The Visual and the National: the Making of the Transylvanian Ethnographic Museum (1902)
Szabó Levente
 

This part of the Kolozsvár exhibition (clearly influenced by Jankó, whose interest in anthropological measurements was well-known) instrumentalizes anthropological representation within(and not outside or in parallel with) the ethnographic representational system, but singles out only one central anthropological narrative, i.e. the Transylvanian one. This is also a new and powerful ethnographic representation of Transylvania asking for a rethought place in the Hungarian overall narrative, but it also balances between the two major Transylvanian elements of the narrative: Kalotaszeg and Seklerland.

Clearly, the ethnography showed here, in this Transylvanian narrative seems as if almost all the other humanistic and social sciences (and not only) would revolve around it. It claims a disciplinary centrality for itself that could hardly be claimed by Hungarian ethnography of the time. This is probably strongly linked to the functions and tasks it is thought to fulfill in the Transylvanian context.

"One could say that Transylvania, the classical land of national self-preservation in the past, is still an undiscovered realm not only for the foreigners, but also for us. It is its rediscovery our society is aiming at: the Transylvanian Carpathian Society attempts to lead this region back to the united bosom of the Hungarian state, since it is this part of the country upon which the fate of the whole nation and state rests. If it falls, the nation will fall, too."

This was one of the recurrent argument that offered ethnography unprecedented tasks.

Returning to the evaluative moments the visual narrative of the exhibition offers regarding the non-Hungarians: these are very rare. The only representation of non-Hungarian inhabitants of Transylvania are the visual ones, respectively some Romanian painted sacred pictures in the anti-chamber (i.e. outside the core of the main exhibition and on the other hand put along "Seklar glass paintings of a much better quality?- so they are in a narrative sequence that is evaluating them and this evaluation doesn?t turn to be favourable to them). The sixth room of the exhibition has also a similar logic: it puts together industrial-quality objects representing ancient [!] Hungarian working tools, and used and less industrial-quality Romanian wooden spoon. Actually also all the other industrial-quality objects are Hungarian ones that in this logic of the narrative become master examples of technical progress. This is not only a supposition that derives from the photos we are left with and the descriptions of the objects and their order. It is also strongly and overtly commented upon in one of the finest and detailed newspaper descriptions of the ethnographic exhibition: "The aim of this collection is to bring together all the commonly used objects of all the people populating the historically and naturally bordered territory of Transylvania that speak different languages and are at different levels of civilization?.

The first Transylvanian museum is the site of "a dynamic power-play of competing knowledges, intentions and interests? both within and outside ethnic Hungarian nation-building. Just like in the case of any other, its visual narratives function as intricate mechanisms of truth-production, mirroring and at the same time producing, establishing a complex politics of early twentieth-century nation-building. 

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