Cultural Lenses and Biological Filters On What Makes a Hungarian in the Present and in the Distant Past




Memoir, anthropology and race, 1939 Hungary, genetic data and cultural interpretation


The definition of a memoir is “an account of the personal experiences of an author.” This paper provides the reflections of a physical (biological) anthropologist specializing in the genetics of the Indigenous peoples of North America who was born in Hungary, raised in Canada, and served twelve years as president and vice chancellor of the University of Manitoba. This professional background may question the relevance of these reflections to Hungarian studies. However, issues raised by János Kenyeres, the keynote speaker of the 2019 American Hungarian Educators Association conference, in his examination of Hungarian identity manifest in Hungarian literature—specifically, regarding “essentialist thinking”—are related to fundamental issues about the nature of human diversity with which physical (biological) anthropologists have been grappling since the eighteenth century. In an era in which commercial genetic genealogical services promise to identify ancestors and ethnicity, and genetic studies of living peoples as well as archaeogenomic studies of skeletal remains seek to identify relationships, current perspectives on what does—or does not—constitute “the essence of an individual and the groups to which one belongs” are worth considering. Facts, wherever they occur, are subject to interpretation. It is the cultural interpretation that we give to genetic identity that imbues that concept with meaning.

Author Biography

Emőke J. E. Szathmáry, University of Manitoba

Emőke J. E. Szathmáry, CM, OM, BA (Hon), PhD, FRSC, is President Emeritus of the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, where she was President and Vice-Chancellor (1996–2008). Earlier, she was Provost and Vice-President (Academic) at McMaster University, and Dean of Social Science at Western University. Szathmáry’s research focused on the causes of type-2 diabetes in Indigenous North Americans, the genetic relationships within and between North American and Siberian peoples, and the microevolution of subarctic populations. Her fieldwork involved Ottawa, Ojibwa and Tlicho populations in Ontario and the Northwest Territories, respectively. She has published over ninety scientific studies and reviews, and coedited four books. Her disciplinary service includes terms as editor-in-chief of the Yearbook of Physical Anthropology (1987–1991) and the American Journal of Physical Anthropology (1995–2001).


American Association of Biological Anthropologists. AABA Statement on Race & Racism. 2019, pp. 1–7. Accessed 20 June 2023.

Backhouse, Constance. Colour-Coded. A Legal History of Racism in Canada 1900–1950.

Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2017.

Bakhshaei, Mahsa and Rita Isabel Henderson. “Gender at the intersection with race and class in the schooling and wellbeing of immigrant-origin students.” BMC Women’s Health 16, 2016, pp. 47–62.

Bartucz, Lajos. Fajkérdés, Fajkutatás. [Race Question, Race Research]. Budapest: A Magyar Könyvbarátok részére kiadja A Királyi Magyar Egyetemi Nyomda. 1940.

---. “Magyar ember, típus, faj” [Hungarian person, type, race] Mi a Magyar? ['What is the Hungarian?'] Szekfű Gyula. 1939 Budapest: Magyar Szemle Társaság. (Szerk. Szekfű

Gyula—Magyar Szemle Társaság, Budapest, 1939, 555 o.)—Repr. kiad.: Helikon, Budapest, 1992. Accessed 12 September 2022.

Bhopal, Raj. The Beautiful Skull and Blumenbach's Errors. British Medical ]ournal 335, 2007, pp. 1308–1309.

Bod, Rens. “The Importance of the History of Philology, or the Unprecedented Impact of the Study of Texts.” The Practice of Philology in the Nineteenth-Century Netherlands. Zuidervaart, Huib and Ton van Kalmthout, Eds. Amsterdam: Amsterdam UP, 2015, pp. 17–36.

Borbély Noémi, Orsolya Székely, Bea Szeifert et al. High coverage mitogenomes and Y- Chromosomal typing reveal ancient lineages in the modern-day Székely population in Romania. Genes 14, 2023, 133. https:/

Bornstein, Rita. Legitimacy in the Academic Presidency. Westport, CT: American Council on Education and Praeger Publishers, 2003.

Borsos, Balázs. “Rivers, Marshes & Farmlands. Research perspectives on the Ecological History of Hungary through Examples of Bodrogköz [northeast Hungary].” Hungarian Studies 23(2): 2009, pp. 195–210.

Bowman, John, M., Bruce Chown, Marion Lewis, and Janet Pollocy. Rh isoimmunization, Manitoba, 1963–75. Canadian Medical Association Journal 116, 1977, p. 2284.

Brøberg, G.. “ Linnaeus' Anthropology.” Spencer Frank, Ed. History of Physical Anthropology. Vol. 1 A-L New York: Garland Publishing, 1997, pp. 616–618.

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Social Darwinism”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 4

Oct. 2022, Accessed 11 October 2022.

Caspari, Rachel. “Race, Then and Now: 1918 Revisited.” American Journal of Physical Anthropology 165, 2018, pp. 924–938.

