Atomium Culture

Atomium Culture

The Permanent Platform of Atomium Culture brings together some of the most authoritative universities, newspapers and businesses in Europe to increase the movement of knowledge: across borders, across sectors and to the public at large.
La plataforma permanente Atomium Culture reúne a las universidades, periódicos y empresas más prestigiosos de Europa para promover el flujo del conocimiento más allá de fronteras, entre sectores y hacia el público en general.

What Is the Abode of Cultural Memory: Land or People?

Por: | 08 de julio de 2013



Does the history of a people stem from the land they live on or from the written words of their predecessors? The latter has, up to now, been taken for granted by literary historians, whereas archaeologists as well as historians of architecture maintain the former. In the study of literature, the nation- and language-based approach is, because of the medium of natural language, the customary answer, but not the only possible one. What if literary history were taken from a regional identity instead of an ethnic-linguistic one? What if a culture studied the interaction between literatures located in the same territory instead of vying for the establishment of national literature?

These questions arise because of multilingual literary fields, such as the Baltic cultural space (at least to the First World War); it is here that Estonian, Latvian, German and Russian languages, minds and texts existed side by side sharing the same places and sometimes even sharing the same authors. For example, the Estonian C. R. Faehlmann (1798–1859) wrote his Estonian myths in German and German G. J. Schultz-Bertram (1808–1875) compiled epics in Estonian. The first Estonian language storybook Tales and Deeds (Juttud ja Teggud, 1782), written by German author Friedrich Wilhelm Willmann (1746–1819) was to a great degree a translation and adaptation from the Latvian, which, in turn, was based on German sources which were, in turn, based on texts of other European languages. Any research into Estonian older literature should, therefore, take into account this multilingual intertextuality. The previous ethnical-linguistic approach to the history of Baltic literature, which treated German, Estonian and Latvian literature separately, does not allow adequate description and interpretation of specific features of this literary field.

The Research and Web Project of Older Estonian Literature (EEVA)—a joint project of the University of Tartu Library and the Department of Cultural Studies and Arts of Tartu University—proposes a geo-cultural approach to the Baltic literatures that treats literary life of the Baltic countries up to the end of the 19th century as a unified multilingual literary field. The project centres upon the process of cultural exchange among the Baltic countries, discussing interrelations and mutual influences of texts in different languages, their translatability and linguistic functionality. It also studies the social factors that shaped this literary field, examining the institutionalisation of the literary field (periodicals, publication activities, cultural societies, educational system, the role of the university, etc.) and the mechanisms of its operation. The aim of this study is to carry out preliminary work towards the new history of Baltic literary culture, planned in cooperation with many researchers in the Baltic countries and abroad. 

Comparative study of multilingual texts requires international and interdisciplinary cooperation, well enabled by the era of information technology. EEVA offers traditional bibliographic and textual critical research methods like description and systematic arrangement of texts and specification of their cultural historical importance; in addition, it provides the compilation of authors’ biographies, bibliographies and references to secondary literature. However, an integral part of EEVA is the Digital Text Repository for Older Estonian Literature (, which offers, in the digital format, international access (the metadata of the web-version is at present in Estonian, German, English and Russian) to old cultural texts, written or published in the Baltic cultural space. EEVA employs the possibilities of the digital environment: the networking and linking of texts, the notation of intertextual and metatextual relations, the modelling of new contexts, an interdisciplinary approach, etc. The user navigation is aided by key words, systematising the texts according to the subject area, main type, genre, movement and time period. In such a way, EEVA presents a virtual literary history of the Baltic countries, referring also to its relations with other European literatures and demonstrating translinguistic intertextual relations. This is indeed a promising field for close Baltic cooperation since Estonians, Latvians and Baltic Germans share a common past at least up to 1918. The EEVA provides a way to document the historical multilingualism of the Baltics and preserve and study history in a new collaborative way.


Liina Lukas
University of Tartu


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