History of the Institute

Short history of the Geographical Institute of Research Centre for Astronomy and Earth Sciences Hungarian Academy of Sciences

As legal predecessors of our Institute the following institutions might be mentioned. Just 75 years ago, in 1926 Pál Teleki, a prominent geographer - under the aegis of the Hungarian Statistical Society - established the Institute of Political Sciences , dealing with data acquisition on the successor states of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. After Teleki's tragic death the Institute became part of the Ministry for Religious Affairs and Education led by Bálint Hóman, became reorganised at the end of 1941 and renamed to Count Paul Teleki Research Institute.

After the war an Institute of Etnography was added to the Count Pál Teleki Research Institute which worked as East European Research Institute then it was abolished by the governmental decree of 4,231/1949. and several institutions such as Institute for Political Science and Law, Institute of History, Research Institute for Linguistics and a Geographical Library and Map Archive were organised, the latter in close cooperation with the Institute of Geography of the University and with the Institute of History. All these institutions operated under the auspices of the Ministry for Religious Affairs and Education. The Library (led by László Simon, scientific secretary) existed as a branch of the Institute of History until 1951. It was the year when our academic workshop was established on the basis of the library and archive. In the beginning it bore the name Geographical Research Group incorporated in the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and from 1967 it became reorganised into the Geographical Research Institute. Organised, regular and ever more intense investigations into the geographical domain were revived in its framework. This step - a significant event also in international comparison - created a basis for intense research, scientific organising and guiding activities to be played by our institute.

The purpose of the foundation was reflected by the functions formulated in the beginning. The primary task has been and still is the investigations into and evaluation of physical and human geographical endowments and potentials of the country and its individual regions; the accomplishment and development of theoretical and methodological studies in general, sectoral and regional aspects of the discipline; survey of spatial processes and relationships; a critical assessment of the history of the geographical science, dissemination of geographical knowledge; theoretical-methodological research, thematic mapping and shaping of academic research trends in international cooperation; operation of a library; publication and documentation of the achievements in geography.

Between 1951 and 1954 the research group was led by Ferenc Koch. Sándor Marosi has been a research worker from the very start and acted as scientific secretary (1968-72), deputy director (1973-93), has been corresponding member of the Academy from 1995 and regular member since 2001. Founding members and leading researchers were Márton Pécsi, chief of the section, subsequently head of the department of physical geography (1959-62), director of the Institute (1963-90), he has been corresponding member of the Academy from 1965 and regular member since 1976, research professor since 1991; László Góczán, Béla Sárfalvi and Jenő Szilárd, later heads of departments and doctors of geographical science. In 1967 Sárfalvi became head of the department of regional geography and university professor.

Between 1954 and 1962 (until his death) Béla Bulla university professor (from 1955 corresponding member of the Academy) led the Institute as its director. This task (after Pécsi's retirement from this post) was inherited by István Berényi (1991-1996), research worker from 1968, head of department from 1984, doctor of geographical science and Ferenc Schweitzer (1997-2009), researcher from 1964, head of department between 1988-1993 (and between 2010-2011 ), deputy director from 1994. In 2010 the director's job was overtaken by academician Károly Kocsis, research worker from 1984, head of department between 1997-2009 and deputy director in 2008-2009.

From 1972 in the activities of the Institute an important part was played by György Enyedi fulfilling the task of deputy director until 1972, and after a period of having been visiting professor in France he acted as head of department until 1983. He was the first director-general of the newly organised Research Centre for Regional Studies of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in 1984 and led it until 1991. The Great Plain Department centred at Békéscsaba (headed by József Tóth), the Settlement Research Group at Kecskemét (headed by Bálint Csatári) and six researchers from the Department of Geography of Regional Development (including Pál Beluszky, senior research fellow) left our Institute for the Research Centre for Regional Studies in 1984.

