Erich Noris Szakács is a Ph.D. student since 2017 at the Doctoral School ”History. Civilisation. Culture”.
The title of his thesis is: ”The seditious crusade of 1514 and its Transylvanian metamorphoses”
The PhD coordinator of Erich is Prof. Dr. Șerban Turcuș
1. Tell us a funny story that happened to you.
Together with my friend and colleague, Tudor Ștefănescu, I won a scholarship in Italy. It was offered by the prestigious Foundation CISBaM (Centro Italiano di Studi Sul Basso Medioevo) in collaboration with Accademia Tudertina. This scholarship assured our attendance to a conference at Todi (Umbria, Italy) where we were to meet the greatest specialists in our field. To exemplify, we had the honour and pleasure to meet there Agostino Paravicini Bagliani and André Vauchez (and the list could go on with the great names). It was the second time I went to Todi, as a few years before I was the first student from Romania that received the aforementioned scholarship. Because I knew the small town of Todi I pledged to take care of the transport and accommodation. I called the reception of the Monastero SS.ma Annunziata, a very beautiful monastery which also provides accommodation, where you can really feel the medieval air of Todi (in a good way). At the end of the conversation, for unknown reasons, the phone call interrupted. I told them that I need accommodation from 13th to 16th, but when I realized that the conference itself will start on 13th and we need to be there a day earlier, I asked them to reschedule for 12th. Unfortunately, the low quality of the sound caused confusion and the nun that picked up the phone did not change the date as I asked. When my colleague and I arrived to Todi, there was a particularly beautiful medieval festival going on there. We considered ourselves very lucky to witness the festival too. Very talented people were performing very interesting demonstrations, juggling with medieval weapons and training eagles and falcons. It was evening and we went to the casa per ferie for the check-in. We were speechless when we were told that we could settle in just from 13th, as the entire building was full of guests for the festival. The kind gentlemen from the reception called every other house, even friends that could provide us shelter for one night, but everything in vain. So, here we are in Todi, at 9 p.m. without a place to sleep, waiting to meet the greatest professors and researchers in our field in the opening of the conference. Being a small town, on the top of a hill, at an unwalkable distance from the nearest towns, without a car or other means of transport at that hour, we really took into consideration to sleep on a bench. Before we took the final decision, we tried different places, but no room was empty for that night in Todi. We last checked a hotel in the exact center of the town and they asked us to wait a few minutes to check. In the last minute, we were told that there is a single room available, which was a specially designed room for people with disabilities, in the basement. We happily took the room and never lost the enthusiasm for the conference. Moreover, we fall in love with the beautiful town of Todi, we were grateful to the warm people from there, we met other scholarship holders, we made friends, we heard great presentations from the best specialists on the Middle Ages and, of course, we continued to enjoy the festival that scared us at the beginning.
2. What made you study at UBB and not go abroad?
From early ages, I asked many questions about my family in an effort to shape my world in a playful way. From the cultural point of view, I come from a downright mixed family. To be more specific, the family branch that sets my last name is Hungarian and the branch from my mother’s side is Romanian. But wait, there is more: my father’s father was a Hungarian Calvinist, my father’s mother was a Sathmar Swabian Catholic, my mother’s father and mother were Romanian Orthodox. For a child or a teenager that tries to find out who he is, you have to admit that this may constitute a linguistic, ethnic and/or cultural conundrum. I heard many familial histories, some in Romanian, some in Hungarian, but every time I felt I still leave the table insatiable. I started to read about Transylvanian history and I fell in love with it instantly so I was thinking what could be the best place to go to study more. Obviously, the answer was the heart of Transylvania, Cluj, at the oldest and the most prestigious university from Romania, Babeș-Bolyai. I also heard stories from my friends about the student life in Cluj and the fact that students are coming from everywhere. I could not imagine my past as a student without Cluj, without my professors or my friends. I made friends for life at UBB and I had the honour and pleasure to be taught by great researchers and coordinated by professor Șerban Turcuș. I would like to thank him for every piece of advice he gave me, for every encouragement and for being patient and strict in the same time, in a way that made me want to become better, to know more. I studied abroad as well, for short, medium and long periods of time and they were outstanding experiences. For example, I studied in Rome for a half of year and I returned multiple times in the Ethernal City for conferences. I set my level of attachment to Rome so high that I still consider it, from the academic point of view, my second home. My home was always Cluj though. It is a specific air you could breathe just there.
