The Ethnological Archives was created in 1938. It is the central archives of Hungarian ethnography and gives insight into both the shaping of an intellectual, alternative tradition to the official ideology of the party-state, and into the practices of preserving the pre-communist cultural heritage. The history of the Archives aptly illustrates the difficulty in sharply distinguishing the roles of cultural opposition and cooperation in the socialist period as it also contains ethnographical collections created by research projects serving contemporary political and ideological goals.
Budapest Kossuth Lajos tér 12, Hungary 1055
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Name of collection
- Ethnological Archives
Provenance and cultural activities
The Ethnological Archives was officially established in 1938 as the most significant set of archives on Hungarian ethnography. The collection reflects the changes in the scientific interests of both the Museum of Ethnography and the field of ethnography in general, and expresses the variety of research attitudes in the field (the Ethnological Archives is in the Museum of Ethnography, and is, more precisely, part of it). It represents an important collection of a hidden, officially discouraged, folk culture. Thanks to this archive, visitors can gain unique insight into the world of folk culture, which was banned from public appearance during socialism.
Before the foundation of the Ethnological Archives, the Museum of Ethnography did not collect manuscripts, photos, audio or visual materials, or musical transcriptions because the collectors’ main aims were different; until 1938, only artefacts were documented, and the Library of the Museum of Ethnography, or the collections, received these, or they stayed with their collectors. A new generation of researchers developed the concept for the archives in the late 1930s.
In 1938, István Györffy and Zsigmond Bátky tasked Béla Gunda and László Keszi Kovács with studying the methods of the ethnographical museums of Estonia and Finland. Their main aim was to redefine the underlying concept of the Hungarian Ethnological Archives. László Keszi Kovács wrote István Györffy a letter outlining how the concept for the Archives would be established within the Museum of Ethnography, and stated his case clearly about the collection of ethnographical documents. His plan was to collect all kinds of information about folk culture (artefacts, manuscripts, photos, etc.), and store it in the workmanlike system of Northern Europe: collect the notes of previous researchers and copy them into another archive. Collect every photo, manuscript, memoir, drawing, etc., throughout the country concerning folk culture, and store them, along with the researchers’ notes in the Ethnological Archives, as they were doing in Estonia. Collect ethnographic data from the collections of countryside museums and send regionally relevant ehtnographic data from the Ethnological Archives to the local museums concerned. László Keszi Kovács’s considered the social collector system (a network of voluntary, amateur local etnographers-collectors) invaluable to the organization of the collection of the Hungarian Ethnographical Atlas (a published series of maps). The social collector system highlighted the importance of folk music, folk musical instruments, photos, films, and video collections. Moreover, Keszi Kovács also accented the importance of regular fieldwork. The plan for the Ethnological Archives materialized following World War II, when Péter Keszi Kovács, László Keszi Kovács’s brother, replaced him and Béla Gunda after they left the Museum of Ethnography. Péter Keszi Kovács documented the collections of the Archives and collected every document on folk culture. This was very important because folk culture was suppressed and politicized during socialism. According to communist ideology, religious and ethnical differences disappear in a socialist society, and folk culture is mass culture too. Therefore, religious and ethnical difference, as well as peasant culture, became taboo. On the other hand, folk culture appeared at every festival and national holiday. In the 1950s, the concept of ethnography changed, and researchers began to work and collect among industrial workers, where the traditions of folk culture had actually survived. They wrote about these experiences, along with the possibility of carrying out scientific work, and their administrative and achieved tasks during socialism. In the 1950s the Museum of Ethnography cooperated with institutes like the Folk Art Institute (Népművészeti Intézet), and information about these projects exists. The members of the Folk Art Institute collected folk songs, folk music, and folk dance and gave these collections and this documentation to the Ethnological Archives.
During the 1960s and 1970s, some researchers attempted to document the effects of industrialization and urbanization, as well as the people’s attitudes towards the social changes brought about through socialism in certain villages (Átány, Tiszaigar). Edit Fél and Tamás Hofer, for example, took nearly 10,000 photos in Átány about the artefacts used in agricultural works, of people, houses, clothing etc. These decades were full of well-organized research throughout Hungary, and the social collector system was so well organized that many aspects of daily life were documented. These documents are currently available in the Ethnological Archives. Hence, these ethnographical descriptions have conserved the folk culture that socialism wanted to abolish. The Ethnographical Archives cooperated with the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (Magyar Tudományos Akadémia), the Hungarian Open-Air Museum (Szentendrei Skanzen), as well as the rural museums and institutes.
Péter Keszi Kovács and his colleagues aspired to employ people who were politically discriminated against, but did not have the opportunity to work with László Lajtha, Zsuzsanna Erdélyi, Margit Tóth, etc., who called themselves “Noah’s Ark”.
The collection is relevant for many disciplines, particularly history and sociology. The researchers recorded one of the most suppressed episodes in Rákosist and Kádárist Hungary, along with that of previous decades. In 1975, when the Museum of Ethnography moved to Kossuth Lajos Square, the Ethnological Archives was placed in modern storage. The growth of the Ethnological Archives is continuous, and researchers are able to search for authors, topics and geographical indexes.
