Herman, Ottó

(Breznóbánya, June 26, 1835 – Budapest, December 27, 1914 )

Herman, Ottó

He was a natural scientist, ethnographer and a politician. He was also known as the “Hungarian Renaissance man”. He was born into a Saxon family living in the Upper Hungary (now Slovakia), and his father was a doctor. He studied in the evangelic high school in Miskolc, and after finishing his studies he qualified as an engine fitter. Between 1853 and 1856 he continued his studies as an engine fitter at the polytechnics in Vienna, where he started to be interested in natural science, primarily entomology. He also visited the Viennese Museum of Natural Science for learning in an autodidact way. He could not finish his studies due to his father's death.

After six years of Dalmatian military services he worked in Kőszeg as a photographer. He was mounting birds as well, that is how he got in touch with museology. At the age of 31 he became the preparator of the Museum Society of Transylvania in Kolozsvár that was managed by Sámuel Brassai. This was the time when he chose the scientific career and started to publish his works. He was primarily concerned with birds and spiders.

He was soon acknowledged and he received a request from Vienna to participate in an expedition for a zoological collection in Africa. The Hungarian National History Association gave him a scholarship for several years to keep him home. The Association charged him to investigate Hungary's spider fauna; the result of which was his nationally acknowledged three-volume book, The Spider Fauna of Hungary, in which he describes 314 spider species (out of which 36 were new species).

In 1875 he started to work for the Hungarian National Museum. Web link In 1877 he started the Booklets of Natural History and he was the editor until 1886.

Meanwhile, he participated in political movements, and as a member of the Independency and Fourty-Eighter Party he was in touch with Lajos Kossuth, who he visited several times in Turin (in 1887 and 1892); he was elected member of the parliament recommended by Kossuth. As a politician he took stand for broadening the knowledge on natural science, as he believed that recognizing the harmony in nature can help to make the society better.

He drew attention to the dangers of phylloxera (The Case of Phylloxera, Budapest, 1877; Phylloxera, Budapest, 1879); he presented the foreign defense methods. As he realized that the phylloxera can not make any damage on sandy soil, he was propagandizing to grow grapes on sandy soil.

He had a significant part in founding the Animal Protecting Society in 1883. He organized his famous fishery exhibition in 1885.

He was the founder of ornithology, the science about birds. In 1888, requested by the National History Association, he participated in a field-trip in Norway for collecting data for a book about bird life and he returned with enormous amount of ornithological data.

In 1891 he organized the second national congress for ornithologists in Budapest, and founded the Hungarian Ornithological Center in 1893, of which he was managing until his death. The institution still operates under the name of Ornithological Institution.

He wrote the majority of his momentous works at that period, and he also edited several journals and did a lot for popularizing science.

He prepared the historical résumé and technical dictionary of the Hungarian animal husbandry.

He traveled through the country for ethnical data, while he was collecting objects and mounted animals as well. He had a great success with his fishery collection on the Yearly Exhibition in 1885.

He arranged a fishery and shepherding exhibition with great success as part of the Millennium Exhibition in 1896, which reached Paris in 1900. All the materials were later on transferred to the Hungarian Museum of Agriculture and later on to the Museum of Ethnography. Requested by the National History Association, he wrote his two-volume monograph named The book of Hungarian Fishery in 1887.

He discovered the tools of the Neanderthal man in the so called Bársony-házi fossils (1891) in Miskolc. He realized the significance of the fossils and started a research, which made him the starter of the Hungarian archeological researches and the initiator of the archeological excavations in the Bükk Mountains. In 1893 he showed the objects to the public that he called stone tools estimated to be 40 000 years old. There was a debate about the authenticity of the fossils, as the famous European archeologists believed it was impossible that there was Paleolithic culture in the Carpathian Basin.

Finally the excavations that started in the Szeleta cavern in 1906 Web link confirmed that he was right.

He started the journal named Aquila in 1894 – of which he was the editor until his death – which is still the central organ of the national ornithological researches. He was assigned by Ignác Darányi, minister of agriculture to write his book (About birds' advantages and disadvantages, 1901) that had a great success.

He collected the folk habits and material remembrances of the Hungarian “ancient professions” (fishery, shepherding). He published his researches – which he started in the field of the life of shepherds from 1891 – in lesser and greater studies, he presented the enormous collection in expositions, but he did not have time left for writing his summary book. At the beginning of the 20th century he wanted to create a collection of the ancient professions for the Hungarian Museum of Agriculture, and the exposition started from his materials in 1907 (unfortunately the majority of the collection was lost during the wars). He published the historical résumé and technical dictionary of the Hungarian animal husbandry.

At the end of his life he often stayed in Alsóhámor, the place where he spent his childhood, in a holiday resort called Pele-lak, which is now his memorial house.

He supported the foundation of the Museum of Miskolc and Borsod Counties Web link that was named after him from 1953.

In 1914 he was hit by a cart. He got pneumonia from the continuous lying and died.

He was the founder of the Hungarian Ethnical Society and became its chairman from 1892. He was honored with the French Legion of Honor (1900). He rests in piece in Miskolc, in the Hámori Cemetery (from 1965).

Selected Bibliography (in Hungarian):
Falco Subbuteo Linné. (His first study on the hobby). Yearbooks of the Museum Society of Transylvania. III. 1864-65
Reliquia Petényiana. 1879.
The Spider Fauna of Hungary I–III. 1876–1879.
Ancient Trails in the Hungarian Traditional Fishery. Bp. 1885.
The Book of the Hungarian Fishery. I–II. Bp. 1887.
The Essence of Fishery. Bp. 1888.
Salamon János Petényi. Bp. 1891.
About the Land of the Northern Bird Mountains. 1893.
The Elements of Bird Migration in Hungary. Bp. 1895.
The Ancient Professions. Fishery and Shepherd Life. Bp. 1898.
From the Hungarian Ancient Professions. Bp. 1899.
About Birds' Advantages and Disadvantages. Bp. From 1901 it had several editions.
The Face and Characteristics of the Hungarian Nation. Bp. 1902.
The Day of Birds and Trees in Hungary. Bp. 1906.
The International Bird-protection Treaty of 1902 and Hungary. Bp. 1907.
The Hungarians Great Ancient Profession. Blueprint. Bp. 1909.
The Linguistic Treasures of the Hungarian Shepherds. Bp. 1914.
Pictures of Nature. Bp. 1959.