During sixty years positions of heads of departments - apart from the above mentioned persons - were held by László Simon (1963-1968), Ákos Borai (1970-1976), Zoltán Dövényi (1991-1996; between 1997-2009 scientific deputy director), Sándor Somogyi (1977-1986), György Hahn (1985-1991), László Rétvári (1982-1990), József Galambos (1988-1992; between 1987-1992 deputy director), Ágoston Juhász (1994-1997), Ádám Kertész (1989 -2011 ), Károly Kocsis (between 1997-2009 and 2008-2009 as deputy director), Gábor Michalkó (2010-2011), furthermore Tibor Tiner (2010-2011 as scientific deputy director).

The Hungarian Academy of Sciences has been the higher authority supervising and inspecting the Institute since the foundation of the latter. For one and a half of decade the scientific guidance was executed by the Section II (Social and Historical Sciences) in 1966 changed by the Section X (Earth and Mining Sciences), now Section of Geosciences. This board has expertised on research concepts, projects and achievements, mainly through the Geographical Scientific Commission and its operating expert groups. After the establishment of the departments according to scientific sectors, the Department of Natural Sciences (earlier Department I) had dealt with this discipline of dual character (physical and human geography), including the Institute's activity.

The scope of activities has been determined by the tasks and functions outlined under the item 1.1 supported by the organisation and system of means. However soon (already in the 1960's) they were completed by new trends serving for the solution of the following practical tasks: analysis and synthesis of spatial and temporal interdependencies between nature and society (man and environment), an individual and integrated evaluation of the components of the geographical environment at global and national scales, and investigations into physical, economic and social geographical endowments within distinct territorial units (landscape regions, rayons, and administrative units such as counties or settlements), publication of the results at domestic fora and abroad, in Hungarian and foreign languages in the form of books, journals, volumes of studies and thematic maps, also for 'outsider' administrative bodies and planning institutions.

Adapting to the changing and broadening scope of tasks the organisational units of the Institute had been modified accordingly but lately - in relation with the restrictive measures - a tendency of shrinking in the number of the staff has prevailed. During the first decade the Institute included a physical geographical department and an economic geographical one, a library and map archive initially fulfilling service functions but later undertaking documentation as well. A laboratory had also been organised performing sediment and soil analyses. At the beggining the laboratory has led by Emőke Szebényi as a part of Department of Physical Geography. The laboratory operated as a department between 1978 and 1995 led by László Gerei. Between 2010 and 2011 Laboratory for Sediment and Soil Analysis operated as department led by Zoltán Szalai. As a result of field surveys and the development of thematic mapping a department of cartography emerged. As the scientific output of the Institute increased, the staff was growing and the scope of tasks broadened, a decision was taken by the Academy in the 1960's emphasizing a central role of the Geographical Research Group in fostering the organising and exercising theoretical guidance in the research activities within the discipline. By this time our workshop had published fundamental scientific monographs such as Budapest természeti képe (Physical Geographical Features of Budapest) and A Mezőföld természeti földrajza (Physical Geography of the Mezőföld) also proving its interdisciplinary organising and coordinating abilities and a series of reference books of its own. Since 1952 a quaterly entitled Földrajzi Értesítő (Geographical Bulletin) has been reporting on the activities in which articles in Hungarian have been accompanied with summaries in foreign languages.

After the research group was transformed into a research institute the organisational structure of the Institute by branches (physical and economic, partly social geography) having existed during the first fifteen years became modified in 1967. At that time research personnel numbering 5-8 during the formative years had already exceeded 20 and the total number of the staff had risen to more than 50 by the late 1960's. The 25 year's jubilee in 1976 was commemorated by more than 40 researchers and just 100 workers as a total. On this occasion a series of lectures was delivered by the research staff in the ceremonial hall of the Academy complemented by a studio exhibition. By this time - in accordance with the international trends and rather with the domestic expectations of the scientific audience and everyday life - the Institute's activities had addressed complex i.e. physical and human geographical research topics encountering natural endowments and potentials with socio-economic requirements in general and within landscape units in particular. The organisational changes and developments within the Institute became governed by these, early recognised opportunities. The Department of Geography of Regional Development (led by Gy. Enyedi) and the Department of Geomorphology (under the guidance of M. Pécsi) were engaged in the solution of general, theoretical-methodological problems. For about one decade the Transdanubian Department (led by J. Szilárd), the North Hungarian Department (led by S. Somogyi) and the Great Plain Department (guided by J. Tóth) had provided a framework for regional geographical studies (especially for those of macroregions). Simultaneously several working groups operated.