Description of content
Manuscript Collection: One of the Ethnological Archives’ largest and scientifically most significant collections. It contains every written document about Hungarian, European and non-European folk culture. The bulk of it was collected in the first part of the 20th century, but it also contains information about Hungarian folk culture after World War II. The collection contains documents from the 18th century through present-day. The main topics of this collections are agricultural cultivation, home furnishing, cuisine, clothing, textiles, etc., but the social changes, public law, public administration, folk beliefs and lore, folk poetry, writing, reading and education, nationalities etc., also represent the social changes in Rákosist and Kádárist Hungary.
2. Documentation Collection: The Documentation Collection includes all written and printed documents created during the history and course of the Museum of Ethnography. These are official and scientific documents, rather than historical-ethnographic manuscripts, from the 19th century until present day. This collection includes documents about exhibitions, conferences, programs, people, etc., and also about the Hungarian Institute of Sociology (which was abolished in 1949) and the Ministry of Interior.
3. Collection of Public Records: This collection was brought into being by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences' Eighth Scientific Directive of 1978 entitled, “A Complex Study of Our Historical and Cultural Memories and Traditions”. The purpose of the study was to collect and analyse the written resources of Hungarian rural life and village material culture. In the late 1970s, historical sources like documents of inheritances, lists of inheritances, the documentation of assets, testaments etc., gave a new perspective into Hungarian ethnographical research methods. In this collection we are able to find information on aristocratic families, as well as manors in the southern part of Hungary.
Half of the collection comes from the southern part of Hungary and places like Keszthely, Veszprém, Tata, while the other half is linked to rural towns like Kecskemét, Kiskunhalas, Mezőberény, and so on.
4. Photograph Collection: This collection includes images of ethnographic, ethnological and anthropological interest. These documents represent the ways of life of ethnic groups living in Hungary, the Carpathian Basin, and European and non-European countries from the second half of the 19th century through to the present. The collection was created in 1894. Hungarian ethnographers who had access to a camera (such as István Györffy, Sándor Gönyey, Vilmos Diószegi, Balázs Molnár, Béla Gunda, Tamás Hofer, etc.) used it widely in their fieldwork. They documented the changes in Hungarian society from the end of the 19th century through the 20th century. Therefore, the collection preserves documents from the communist regime until present-day.
5. Slide Collection: The Slide Collection was launched in 1961, although slides were gathered from different collections even in the 1950s. Most of the slides were taken between 1910 and the advent of World War II. The collection also contains slides of ethnological research projects (taken by Tibor Bodrogi in Indonesia, etc.). One of the most significant series of non-European subject material comprises slides taken in Papua New Guinea. In the 1970s, many slides were taken in Transylvania and in areas around Hungary. These slides show how folk culture changed during socialism.
During the 1980s and 90s, many slides were taken in cemeteries and about religious events in Hungarian and non-Hungarian areas.
6. Collection of Drawings, Paintings and Prints: This collection is a highly-varied composition in terms of subject material, artist and technique. The creators of the drawings, graphics, and paintings were professionals from the worlds of art and science. The painters represented include Árpád Feszty, Ákos Garay, István Zichy, and others. Some of the more prominent scientists whose works appear in the collection are Ottó Herman, János Xántus, Jenő Huszka, János Jankó, and István Györffy. This collection also documents changes in the life of peasants from the 19th century onwards.
7. Map Collection: This collection contains various printed and hand-drawn maps, including printed administrative maps from the 19th century until the present day, and numerous hand-drawn maps on various subjects. There are several unique and important pieces amongst the holdings, such as Ferenc Karacs’s 1813 Map of Hungary, and the 1850 series of cadastre maps produced by county assayers between 1856 and 1915. Unfortunately, the collection does not include the maps of the Ethnographic Atlas project begun in the 1950s.
8. Film and Video Collection: Researchers and filmmakers produced films during their fieldwork from the 1930s onward. The earliest Hungarian ethnographic film was shot by Ébner Sándor Gönyey in the 1930s. Most of the material in the collection was produced between 1940 and 1970, and is therefore especially valuable as it represents the changes in folk culture. The collection also includes many amateur recordings.
9. Audio Archive – The Folk Music Collection (audio materials and musical transcription).
The archive offers a wide range of textual folklore (folk tales, legends, superstitions, folk prayers, etc.), folk memoirs, melodies, oral history recordings, and interviews. This collection holds many records by Béla Bartók, Zoltán Kodály, and László Lajtha.
It also consists of collections of: phonograph cylinders, gramophone records, magnetic tape recordings, musical video recordings, digital compact discs, and folk music transcriptions.
- film: 1000-
- grey literature (regular archival documents such as brochures, bulletins, leaflets, reports, intelligence files, records, working papers, meeting minutes): 1000-
- manuscripts (ego-documents, diaries, notes, letters, drafts, etc.): 1000-
- music recordings: 1000-
- other artworks (that cannot be classified by other filter categories such as paintings, sculptures, graphics, etc.): 1000-
- other: 1000-
- photos: 1000-
Stakeholder(s) of the collection
Geographical scope of recent operation
Date of founding
Place of founding
Budapest Kossuth Lajos tér 12, Hungary
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Creator(s) of content
Important events in the history of the collection
- completely open to the public
Author(s) of this page
- Vámos, Gabriella
Granasztói, Péter, interview by Vámos, Gabriella, June 06, 2017. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection