Kinship and Business: A Microhistory of a Jewish Family in the 19th-Century Habsburg Monarchy

Principal investigator: Máté Tamás

Period: 2015-2020

The PhD project started from the hypothesis that the Jewish population in villages and towns in the 18–19th century Western Hungary were not entirely isolated from the different socio-cultural populations. Following the migrations of the 18th century, and the demographic processes that they led to, there was a significant Jewish population that settled in the Western parts of the Hungarian Kingdom, mainly in settlements belonging to major landowners. There was a growing number of Jewish communities (kehilot) that were established in this region at the end of the 18th, beginning of the 19th century, with a increasing population. Nonetheless, these Jewish settlements were not like the shtetlach – the typical Jewish settlement pattern in Eastern Europe. This kind of social coexistence – due to the special interethnic, intercultural and interregional relationships – led to unique behaviour patterns among the Jews in the region.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, most narratives of historical and scientific texts concerning the Jewish population were written from a legal perspective, which led to the construction of the attribute of being 'outcasts'. These texts presented the Jews either as individuals or as a community, who have limited rights, as a pariah entity, outside of 'society of estates'. Their existence was described as confined to 'ghettos', from which Jews could get out due to (or were liberated by) the legal emancipation. These texts are built around the notions of inclusion vs. exclusion, and so is their depiction of society, which is based on the metaphor of space. Space, in this context, is represented as a container, where 'inside' and 'outside' are both separate – thus, Jewish and non-Jewish spaces are depicted as two distinct worlds.

In contrast to this approach, I am applying the methodology of micro historical analysis which focuses on an Ashkenazic Jewish kinship and family in the early 19th-century Habsburg Monarchy. The actor-centric approach enables to depict historical actors and their connections as well as actors in different social configuration vis-à-vis the construction of the attribute of being 'outcasts'. In this context, I am researching the connections between various actors and modes of practice, as well as the phenomenon of mobility and acculturation in the 18–19th centuries.

The analysis based on a plethora of historical documents concerning the Lackenbachers, who played a crucial role not only in the local Jewish community, Nagykanizsa, in the 19th century but also the transregional economic network. In 1810, they created the company ’Moses Lackenbacher & Compagnie’ with headquarters in Nagykanizsa and a branch in Vienna. The main profile of the company was army purveyance – it served several units of the imperial royal army stationing in Lower Austria, Styria, Croatia, and Western Hungary especially with grain and cattle. The business activity resulted in spatial mobility which led to socio-cultural acculturation and conversions to Christianity within the kinship. However, the kinship ties and business connections between Christian and Jewish relatives were not severed.