Maria Kovacs, Revered Professor of Nationalism Studies, Has Passed Away

July 20, 2020

Maria Kovacs, a professor of nationalism studies at Central European University (CEU) and a highly accomplished scholar of modern European history, Jewish studies and religious studies, died on Sunday, July 19.

Born and raised in Budapest, Maria Kovacs spent 23 years at CEU as a professor of history. She was the founder and former Director of the Nationalism Studies Program in Budapest. Prior to CEU, Kovacs was Professor of Modern European History at the University of Madison-Wisconsin, from 1992-1997. From 1976-1984, she was an editor at Academy Publishing House, in Budapest. In 1987, she received her doctorate from ELTE University of Budapest.

When asked once what her ‘guilty pleasure’ was, Professor Kovacs replied ‘to not work for a day’. A consummate scholar, she published widely on international minority protection and self-determination throughout the twentieth century and early twenty-first. Her seminal book Liberal Professions, Illiberal Politics (1997)—a magisterial account of Hungary from the Hapsburgs to the Holocaust—focused on the collapse of liberal institutions in Central Europe and more specifically, Hungary after the first world war and on the institutional expressions of interwar xenophobia and anti-Semitism. Immensely learned, Kovacs’s main research interests were Hungarian Jewry, history and nationalism. She also published on gender and ethnicity, focusing on the interwar era.

Maria Kovacs’ students, graduate and research, represent another important legacy; a gifted teacher and mentor, many of the latter will undoubtedly view themselves as her intellectual inheritors.

Professor Kovacs served on the Editorial Boards for Ethnopolitics; Blackwell History Compass; Ab Imperio; and Századvég. She was a Senior Member (Tudományos Fomunkatárs) of the Institute of History, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Board Member of the Roma Access Program, Open Society Institute, and a Member, of the European Association, and the Woodrow Wilson Center.

“This is such a loss for everyone,” said President and Rector Michael Ignatieff. “Maria really was one of the founding presences at CEU - warm, witty, sardonic, a devoted teacher, a friend to many. This was her home and she contributed greatly to the University. We will all mourn her passing.”

Professor Maria Kovacs is survived by her son, Adam.

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