3. How do you see yourself in 5 years?
From a professional standpoint, I cannot give you any certainty. I do not know what positions will be available in 5 years. I do know that in 5 years I must have finished and defended my doctoral thesis. I also know that I will continue my researches and publish papers on the history of the crusades and the history of Transylvania. I identified many historical episodes that are just partially analyzed sometimes because of the linguistic barriers, other times because of ethnic or national dissimilarities, so I hope I could contribute to the correction of this situation. In the current year, I hold a chair at two schools, one in my hometown, Baia Mare, and the other nearby. The study of history is at a low level and just a few students show interest in this field. I sought the causes of the low interest and I tried to observe, for instance, their reaction to different topics discussed in class. The same students that considered history complicated and boring showed curiosity and played an active role in the conversations about alternative topics such as local history or the history of sports. I tried to bring the historical episodes closer to their past to have a clear starting point in our classes. In this way, I hope to give a partial answer to the questions related to the relevance of history today because this was a ubiquitous dilemma. I outlined that it is relevant because it happened to their family and ancestors, and even if it is not happening to them identically, they can certainly feel its consequences today. In other words, I tried to awake the historical consciousness through subjective experience. So, to answer your question, I certainly would like to get involved in projects regarding the updating of the school curriculum and promoting history as an indispensable pivot of culture. I find this plan complex and challenging and these are the elements that give birth to my passions.
4. What is the greatest discovery in your field in the last hundred years? (which profoundly changed the field)?
This is a question I really do not know how to answer in a classic way. There are numerous discoveries in many fields that certainly changed the field or added new and efficient research strategies or methods. In my field, the result of the researches could bring forth theories or historiographic schools that could last from medium to long periods. It may sound odd, but I believe that realizing from time to time that we have to study the history of historiography is fundamental. The study of historiography is a very laborious enterprise because one must have the historic maturity to approach it, and that comes over the years and over thousands of pages read. A double research must be done, one for the time the author or authors that is/are subject to our attention lived and wrote, and one for the time the author or athors wrote about. In the end, there must be built a transverse bridge between the two periods. For example, I analyzed a few years ago the XXth century Romanian and Hungarian historiography which refers to Transylvania in the 13th century. It was meant to be a comparative study of the national historiographies and it was a complex and complicated process. I made a quantitative study, to find out what was the material I had to work with and then I analyzed the qualitative aspects. It was an arduous attempt because I had to inspect what was the general image of Transylvania in different periods of time and what was that image based on. Eventually, I had to compare the results and find out somehow why there were two official histories of Transylvania? Of course, that raised another issues: were there the same premises that historians took into consideration when they started writing? If there were, how was it possible to start from the same premises and come to completely different conclusions? What I want to underline with this is that in the last century the same topic was treated in different ways. For instance, at the beginning of the XXth century Transylvania was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, then part of the Kingdom of Romania, then the northern half was transferred for a short period under Hungarian administration, then returned as a part of Romania, not to mention that the form of government and the political regimes switched several times. Every shift noticeably influenced the manner history was written. On the same note, the most researched topics change depending on the turmoils, passions or interests of humanity. For instance, topics such as gender were not as common in the last century as they are at present. This being said, I will not simply write a book or research title because there are several names that I cannot afford to skip. Instead, I consider that history, as a social science is strongly exposed to subjectivism and through the study of the history of historiography we could understand why a certain interpretation was adopted in a certain period. I believe every science and every field evolved in the last century also due to the evaluation of the work of our forerunners. We must take responsibility for the quality of our researches and assume that there is no such thing as perfect work.
5. What are your criteria for evaluating a professor or researcher?
At the first search on the web engines, you will find without difficulties many criteria for accredited researchers. Most of them are valid criteria, so if I could add something to that, it is certainly my subjective experience. In the beginning, I would like to mention that there are differences between these two words. Being a good researcher requires a very numerous set of skills. I believe that the most valuable skill as a researcher is to be as unbiased as possible. Being impartial has to be the categorical imperative for every researcher, as long as one desires to keep history as a science. Impartiality is a way of thinking that leads the researchers to interrogate the sources on a specific subject in a rational way and allows the historical source to speak. I opinate that this must be the essence of historical research. Sometimes the sources will not speak our language and sometimes they could tell us aspects that we do not particularly like. But we must interrogate further and seek a just conclusion (or conclusions) for our researches. One of the errors that one has to avoid as a researcher is what was called by the Quentin Skinner, a British intellectual historian, the “mythology of dotrines” or the “mythology of coherence”. This is not just a methodological inaccuracy, but a thinking problem. In brief, many times the historians take current topics and try to support them with historical arguments. In this way, one starts the research from the conclusion and searches for the premises after. That means we put current glasses on past events. The message is that some researches are more relevant for the times we are living than the historical period we wish to examine. A good researcher is not necessarily a good professor. To be a quality professor you certainly need to add to the aforementioned skills a whole new skillset. I observed in the past years that every professor that I considered to be good had a different way of approaching their courses. The pedagogical abilities are vital, but I assume that being a professor should not be just a job, but a way of living.