulate a definition of a racial type, one able politics, the same motivations that universalized
to encompass the latest developments in racial anthropology also nationalized it; moreover, the
sciences on the one hand, and reflect the politi- same developments that made craniology, serol-
cal developments in their countries, on the ogy, and other anthropometric methodologies
other hand (Motru 1941). Ultimately, the “Ro- fundamental to anthropology’s central position
manian racial type” (“Dacian” or “Carpathian”) within the social sciences also gave rise to their
served to produce an ideological counterargu- championing the contested field of national iden-
ment to the “Alföld racial type” advocated by tity (Bosnyak 1939; Minovici 1939).
Hungarian anthropology (Kürti 2001). The na- The fact that both Romanian and Hungarian
tion’s racial character thus posed the question of physical anthropologists agreed that their na-
national metamorphosis; that is, the process of tions were racially mixed did not undermine
viewing national belonging through a two- their belief in a racial type, namely a form of
pronged process where one is internal (classifi- racial unit they deemed unique, whether it was
cation and differentiation), and the other Alföld, Dacian, or Carpathian. Even within the
external (delineating relations to other racial shifting boundaries of the international polit-
groups). The nation’s (Hungarian or Romanian) ics of the 1940s, anthropologists’ attention was
uniqueness was accordingly embodied in this markedly attracted to the physical contours of
ideal racial type, a hypostasis in which national the nation—physicality they idealized and in-
character found its quintessential form in na- voked in their research. Such an idealization of
ture, culture, and spirit (A. Manuilă 1943). the nation meant that the national community
When we move from the level of exclusively was not interpreted in cultural or political, but
Hungarian or Romanian national perspectives, in biological and racial terms. Such processes of
that is, the comparative debates on the racial racial appropriation became popular in the
types of ethnic groups, we find that these two 1940s in Europe, most tellingly in the Nazi re-
national anthropologies were never seriously in- search in Central and Southeastern Europe
terested in engaging with the scholarship pro- (Turda 2009b).
Entangled traditions of race: Physical anthropology in Hungary and Romania, 1900–1940 | 43

During World War II, the relationship be- thank the anonymous reviewers for their sug-
tween race and physical anthropology in Hun- gestions and critical comments.
gary and Romania became a pressing concern
because of the need to define the national body
in a period where political revisionism reached Marius Turda (The Centre for Health, Medicine
its pinnacle—both in scientific practices and lit- and Society, Oxford Brookes University, UK) is
erary exercises as well as the very substance of the author of The Idea of National Superiority in
national politics. Not surprising, Hungarian and Central Europe, 1880–1918, Eugenism şi antro-
Romanian anthropological research embodied pologia rasială în România, 1874–1944 and
two competing but mutually exclusive national- Modernism and Eugenics. His main areas of in-
ist aims. The nationalization of the body politic, terest include the history of eugenics, racism,
on the one hand, and the less successful ambi- anthropology and nationalism in Central and
tion of two nations to translate their common Eastern Europe, with a particular focus on Hun-
regional history into a peaceful reality, on the gary and Romania.
other hand, markedly influenced the develop- Email:
ment of physical anthropology, before and after
World War II.
Although it is rarely openly acknowledged, Notes
many of the nationalist narratives produced
during communism, especially in Romania, re- 1. The year 1881 also witnessed the publication of
mained deeply connected to the mentalities and the first book on anthropology in Hungarian,
styles of anthropological reasoning articulated namely Paul Topinard’s L’Anthropologie (1876),
during the interwar period (Milcu and Maxim- translated by Aurél Török.
ilian 1967; Malán [1948] 1960; Milcu and Du- 2. It is important to note that the International
mitrescu 1958, 1961; Bartucz 1957). The resid- Committee for Standardization of the Tech-
ual importance of anthropological ideas about nique of Physical Anthropology was established
race discussed in this article are also a potent in 1934 under the auspices of the International
Federation of Eugenics Organizations.
and neglected element in the resurgent appeal
3. In 1938, Hungary annexed Southern Slovakia
of populist and nationalist strategies devised af-
from Czechoslovakia and, in 1940, Northern
ter 1989. Their evaluation is therefore essential Transylvania from Romania.
in providing refreshing insights into theories of 4. In 1842, the Swedish anatomist Anders Retzius
national particularity centered on the symbolic (1796–1860) first used the ratio of width to
geography of nation coded into ethnicity and length in order to distinguish between dolicho-
territory. If, as Thomas H. Eriksen claimed, “an- cephalic and brachycephalic crania, thus estab-
thropological knowledge can help in making lishing a craniological comparative study of
sense of the contemporary world” (2004: 3), racial groups.
then one cannot assume to understand the pres- 5. One of the few successful models of collabora-
ent without considering the past, and with it the tion between Romanian and Hungarian sociol-
politically textured history of physical anthro- ogists and ethnographers is the group of Hun-
garian intellectuals in Transylvania known as
pology between 1900 and 1940.
the “Transylvanian Youth.” In the 1930s these
intellectuals, grouped around the journal Erdé-
lyi Fiatalok, established contacts with the Soci-
Acknowledgments ological School of Dimitrie Gusti in Bucharest,
and engaged in social and ethnographic re-
Research for this chapter was made possible by search in the Hungarian villages in Transylva-
a generous grant from the Wellcome Trust, Lon- nia. They believed that the essential qualities of
don (Grant no. 088975/Z/09/Z). I also want to the Hungarian race had been preserved in these
44 | Marius Turda

villages, protected by their geography and dis- ———. 1934/35. Tipuri de cranii româneşti din
tance from the urban centers of Romania and Ardeal (Cercetare antropologică). Memoriile
Hungary (see Hitchins 2007; Venczel 1935). Academiei Române 10: 341–368.
———. 1944. Rudarii: Contribuţii la o ‘enigma=’
etnografica=. Bucharest: Casa Şcoalelor.
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