Latin America and the United States in 19th century Hungarian Travel Literature
A Research in Progress and a Call for Cooperation

As a PhD student in the second year of my studies I have already learnt the importance of sharing information, findings and aims with other people and researchers as this can move forward our works in several respects. My work at the Institute of English and American Studies in Debrecen investigates the image of Latin America in 19th century Hungarian travel literature with a special emphasis on its relationship to the image of the United States of America in the same writings. The aim of this paper is twofold. I would like to present my research in progress, its central goals, questions, its scope and the details of the work that needs to be done if we want learn more about a special aspect of transatlantic as well as inter-American studies. At the same time, this is also a call for assistance and cooperation in finding writers and texts that can serve as part of this program.

The image(s) of an area created by foreign observers can prove useful in understanding cultural, political and social issues of a given time period. They provide an insight not only into the life of the people involved in the descriptions but - through the choices, style and attitude of the writer - into the intellectual context of the travelers' mother country as well. We need to examine the authenticity of the writings, the techniques used in them, the reasons for traveling, the forces influencing a particular type of reference, the differences in the representations of a country. The researcher also needs to consider the background of the writer as well as that of the area being written about. We can see that this involves a mixture of different approaches, including historical, literary and cultural studies as well. My research examines these questions and more in respect to two regions in close geographical proximity but far away in other respects. In a comparative study of the images of Latin-America and the United States in Hungarian travel writing I intend to deal with people who traveled to and/or wrote about both regions and will try to reveal the connections between their depictions, account for their differences and establish an image of the two territories that was available in Hungary during the 19th century. As no similar research has been carried out in detail in Hungary so far, difficulties emerge in connection with the identification of texts, the definition of the scope of investigation and analysis. This research will provide insights into the intellectual milieu of the 19th century on both sides of the Atlantic, and offer observations of outsiders about the special relationship between the USA and Latin America.

Definitions and Scope of Research

The growing interest in travel literature in academic circles has been perceptible for several years now, still it is of great importance to define what we mean by it, the approaches that we intend to take during its inspection and, most importantly, the sampling that we would like to use in the selection of representative texts. Travel literature is a very complex term with various definitions and subgenres. For the purposes of this research travel literature is defined in a broad sense including texts of individuals written about their encounters with a foreign culture, detailing their personal experiences and providing a description of a particular area as regards its social, political and cultural setting often flavored by their own views and interpretations. This is a broad definition that includes both fictional and non-fictional narratives about foreign travel. The emphasis is on the latter. However, we must not forget that fictional travel accounts can also provide an insight into the intellectual context of the era even if they are not based on concrete experience. The definition excludes the genre of travel guides (Baedekers) that would provide guidelines for tourists rather than a descriptive view of culture. The research, at the same time, concentrates only on sources written in Hungarian. It is also limited in a temporal and geographical sense concentrating on travel writings about the United States of America and Latin America in the 19th century.

Latin America in this research refers to all territories south of the United States. However, as the examination of texts written in connection with all these countries would pose a great difficulty, the investigation is limited mostly to those countries where most Hungarians traveled to and which most of them wrote about. These would include Mexico, Cuba, Brazil, Argentina and Peru.
The 19th century was an important period in the history of travel writing for several reasons. This was the time for the commercialization of travel, more and more adventurers, scientists as well as tourists embarked on journeys and an increasing number of them kept diaries and wrote letters or books to record their experiences. This era was also important in a historical sense for all three regions involved in this research. After the Hungarian Revolution of 1848 many Hungarians had to leave their mother country, several of them traveled to the United States as well as to Latin America. It was a turbulent and in many cases hectic period for Latin American countries, as well as for the USA. As a result of all this, the selected time period provides a great source of information and offers numerous areas for study.

It is necessary to impose these limitations in order to limit the body of texts to be examined. As I am interested in the image of the United States and Latin America available in Hungary I try to identify sources that were available for a larger section of the population during the 19th century. This involves the examination of books published in the period and those articles and letters that appeared in some of the most popular newspapers (e.g. Vasárnapi Újság, Pesti Napló, Hazánk s a Külföld, etc.) The selection of newspapers is based on their circulation and the frequency and importance of travel accounts published in them.

