1 - HUNGARY: A FRONTIER SOCIETY  pp. 6-41

HUNGARY: A FRONTIER SOCIETY

By Nora Berend

Image View Previous Chapter Next Chapter



Non-Christians in medieval Hungary lived in a society that was formed by a variety of influences, many of them the result of Hungary's location on the frontier of Christendom. ‘Frontier’ and ‘frontier society’ are concepts that have become extensively used in medieval historiography and incorporate a wide variety of approaches. Conceptual clarity requires tackling the issue of definitions and interpretations in order to bring both the notion of frontier society and the place of Hungary as such a society into sharp focus.

MEDIEVALISTS ON THE FRONTIER

A brief rehearsal of the history of the ‘f-word’ is useful in disentangling the varied threads that constitute frontier studies. Paternity goes to a very unwilling figure indeed. Frederick Jackson Turner claimed that the frontier was both unique to the United States and closed forever. He has precipitated an avalanche of work on frontiers in history. Yet no single aspect of the Turner thesis concerning American history has withstood critical scrutiny. First the concept of the ‘frontier’ was transformed: instead of a wilderness to be conquered, the frontier came to be seen as a contact zone, where an interchange of cultures was constantly taking place (an approach widely used by medievalists). This has been criticized in turn; many scholars of American history now argue that only the myth of the frontier constitutes a legitimate field of study, and that the real processes should be described by other names. This approach led to the introduction of the concept of the ‘middle ground’ instead of ‘frontier’, emphasizing relations and common consensus rather than two separate sides.