Crawford, Michael H. and Peter L. Workman, eds. Methods and Theories of Anthropological Genetics. Albuquerque NM: University of New Mexico Press., 1973.

Desmond, Adrian J. “Charles Darwin”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 5 Jan. 2023, Accessed 30 January 2023.

Dreisziger, Nándor. “Genetic Research and Hungarian ‘Deep Ancestry’.” Hungarian Cultural Studies 4, 2011, pp. 1–9.

Fóthi, Erzsébet, Angéla Gonzales, Tibor Fehér et al.. “Genetic Analysis of Male Hungarian Conquerors: European and Asian Paternal Lineages of the Conquering Hungarian Tribes.” Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences. 12, 2020, p. 31.

Fuentes, Agustín, Rebecca Rogers Ackermann, Sheela Athreya et al. AAPA Statement on Race and Racism. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 169, 2019, pp. 400–402.

Geary, Patrick J. Genetics and identity. The Institute Letter, Fall 2017. Institute For Advanced Study, Princeton University., Accessed 4 October 2022.

Gibbons, Ann. Busting myths of origin. Science 356, 2027, pp. 678–681.

Gnecchi-Ruscone, Guido, Anna Széchényi-Nagy, István Konc et al. “Ancient Genomes Reveal Origin and Rapid Trans-Eurasian Migration of 7th Century Avar Elites.” Cell 185, 2022, pp. 1402–1413.

Gould, Stephen Jay. “The Geometer of Race.” Discover 27, 1994, pp. 65–69.

Gravlee Clarence C, H. Russell Bernard and William R. Leonard. “Heredity, Environment, and Cranial Form: A Re-Analysis of Boas’s Immigrant Data.” American Anthropologist 105, 2003a, pp. 125–138.

---. “Boas’s Changes in Bodily Form: The Immigrant Cranial Plasticity, and Boas’s Physical Anthropology.” American Anthropologist 105, 2003b, pp. 326–332.

Halsall, Guy. Barbarian Migrations and the Roman West, 376–568. Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Halsall, Paul. Medieval Sourcebook: Tacitus: The Germania Excerpts. Fordham University, 1998. Accessed 20 September 2022.

Harms, Robert Thomas. ““Uralic languages”“. Encyclopedia Britannica 16 September 2022, Accessed 24 October 2022.

Jablonski N. Skin color and race. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 175, 2021, pp. 437–447.

Jones, Siân. The Archaeology of Ethnicity. New York: Routledge, 1997.

Kakaliouras, Ann M. “Race is … only as race does. Essentialism and ethnicity in (Bio)archaeology and skeletal biology.” SAA Archaeological Record 10, 2010, pp. 16–20.

Kaspersen, Martine. “The Birth of a New Age—The Stone Age.” Scandinavian Archaeology, 11 May 2022. Accessed 7 October 2022.

Keita, Shomarka, Rick Kittles, Charmaine D.M. Royal et al. “ Conceptualizing Human Variation.” Nature Genetics Supplement 36, 2004, pp. S17–S20.

Kenyeres, János. “Manifestations of Hungarian Identity in Literature.” Hungarian Cultural Studies, 12, 2019, pp. 1–27.

Kivisild, Toomas. “Anthropological Genetics.” C. Smith, ed., Encyclopedia of Global Archaeology. New York: Springer, 2018.

Kyllingstad, Jon Røyne. Measuring the Master Race: Physical Anthropology in Norway, 1890– 1945. Cambridge, UK: Open Book Publishers, 2014.

Larivière, Vincent, Chaoqun Ni, Yves Gingras et al. “Bibliometrics: Global Gender Disparities in Science.” Nature 504, 2013, pp. 211–213.

Lafferton, Emese. “The Magyar Moustache: The Faces of Hungarian State Formation, 1867– 1818. Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 38, 2007, pp. 706–732.

Livingstone, Frank B. “On the Non-existence of Human Races.” Current Anthropology 3, 1962, pp. 279–281.

Massin, Benoit. “From Virchow to Fischer.” Volksgeist as Method and Ethic. George W. Stocking, ed. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1996, pp. 79–154.

Maróti, Zoltán, Endre Neparáczki, Oszkár Schütz et al. “The Genetic Origin of Huns, Avars, and Conquering Hungarians.” Current Biology 32: 11 July 2022, pp. 2858–2870.

Mayr, Ernst. “Darwin’s Influence on Modern Thought.” Scientific American. 283, 2008, pp. 78–83.

McMahon, Richard. National Races. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2019.

Neparáczki, Endre, Zoltán Maróti, Tibor Kalmár et al. “Y-chromosome Haplogroups from Hun, Avar and Conquering Hungarian Period Nomadic People of the Carpathian Basin.” Scientific Reports 9, 2019, p. 16569.

