@ the Edge

The 2013 conference of the Hungarian Studies Association of Canada

May 29th 2013

By Kevin Burns

When Canada’s academics, scholars, and researchers in the Humanities and Social Sciences meet in Victoria, B.C., June 1- 8, they will be gathering “at the edge” in more ways than one. They not only meet in Canada’s most westerly university, but their focus will be the “edgy” theme selected for this year’s Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, an event now known as “the Congress” and that once went by the weighty title, “the Learneds.”

“The theme of ‘@ the edge’,” as the national organizers explain on the Congress website, “reflects the University of Victoria’s geographical position in Canada and on the Pacific Rim, as well as the need to centre the periphery both institutionally and socially, testing the boundaries of disciplines, promoting innovative thinking, seeking relevance to both local and global communities, and committing to engaged scholarship and knowledge mobilization. ‘@ the edge’ focuses on the key social challenges of inequality, the need for inclusivity, and the acceptance of diversity; those are challenges that demand intentional solutions that will address the marginalization of those at the edges of society through the tools provided by creative interdisciplinary research activities in the humanities and social sciences.”

“Congress” is the annual gathering for the seventy or so Canadian academic associations that bring some 6,000 of their members to one large university campus for sessions organized by each association, one of which is the Hungarian Studies Association of Canada, or HSAC. This year, HSAC’s program has been coordinated by a Program Committee chaired by McGill University’s Judith Szapor with members Tibor Egervari, emeritus of the University of Ottawa and Zita McRobbie of Simon Fraser University – assisted by Judy Young Drache, Secretary of HSAC and president of the Canada-Hungary Educational Foundation.

In an e-mail, Agatha Schwartz, President of HSAC and Chair of the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, University of Ottawa, offers her perspective on scholarly activity “@ the edge.” She writes, “The Hungarian Studies Association of Canada is @ the edge in multiple ways. On the one hand, it is a bridge between Hungary and Canada and contributes to the better understanding of a ‘small’ (and thus peripheral in relation to North America) culture on this big continent. The research our members and conference speakers are engaged in definitely promotes innovation and furthers the numerous disciplines that we represent (history, literature, music, art history, economy, political science etc.). This year’s conference in particular will gather many papers that deal with the topic of minorities and marginalized communities both within Hungary and also in relation to Hungarian minorities in the diaspora.”

Judy-Young Drache is pleased that HSAC has been able to bring as keynote speaker Professor Attila Pók from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and Columbia University. His presentation, entitled: “Hungarians, ‘A Ferry Nation’? In the Heart of Europe or on the Fringes of Two Worlds?” will provide a short survey of reflections on Hungary`s geographic position in 20th century Hungarian historical/political thought and on Hungarian self-perception in a European and global context.

According to Young-Drache, HSAC is equally fortunate in welcoming back Mária Palasik to open the conference. Palasik is based at the Historical Archives of the Hungarian State Security-ÁBTL, Budapest, and will trace the complex odyssey of Hungary’s engineering students who were forced to leave Hungary for Germany in 1944 and ended up trying to avoid being caught up in the last battles of WWII. Some never made it home again. Two of these students eventually made their way to Canada and will be present at her lecture. Last but not least, this will be the first time in HSAC’s 30 year history that the annual conference will have more participants/ presenters from Hungary and the surrounding countries of Slovakia, Romania, and Slovenia than from Canada and the USA.

“Curiosity about Hungary is not that mainstream,” says Young-Drache, reinforcing Schwartz’s perspective. “Many things receive a great deal of attention, ‘@ the centre.’ Small does not mean negative. It is possible to see things more clearly when you are not at the centre of everything.”

Szapor and Young-Drache have helped in the assembly of a program that explores the experience of research “@ the edge” from many perspectives. Attendees will hear research findings about life both at the centre and at the periphery in Transylvania in the 19th and 20th centuries – by three scholars from two different institutes in Cluj-Napoca, Romania. Another session explores the life and work of Hungarian writers and artists in Hungary and elsewhere, with one presentation focusing on Tamas Dobozy’s Siege 13, winner of the 2012 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize.

History will, of course, play a major role. Georg Michels of the University of California – Riverside will present his paper entitled “Hungarian Exiles on Ottoman Territory and the Destabilization of Habsburg Hungary during the Late Seventeenth Century”. Michels is followed by Roman Holec of Comenius University, Bratislava, with “The glass half full or half empty? The economic interests of the Hungarian minority in Czechoslovakia (1918-1938) and Slovakia (1939-1945).” In another session Nandor Dreisziger of the Royal Military College, Kingston, is speaking about Hungarian churches in the diaspora, followed by Margit Balogh of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences on Cardinal Mindszenty’s two visits to Canada. There will also be sessions on Hungarian minorities and their situation/issues in Europe and Canada. Some conference papers will be presented in Hungarian but with English abstracts available.

Conference organizers were guided in their choices by the focus on the margins that the overall “@ the edge” theme suggested. As the main Congress organizers explain on their website: “Whether the voices stem from the world of advanced ideas, people who are socially marginalized through economics or health factors, people who are physically distant from centres of power and influence, or indigenous peoples whose languages and cultures are endangered, this year’s theme wishes to ensure that those voices ‘@ the edge’ are heard.” Young-Drache adds, “We could have accommodated more of the Central Europeans speakers than we have coming but unfortunately some were not able to find the necessary resources.”

Conferences such as this are invariably the result of cooperation and collaboration involving many hard-working volunteers. As Agatha Schwartz explains, “The Hungarian Studies Association of Canada mainly collaborates with US based organizations such as AHEA (the American Hungarian Educators Association), or the HSA (Hungarian Studies Association) which are organizations similar in profile to ours, although with many more members, as you may imagine. It is beneficial to work with other academic organizations and those that promote Hungarian culture in Canada and North America. We are first and foremost and academic organization and as such, keeping and strengthening our academic profile is very important. This also means that we promote academic freedom and an open dialogue and critical thinking around various topics, that our speakers are free to express their personal opinion(s) in an atmosphere of free intellectual exchange, which does not mean that our Association has to endorse those opinions.”

For Young-Drache, this year’s “@ the edge” is also an opportunity for renewal for HSAC after thirty years of activity. “We look now to the next generation who will take up these things, and follow on from the work of all of our loyal membership,” she explains. “We are reaching out to graduates in related fields in universities across Canada. This year we are pleased to have six PhD students among our speakers, four from Canada and one each from Hungary and Romania. We have broadened our themes and we are becoming much more multidisciplinary. We anticipate a broader and more diverse exchange of knowledge and ideas. All of this from a small Canadian association: the Hungarian Studies Association of Canada.”

The complete listing of sessions at “@ the edge” can be found in the 2013 Victoria Program.