This organisational setup - chiefly due to the emergence of the Research Centre for Regional Studies partly at the expense of the staff of Geographical Research Institute with the transfer of research units and highly qualified personnel - had undergone a considerable change. The Department of Geomorphology and Quaternary Research (led by Gy. Hahn, F. Schweitzer, Á. Juhász and between 2010 and 2011 again F. Schweitzer), Department of Physical Geography (led by L. Góczán, then by Á. Kertész between 1989 and 2011 ), Department of Human (between 1990-1996 Economic and Social) Geography (led by I. Berényi, by Z. Dövényi, by K. Kocsis and from 2010 to 2011 by Gábor Michalkó) had survived till 2011 . For some time a Department of Environmental Assessment and Computer Techniques operated headed by J. Galambos. A couple of working groups and workshops had existed, e.g. a Bureau of Coordination of Studies on Natural Resources (led by L. Rétvári), the Editorial Board of the National Atlas of Hungary (under the chairmanship of M. Pécsi) and the work of scientific departments was supported by the functional ones: the Department of Cartography was led by Zoltán Keresztesi (till 2012 ) and the Department of Library and Documentation was led by Judit Simonfai (till 2006 ). In 2007 Mrs Simonfai's tasks were handed over to librarian Árpád Magyar. A successful solution of scientific tasks was made possible through an efficient Economic Department was led by Mária. Dániel from 1983 to 2011 .

Followed by a reorganization process derived from the Academic reform the Geographical Institute continued to pursue research activities as a member institute of the Research Centre for Astronomy and Earth Sciences MTA from the 1st of January 2012 led by academician Károly Kocsis. The reorganization has resulted new structures. Scientific and functional departments have been cancelled, instead of them scientific work has been organized into scientific project groups supported by two functional ones (Working Group on Cartography and Geoinformatics and Laboratory for Sediment and Soil Analysis). From 2012 the library of the institute operates as united library of the Research Centre under the supervision of Á. Magyar. Five new research groups were organised in 2016: Economic Geography and Spatial Development Research Group (led by G. Michalkó), Research Group on Ethnic-, Political Geography and Migration (led by K. Kocsis), Research Group for Physical Geography (led by Z. Szalai), Research Group on Quaternary and Landscape Evolution Processes (led by G. Varga), Urbanisation and Settlement Environment Research Group (led by Z. Kovács). The leader of Working Group on Cartography and Geoinformatics and Geoinformatics is Zsombor Nemerkényi. The Laboratory for Sediment and Soil Analysis is led by Z. Szalai.

During its half century's existence the objectives, strategy and research trends of the Geographical Research Institute of HAS and, accordingly, its activity and organisational structure have been shaped to fulfill its responsibilities imposed by the immanent development of the discipline on the one hand and - being a national science - to meet the requirements of the Hungarian social and economic life on the other hand, even if these activities often were aimed at producing extra revenues as well. Parallel with the widening foreign contacts the workshop had absorbed pioneering research trends and it was in the vanguard in some of the partial subjects such as geomorphological mapping; applied landscape studies and assessment; engineering geomorphology; a systems approach to the study of the total environment and its practical application; environmental assessment procedures; methods of land evaluation; identification of ecological types for farming and other sectors; elaboration of concepts and methods in social geography; ethnic geographical studies.

After the political and economic regime change the general research of the ethnic and political geographical conditions of Carpathian Basin has become an essential task. Additional themes such as tendencies in transformations of urban areas in Central Europe , changing regional systems of economic and infrastructural development, different forms of spatial mobility also came into the focus of research activity of the institute.

Our Institute has had a profound impact on the activities of the Hungarian geographical workshops and research centres (mostly departments of universities and colleges) and on the organisation and management of the research. It had a role of coordination in the research of natural resources. The Institute maintains wide international contacts, several projects are run in co-operation with foreign partner institutions.