Norton Heather L., Ellen E. Quillen, Abigail W. Bigham, et al. “ Human Races are Not Like Dog Breeds: Refuting a Racist Analogy. Evolution: Education and Outreach 12, 2019, p. 17. Accessed 7 October 2022.

Online Etymology. Degeneration. Accessed 3 October 2022.

Östör, Ákos, Claudio Lomnitz, Farha Ghannam et al. Anthropology. Encyclopedia Britannica, 4 Oct. 2022, . Accessed 5 October 2022.

Pamjav, Horolma, Ábel Fóthi, Tibor Fehér et al. “A Study of the Bodrogköz Population in North-eastern Hungary by Y Chromsomal Haplotypes and Haplogroups.” Molecular Genetics and Genomics 292, 2017, pp. 883–894.

Pamjav, Horolma, Ábel Fóthi, Dániel Dudás et al. “The Genetic Paternal Legacy of Hungarian-speaking Rétköz (Hungary) and Váh Valley (Slovakia) Populations.” Frontiers in Genetics 13, 2022, p. 977517 doi: 10.3389/fgene.2022.977517

Popkin, Richard. “Pre-Adamism in 19th century American Thought: ‘Speculative Biology’ and Racism." Philosophia 8, 1978, pp. 205-239.

Rasmussen, Morten, Martin Sikora, Anders Albrechtsen et al. “The Ancestry and Affiliations of “Kennewick Man.” Nature 523, 2015, pp. 455–459.

Ripley William Z. The Races of Europe: A Sociological Study. New York: D. Appleton, 1899.

Ross, Matthew B., Britta M.Glennon, Raviv Murciano-Goroff et al. “ Women are Credited Less in Science than Men.” Nature 608, 2022, pp. 135–145.

Royal, Charmaine D., John Novembre, Stephanie M. Fullerton et al. “Inferring Genetic Ancestry: Opportunities, Challenges, and Implications.” American Journal of Human Genetics 86, 2010, pp. 661–673.

Seliger, Martin. “Race-Thinking During the Restoration.” Journal of the History of Ideas 19, 1958, pp. 273–282.

Spiro, Jonathan P. Defending the Master Race. Lebanon, NH: University of Vermont Press, 2009.

Stinson, Sara. “Growth Variation: Biological and Cultural Factors.” Human Biology. An Evolutionary and Biocultural Perspective. Eds. Sara Stinson, Barry Bogin, and Dennis O’Rourke. Hoboken NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2012, pp. 587–635.

Strandskov, Herluf H. and Sherwood L. Washburn. “Genetics and Physical Anthropology." American Journal of Physical Anthropology 9, 1951, pp. 261–263.

Szathmáry, Emőke J.E. “Biological Anthropology.” Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research Report for 1990–1991. Fiftieth Anniversary Issue. New York: Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, 1991, pp. 18–30.

Szathmáry, Emőke J. E. “A View on the Science: Physical Anthropology at the Millennium.” American Journal of Physical Anthropology 111, 2000, pp. 149–151.

Szeifert, Bea, Dániel Gerber, Veronika Csáky, Péter Langó et al. “Tracing Genetic Connections of Ancient Hungarians to the 6th–14th Century Populations of the Volga- Ural Region.” Human Molecular Genetics 31(19), 2022, pp. 3266–3280.

Templeton, Alan. “Human Races: A Genetic and Evolutionary Perspective.” American Anthropologist 100, 1998, pp. 632–650.

---. “Evolution and notions of human race.” How Evolution Shapes Our Lives. Essays on

Biology and Society. Eds. Jonathan B. Losos and Richard E. Lenski. Princeton, Oxford: PUP, 2016, 346–361.

Thapar, Romila. “The Theory of Aryan Race and India: History and Politics.” Social Scientist. 24, 1996, pp. 3–29.

Turda Marius.“Entangled Traditions of Race: Physical Anthropology in Hungary and Romania, 1900–1940.” Focaal—Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology 58, 2010, pp. 32–46.

Türk, Attila. “The New Archaeological Research Design for Early Hungarian Prehistory.” Hungarian Archaeology. e-Journal 2012, summer: 1–6.

Washburn, Sherwood. “The New Physical Anthropology.” Transactions of the New York Academy of Sciences. II. New York City: New York Academy of Sciences. 13 (7), May 1951, pp. 298–304. doi:10.1111/j.2164-0947.1951.tb01033.x

Washburn, Sherwood L. “The Strategy of Physical Anthropology.” Anthropology Today: An Encyclopedic Inventory. Ed. Kroeber Alfred L. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953, pp. 714–727.

Yudell, Michael, Dorothy Roberts, Rob DeSalle and Sarah Tishkoff. “Taking Race Out of Human Genetics.” Science 351, 2016, pp. 564–565.

Zimonyi, István. “The State of the Research on the Prehistory of the Hungarians. Historiography (Oriental sources, History of the Steppe). Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 58, 2005, pp. 33–40.






Plenary Invited Paper