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Estonian Studies Program
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Finno Ugric hunters and fishers arrived on the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea many thousands of years ago. These scattered tribes eventually gave rise to the Estonian people, who have lived longer in their present territory than most other European nations. For centuries Estonia has been the threshold to the east. It was an important centre on the lucrative trade route along the eastern river systems even before the Viking Age. Later, it held an esteemed position in the Hanseatic League. During the Soviet period, Estonia was in the vanguard of reform movements.

Today Estonia is a thriving example to Central and Eastern European nations of how to revive a battered economy. In the few years since the introduction of the Estonian Kroon, one of the most stable currencies in Europe, life has changed enormously. Estonia is once again taking her position as a bastion to the east. Because of the stability of her economic and political climate, many western businesses establish themselves here and use Estonia as a stepping stone to the still turbulent east. Despite its location on the crossroads between the West and the East, Estonians have managed to preserve their language and culture. Theirs is a heritage rich in folk songs and epics but the Estonians enjoy a vigorous and diversified modern literary tradition as well.

Spoken by 1,000,000 people in Estonia and some 75,000 outside including 18,000 in Canada Estonian is one of the Finno-Ugric languages spoken on the east coast of the Baltic Sea. It is closely related to Finnish and Sámi (Lappish) and more distantly to Hungarian. It is one of the few non Indo European languages to have survived in Europe. Courses in Estonian will be of interest to students who are taking courses under the auspices of the Estonian Chair and who wish to improve their language skills. It is a fascinating language for students of general linguistics who are interested in acquiring a knowledge of a non-Indo-European language. Estonian is essential for students interested in Finno-Ugric studies and is of interest to students of Finnish. There is now greater awareness of the important role played by Estonia and Estonians in the socio-economic changes in progress in Eastern Europe.




When the Chair of Estonian Studies was founded at the University of Toronto in the 1980s the main purpose of its activities and program was to create an academic centre which would elucidate the richness of Estonian culture to the Western world and support the political struggle for Estonian freedom. The great political changes in Eastern Europe, the restoration of Estonian independence, and the greater international visibility of Estonia have significantly changed priorities Estonian Studies Programme in the English-speaking scholarly world, positioning it for a wider field of inquiry both in research and teaching.


The Chair of Estonian Studies provides the University of Toronto with courses focusing on a geographically and historically strategic but academically understudied region of Europe. Of central focus is the discipline of history, the specialization of the Chair of Estonian Studies and Professor of History Jüri Kivimäe. Educated in Estonia, and with a wide-ranging career in universities in Europe, Professor Kivimäe is an historian of international renown in the field of early modern European history. To his lecture and seminar courses on Baltic history he brings the immediacy and freshness of primary sources, and the experience of his years as Archivist of the City of Tallinn. In addition to framing Estonian history in the Baltic region, Prof. Kivimäe situates his courses in Baltic history firmly in the context of Europe: historically speaking, Estonia`s „membership“ in Europe is not a 20th century invention, and accession to European Union membership is but the most recent manifestation of a long tradition.

Within the framework of European studies, the Baltic region is an ideal site where comparative methodologies from literary and cultural studies can be used to discuss issues of nationalism, identity, postcolonialism, hybridization, diaspora-homeland relations, trauma and memory, and gender. Comprehension of Baltic cultures requires knowledge of culture contacts between Baltic and Finno-Ugric language groups, and the historical dynamics of shaping forces from both Slavic and Germanic directions. Complementing course offerings in Baltic History, interdisciplinary Estonian and Baltic literature, civilization, and folklore courses taught in English represent further opportunities to contextualize Estonian Studies on the regional and European map. The teaching of Estonian language and culture is one of the stated goals of the Chair of Estonian Studies, and thus a part of its original curricular design. Since 1999 Estonian language and culture courses have been taught by Visiting Assistant Professor Tiina Kirss, whose academic specialization is in Comparative Literature.


In appreciation of the University of Toronto’s high profile and priorities as a major research university, a small endowed chair has a choice between developing its research projects in ethnic studies narrowly defined, or to attempt a better, more thorough integration with modern research directions in the humanities. The practice of the Chair of Estonian Studies during last four years has clearly demonstrated bifurcated research strategies. Both instructors have continued their individual and ongoing research projects and initiated some mutual and interdisciplinary research ideas.

Since 1999, the Chair of Estonian Studies at the University of Toronto has developed some collaborative research initiatives in oral history and the study of life histories as a historical source for the writing of recent Estonian history. Two one-day symposia organized by the Chair at the University of Toronto, one devoted to Estonian public intellectual Jaan Kaplinski (February 2001), the other an international workshop entitled “History and Memory: Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives on Baltic Life Stories” (9 November 2001) represent visible outgrowths of ongoing scholarly collaborations with Baltic scholars in Toronto, North America, and Europe.




The Chair of Estonian studies at the University of Toronto is affiliated in an administrative capacity with the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures. A number of our courses can be used by students of Slavic languages and linguistics to fulfil their degree requirements. The Chair is also a member of the Centre for Russian and East European Studies, which sponsors multi-disciplinary programmes on the undergraduate and graduate levels and offers an impressive series of lectures, seminars and colloquia.

In addition to courses on Estonian literature and culture, the Estonian Chair in cooperation with the chairs of Finnish and Hungarian Studies are actively developing a comprehensive programme of Finno-Ugric Studies. We hope that the University of Toronto will emerge as the centre for Finno-Ugric Studies in Canada and with this aim in mind we have set up the Finno-Ugric Council of the University of Toronto.

Academic Programming and Community Relations

The Chair of Estonian Studies has over the last four years provided vital and visible intellectual leadership to the Toronto Estonian community in the form of lecture series, visiting lecturers, and community seminars without reducing the academic standard of these activities. One third of the Chair’s teaching load is apportioned to community relations. The Chair of Estonian Studies also has an important role to play in the fostering of institutional Baltic Studies in North America, and will be the site of the 2004 Conference of the Association for the Advancement of Baltic Studies. In addition, research and professional links with institutions of higher learning in Estonia remain an important facet of the Chair’s role in academia, as well as the maintenance and development of academic exchanges already in place with the University of Tartu and Tallinn Technical University.

Livonia 1573 (Portantius)

Livonia 1573

"Dörptsche (Politisch Gelehrte) Zeitung"

The first newspaper that was published in Tartu (1789-1875).