Teleki, Pál

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Teleki, Pál



Pál Teleki (1879-1941) was the founder of economic geography in his native Hungary, one of the leaders of Hungarian science between the two world wars, and a statesman who played a leading part in his country’s affairs. Brought up in an aristocratic family with a long tradition of public service, he served his country twice as prime minister and ended his career on a tragic note—rather than accept complete German control of Hungary, he committed suicide as a gesture of protest.

In spite of his political identification with the cause of capitalism, his stature as a scholar is fully recognized by more recent Hungarian Marxist scholars. This is primarily because he did so much for the development of academic geography in Hungary: he founded the first chair in economic geography, in 1921, and occupied it himself until 1939, and he trained an entire generation of geographers who became leaders of the field. He was equally influential in starting research institutes in sociology and political science, and he was also recognized abroad for his contributions to geography.

Teleki’s first major work, published in 1909, was Atlas zur Geschichte der Kartografteder japanischen Inseln (”Atlas of the History of the Cartography of Japan”), a work honored with the Jomard Prize of the Geographical Society of Paris. Cartography continued to be one of his main interests and led, in 1919, to his preparing an ethnographic map of Hungary, which was presented to the Peace Conference in that year. Instead of the traditional, simplified technique of generalized ethnic-linguistic maps, his “Carte Rouge,” as it became known, combined population density and ethnic character, resulting in a more accurate and reliable map that has influenced similar publications ever since.

It was Teleki’s interest in mapping the distribution of cultural phenomena that led to his preparing a series of unique maps illustrating the gradual spread of intensive agriculture around the world. Influenced by Thiinen’s theoretical model of the gradual diminution of intensity in agriculture in a pattern of concentric circles, Teleki and his collaborators prepared a set of four maps. The first showed types of farming throughout the world during the 1850s; the second, during the 1880-1890 period of large-scale development of extra-European farming areas; the third, at the peak of capitalist development in the years immediately preceding World War i; and the fourth, during the 1920s and early 1930s, the period of gradual retrenchment of free trade and the beginnings of the great economic depression. These maps, considered to be his finest contribution to geography, were never published, because of the outbreak of World War n.

Besides his interest in and major contributions to cartography and economic geography, Teleki gave ample evidence in his teaching and in his writings of his concern with a strongly Unitarian approach to geography, which he defined as the study of life on earth. Nowhere was this more clearly stated than in his writings on the subject of European unity. Although he was completely committed to nationalism as a prime mover in European affairs, he repeatedly expressed his faith in an eventual emergence of a united Europe. In 1934 he wrote: “Though consisting of many states, and devoid of a single will, Europe nonetheless is an organic unity. There has been developing in Europe a political structure, an economic system, a type of society, a moral polity that no nation, no state, no individual has escaped, or could escape today” ([1934] 1935, p. 133).

George Kish

[For the historical context of Teleki’s work, see the biography of ThüNEN. For discussion of the subsequent development of his ideas, see Cartography; Geography, article on economic Geography.]


1909 Atlas zur Geschichte der Kartografie der japanischen Inseln. Budapest: Hiersemann.

1917 A foldrajzi gondolat torténete (The History of Geographic Thought). Budapest: Privately published.

1920 Ethnographical Map of Hungary, Based on the Density of Population. The Hague: Van Stockum.

1923 The Evolution of Hungary and Its Place in European History. New York: Macmillan.

(1934) 1935 Europáról es Magyarországról (About Europe and Hungary). 2d ed. Budapest: Athenaeum. → Translation of the extract was provided by George Kish.

1936 A gazdasági ¿let foldrajzi alapjai (Geographic Bases of Economic Life). 2 vols. Budapest: Centrum.


Kish, George 1941 Count Paul Teleki. Geographical Review 31:514-515.

Koch, Ferenc 1956 Teleki Pál gazdaságfóldrajzi mun-kásságának birálata (Criticism of Pal Teleki’s Work in Economic Geography). Magyar Tudományos Aka-démia, Budapest, Társadalmi-torténeti Tudományok Osztálya, Kozlemények 7:90-122.