The beginning of scientific activities on Estonian territory and Science in the Swedish period

Determining the starting point of modern science is somewhat tentative. One way to minimise the risk of making a mistake is to place the birth of science at the beginning of the Enlightenment. It was at that time that institutional science emerged in the form that it is known in modern times. Thus, Tartu University, established during the period of the Swedish reign in 1632, is a contemporary of modern science.

Scientific activities before the foundation of the university consisted, to a large extent, of ‘monastery’ medicine and the education provided in monasteries and towns. In the mediaeval towns of Estonia, there were doctors (the so-called town physicians) and pharmacists, a number of whom may have had an interest, for example, in alchemy. Also, the contents of some mediaeval libraries indicate that in monasteries there was an interest in animate nature.

While the demand for better-educated clergy was increasing, the need for a local university was discussed as early as in the 15th century. However, the plans were not realised.

The Jesuit college established in Tartu at the close of medieval times, in 1583 (and the translators’ seminar which was opened there in 1585) did not yet count as a university. However, the educational institution opened in the same town in 1632 already had four faculties - theology, law, philosophy and medical - which made it a universitas proper. The Swedish authorities had political and religious motives in mind when establishing the university. For example, the majority of the students were Swedes and Finns from the historic Swedish territories and the resistance to the counter-reformation was topical, but in view of the logic of a university, academic work was considered equally important. The number of dissertations and disputations produced at the University from 1632 to 1710 is known to have amounted to 700, and there were nearly a hundred students defended a Master’s degree and one student a Doctoral degree. Interestingly, Tartu was one of the first places where Newton’s teachings were read at a university.

The fate of Tartu University in the Swedish era was not fortunate, as several times the university had to be closed and evacuated to other towns because of wars. From 1656 to 1665 it was situated in Tallinn and, beginning in 1699, in Pärnu. In 1710, the university was permanently transferred to Sweden. Most of the students and professors also left. A new ruler had arrived in Estonia and Livonia: Russia.

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