Thoughts on the Organization of History

Date: Fri 2023-05-19


I recently spent two weeks in Hungary, Austria, and Slovakia. It was the longest I’ve spent physically separated from my work laptop literally ever. (Took it to my wedding, took it to Japan, took it to every Christmas and Thanksgiving holiday, and so on…)

I had the opportunity to visit the Hungarian National Museum. It was a very impressive collection and exhibit; I have to highly recommend it. Something that stood out to me was the frequency with which Bratislava played a pivotal role. Or rather, as it was referred to in that time, Pozsony.

I wasn’t sure how to feel about the insistence to use an outdated and imperial name for a sovereign nation’s capital. It seems to me that there’s a very close parallel to how museums in the United States have historically referred to Native American tribes. (Iroquois vs. Haudenosaunee; Eskimo vs. Inuit; Indian vs. Native American.) It significantly colored my experience in the exhibit, and caused me to reconsider the blurbs in a new light.

Which lead to me realizing that the voivodeship and principality of Transylvania, which the museum went to great lengths trying to claim as Hungarian heritage, are in fact Romania.

I admittedly knew very little about Romanian history until this week. But as I poured over Wikipedia articles about the region and government, I started recognizing many names. Thokoly, whose name adorns many streets and public squares in Budapest, was in fact a Transylvanian leader. Same with Rakoczi. Both of them have statues in Hero’s Square, alongside Stephen Bocskai and Gabriel Bethlen. All of them can hardly be claimed as Hungarian, I think.

To keep straight all of the history which I learned in Budapest, and also to straighten that history out with regards to whose history it actually is, I began writing articles on my wiki.

My personal perspective on Medieval Europe is that dynasties are the key unit. Realms were reshaped and changed hands so often that it’s not really possible to record a coherent history in terms of reigns and monarchs. Not to mention all the times that kingdoms were raised or vassalized, or that kingdoms were held in personal unions. You could spend a week trying to sort the Habsburgs between Spain, Austria, and the Holy Roman Empire.

At the same time, I do think that understanding the history of how a kingdom was created is foundational. In many cases it is even more important. I don’t honestly have that much interest in the dynasties of Serbia and Syrmia, but it would be difficult to properly understand Hungarian expansion to the south without knowing who they were expanding into.

For each of Hungary, Czechia (as the successor to Bohemia), Romania (as the successor to Transylvania), Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Poland, and Serbia, I have created a parent wiki article and a “Monarchs” sub-page. That sub-page is organized as a list of the duchies/principalities/kingdoms/etc. that explain where the modern states came from, and then a list of dynasties across all of those duchies/principalities/kingdoms/etc. This gives me the flexibility to list dynasties outside of royalty and across interregnum periods.

As needed, I add sub-pages for major historical individuals and cities. Generally I try to keep individuals under the modern nation that corresponds best to their core realm. Sigismund, while also having been Holy Roman Emperor and king of Croatia and Bohemia, was first and foremost a king of Hungary.

I have a bad habit of biting off more than I can chew, so I placed a hard limit on myself. I am not, under any circumstances, touching any of the Byzantine, Ottoman, Austrian, Venetian, or Holy Roman Empires. That also effectively restricts the time period of interest, since one or more of those was dominant in the entire region by the 16th century.

I’ve really enjoyed this deep dive into eastern and southern European history. It’s not a topic I’ve really thought about before, so even this basic level of research has been highly fruitful.

It’s also given me an opportunity to practice expository writing. On my high school debate team, I was frequently advised to focus on the framework of an argument, rather than a lecture. Ever since, I’ve reviewed my work through the lens of how can I get to the point faster?. This exercise has gone in a very different path. The more tangential connections I can make between the objects of my study, the richer my understanding of the regional history becomes. And wikis are designed specifically for this interlinking model.

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