As regards the selection of travelers for study the most important ones are those who traveled to both regions in the Americas and wrote about both. This enables a comparison of the two accounts, the investigation of the role and position of the two areas as regards the value system of the writer and provides a possibility for the study of US role in the Western Hemisphere as seen by foreign observers. Of course, it is also possible that people who traveled only to one of these regions also wrote about the other one. This is also a valuable resource as it can offer an opportunity to investigate the relationship between the two regions (for example in the case of travelers in Latin America writing about the attitude towards US presence in the region). The research would include writings from various travelers including, but not limited to, Pál Rosti, Károly László, Kálmán Tóth, István Birányi (Schultz), János Xantus, István Geőcze, Ede Pawlowszki, Antal Korizmics, Jenő Bánó, Ede Szenger, László Magyar and László Madarassy.

I have encountered various difficulties while trying to identify writers and texts as we have to rely mostly on Tivadar Ács, István Lázár and László Szabó, who did not provide a list of all available sources and in many cases failed to provide reliable references. Therefore, one of the primary tasks is to create a bibliography that could be used and expanded by other researchers as well. The Vasváry Collection in Szeged can be (and has already been) an important source of information as the documents, references and other items included in the collection can help find people and sources that would fit into the scope of this research.


One important aspect of this work is to try to examine the relationship between the images of the United States and Latin America, investigating how they changed during the 19th century. There are various sub-topics that should be researched in the context of the two images. As regards the references to Latin America, its culture and future very often involve the United States. Thus, a major question emerges in connection with the image of Latin America in Hungarian travel literature of the 19th century: How did the image of America change in Hungarian travelogues during a journey from the North to the South? Was there an independent Latin American image available in these texts? Or was Latin America always defined in relation to the United States? Was the area seen only in the shadow of the Northern nation, as a region that needs the support and guidance of a strong, superior, masculine society? At the same time, we can compare and contrast for example the images of the Natives or that of women and try to account for their differences. We can detail the role of technology as an important factor in the attitude towards progress. The superiority of the United States is in many cases represented as the manifestation of technological superiority. This type of development in the Latin American region (as started and represented by the US) was seen by many Hungarians as a herald of cultural development and marked a significant aspect of US role in the region. At the same time, the superiority of the United States of America in comparison with Latin America is expressed in many different ways: using references to masculinity and femininity, describing it as a relationship between a father and child, etc. These are only some of the questions that need to be discussed regarding the description of these two regions.

At the same time, we need to deal with various other issues in connection with the Hungarian travelers and their writings. First of all, we need to examine their reasons for leaving the mother country as well as their background, as these can be great influencing forces and can serve as prisms (or maybe as blinders) through which they saw the events and circumstances of a particular region. We also need to locate other sources that could shape their views regarding people living in a particular region even before they had left Hungary. These could be various literary texts, other travel accounts or political documents. Their earlier lives can also account for the choices that they made in terms of issues to write about (what they wanted to see and what they decided not to mention), and their limitations: whether they spoke the languages of the region they visited. As this research concentrates on two regions and tries to examine images of two "worlds" created by, in many cases, the same people it is also important to find out their reasons for leaving one region and traveling to the other. All these issues and objectives show the nature of the work that has to be carried out both in connection with the examination of the texts themselves and with the circumstances surrounding the act of writing.

The research and comparative analysis of the texts obviously has to include many other issues and can answer many other questions as well. It can be extended to include other writings, the accounts of writers from other nations (for comparison) or can include the examination of visual representations accompanying the texts. The aim of this essay is to provide a general overview of my research for those interested and for those who may also possess information that corresponds to the aims of this research.
If after reading this article anyone has a suggestion or would like to express his or her concern in connection with the work outlined here I would be happy to read those responses as I am sure they would be useful regarding the implementation of the aims outlined here.

Vissza az oldal tetejére

Balázs Venkovits
University of Debrecen