Scientific societies

The first scientific society proper in Estonia was the Learned Estonian Society, which was founded at Tartu University in 1838. It saw the study and collection of everything concerning the local culture, history and people as its goal and continues its activities at present. Among the founders of the society, Friedrich Robert Faehlmann (1798-1850), an Estonian doctor and linguist, has secured a place for himself in the Estonian cultural history.

The Estonian Naturalists’ Society (originally, the Tartu Naturalists’ Society), established in 1853, was dedicated to the study of local nature. Such an approach deserves highlighting in its own right because the interest of the scholars of the ‘empire university’ in the service of their ‘vast homeland’ tended, more often than not, towards farther lands and problems rather than the local and the commonplace.

Scientific societies were set up all over Estonia. In 1818, a branch of the Generally Useful and Economic Society of Livonia was launched in Kuressaare (The Economic Academy of Kuressaare, directed by Johann Wilhelm Ludwig von Luce) and later in Viljandi and Valga.

In 1842, the Association of Literature of Estonia was established in Tallinn. The societies were inspired by amateur scientists. Of those who developed science outside the university, mention could be made here of the promoter of health resorts Karl Abraham Hunnius (1797-1851), the linguist Johann Heinrich Rosenplänter (1782-1846) and others.

The purposeful development of Estonian scientific terminology began in the 19th century. That Estonian should have come into use as a language of science was greatly owing to the dictionary of Estonian issued by Ferdinand Johann Wiedemann (1805-1887) as early as 1869. In 1875, an Estonian grammar appeared from the same author. From 1900 to 1906, the first Estonian encyclopaedia was published (The general science book of Estonia) by Karl August Hermann (1851-1909). In connection with the creation of an Estonian language of science, Doctors Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald (1803-1882) and Peeter Hellat (1857-1912) should be mentioned. The latter was, besides his active participation in national movement, one of the leading otolaryngologists in Russia, and until his untimely death he practised in St Petersburg. The magazine Tervis (Health), which began appearing in 1903 on the initiative of Doctor Hendrik Koppel (1863-1944), was another contribution of doctors in that field. Also pharmacists were eagerly working on the Estonian terminology.

In the mid-19th century, the situation prevailed in which rural people were mostly the object of research. Changes began in the 1870s, when the Estonian Students’ Society was founded. It later came to have its own branch of natural sciences. The national student organisations which emerged in succession (also in Riga and St Petersburg) saw as one of their aims the development of the sciences and the introduction of them to the people.

In 1872, the Estonian Writers’ Society was founded and continued its activities until 1893. In 1913, the first national association of specialised scientists was set up, bearing the euphemistic name, in conformance with the demands of the authorities, denying the use of the word "Estonian", the ‘Northern Baltic Doctors' Society’. Scientific societies were founded in increasing numbers after the declaration of independence and in 1924, the ten leading scientific societies had over 1100 members.

Although temperance societies, which were widespread in Estonia a hundred years ago, did not count as scientific societies, it must be remembered that they were the first, and at the same time an important means for communicating the message of the science of that time to common people and the rural population. The spreading of temperance ideas marked the beginning of a new era also for Estonian society: the period of the influence of natural sciences had begun.

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