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A Spontaneous National Uprising. The Hungarian Revolution 1956


Admission requirements

Students should have successfully completed both second-year seminars, one of which is part of the same specialisation as the present third-year seminar.


On 23 October 1956, the members of the Hungarian state-police (ÁVH) started to fire into a huge mass of participants in a demonstration organised by the students of Budapest. This was the beginning of a fight, which was ended about two weeks later by units of the Soviet army. The „breath of freedom“, as an Austrian politician who spent half of the time of the uprising in Budapest later on titled his book with his impressions, was not the first, but maybe the most important attempt to roll back the Soviet influence in a Warsaw-pact member state before 1989.
The assessment of the events in 1956’s Hungary is quite different as well as difficult. Was it „A Spontaneous National Uprising“, as suggested by the title oft he final report by the Special Committee for the Hungarian Question established by the UN General Assembly? Or was it a revolution, a freedom fight against an occupying power, as it is transfigured by the national Hungarian narrative after 1989? Or was it even a Counter-Revolution, as the Soviets tried to convince the whole world afterwards?
This seminar will focus on events in Hungary as well as in the West and will also touch on what happened after it seemed that the Kremlin had won its battle against „the will of Hungarian people“.

Preliminary working schedule:

  • During the first sessions the topics for the oral and written presentations will be fixed.

  • During the next four or five weeks the main literature will be discussed and important topics, which were not chosen for presentation by the students will be presented.

  • From the middle of March oral presentations will be held (about 15 minutes, incl. PowerPoint, with a discussion afterwards).

  • April-May: conclusion of the course by writing a paper (see assessment methods below).

Course objectives

The student can:

    1. divise and conduct research of limited scope, including: a. identifying relevant literature and select and order them according to a defined principle; b. organising and using relatively large amounts of information; c. an analysis of a scholarly debate;
      d. placing the research within the context of a scholarly debate.
    1. write a problem solving essay and give an oral presentation after the format defined in the Themacolleges, including
      a. using a realistic schedule of work;
      b. formulating a research question and subquestions;
      c. formulating a well-argued conclusion;
      d. giving and receiving feedback;
      e. responding to instructions of the lecturer.
    1. reflect on the primary sources on which the literature is based.
    1. select and use primary sources for their own research.
    1. analyse sources, place and interpret them in a historical context.
    1. participate in class discussions.

The student has:

    1. knowledge of a specialisation, more specifically of General History: the place of European history from 1500 in a worldwide perspective; with a focus on the development and role of political institutions;
    1. knowledge and insight in the main concepts, the research methods and techniques of the specialisation;
    1. knowledge and insight in the historiography and theory of history.
    1. gained insight in and knowledge of the Hungarian revolution in 1956, and its meaning for Hungary, the Eastern Bloc and the relations with the ‘west’ (US etc.).


See BA History website

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Course Load

Total course load: 280 hrs (10 EC).

  • Hours spent on attending lectures and seminars: 26 hours

  • Reading literature, preparing presentation and working on minor assignments: 104 hours

  • Time to write a paper (including reading / research): 150 hours

Assessment method

  • Written paper (7200 words, including notes and bibliography, based on primary sources)
    Measured learning objectives: 1-5, 7a-b, 9-10

  • Oral presentation
    Measured learning objectives: 2a-d

  • Participation and
    _Measured learning objectives: 1, 2a-e, 6 _

  • Assignments (bibliography, research question, first chapter outline, review)
    Measured learning objectives: 1, 2a-e, 6, 7b, 8-9

Essay: 70%
Oral presentation: 10%
Participation: 10%
Assignments: 10%

To complete the final mark, please take notice of the following:
the final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average, with the additional requirement that the written paper should be sufficient.


In this course Blackboard will be used for practical information and links to Internet-sources.

Reading list

Csaba Békés, Malcom Byrne, János M. Rainer, The 1956 Hungarian Revolution: A History in Documents (Budapest/New York 2002).
Charles Gati, Failed Illusions. Moscow, Washington, Budapest, and the 1956 Hungarian Revolt.
Johanna Granville, The First Domino. International Decision Making during the Hungarian Crisis of 1956 (College Station 2004)
Jenö Györkei, Miklós Horváth (Eds), 1956. Soviet Military Intervention in Hungary.
János Radványi, Hungary and the Superpowers. The 1956 Revolution and Realpolitik, Stanford 1972.
Report of the Special Committee on the problem of Hungary (New York 1957).

The books of Békés/Byrne/Rainer (eds) and Charles Gati should be purchased.

Primäre Internet-Quellen:


Via uSis.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

not applicable


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