“It is a great collection for the world, too”

István Matskási on the Museum of Natural History

MúzeumCafé 45.

The Natural History Museum has experienced difficulties independently of eras and political changes. Nevertheless, it enjoys a well-deserved international professional reputation. There were both advantages and problems due to the fact that politicians never regarded the museum’s status as part of a strategic issue. The roles of scientist-director and manager-director were fortunately blended in István Matskási and perhaps that was why he was able to remain in charge for decades. The retired director, originally a parasitologist, talked to MúzeumCafé about the historical role and Transylvanian roots of the Matskási family, expeditions to the Far East, transformations caused by the political changes, the ‘Circle of Oxen’ consisting of museum heads, and the museum’s constant search for a home base. István Matskási, who was well known, became director in 1986 when a suitable internal candidate could not be found. While political winds always influence the life of a national museum, the natural sciences are not easy to affect politically. The museum’s connection with the ministry was always strange, it being regarded more as a scientific institute than a museum. Matskási thinks that his being a member of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party must have surely played a part in his appointment. The first section of the museum opened in the former Manège in 1996 and renovation was already underway in the main building. The Natural History Museum finally moved out of the Hungarian National Museum in 2006. The ‘Circle of Oxen’ was a group of friends consisting of museum directors who would sit around a table together to discuss professional issues. The chief organiser was Ferenc Szikossy, who was always joined by the current heads of public collection departments.