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Universities, university chairs : Lithuania

  • EducationInstitutionsLithuanian
  • Cultural Field:
  • Author:
    Sniečkutė, Marija
  • Text:

    The long-established University of Königsberg in East Prussia was the major centre for Lithuanian language teaching and research throughout the 19th century. The Lithuanian seminar had been established there in 1723 to prepare pastors and teachers for work in the Lithuanian-speaking Lutheran parishes. Soon afterwards, in 1728, the Polish language seminar was founded there too. There was also a short-lived Lithuanian language seminar (1727-40) at the University of Halle, more Pietist in orientation. The Königsberg seminar flourished under the supervision of Ludwig Rhesa (1810-40) and of Friedrich Kurschat.

    Rhesa, the dean of the department of theology, and later pro-rector of the university, was the first inspector of the Lithuanian language seminar also to teach Lithuanian. Rhesa defended the autonomy of the Lithuanian language seminar against government plans to unite it with the Polish language seminar (1811-16, 1823) and theology seminar (1812). An important conceptual shift occurred when, in 1838, students were no longer registered as having “Lithuanian origin” but “Lithuanian nationality”; the goal of the seminar was reformulated as preparing pastors of Lithuanian nationality who could comprehensively speak to the Lithuanian nation. During Rhesa’s tenure, the seminar became a well-known scholarly institution supported by the Prussian elite, also as a result of Rhesa’s own scholarly work, and a point of attraction for intellectuals from the Russian-ruled Lithuanian lands, such as Stanevičius, who visited in 1831.

    Rhesa’s successor Kurschat was also a cleric; after 1848, he became an active member of the conservative party. During his tenure, a course on spoken Lithuanian was introduced,as well as Lithuanian grammar and folklore. August Schleicher’s <em>Litauisches Lesebuch</em> was placed on the curriculum in 1882. The seminar was opened to non-theology students, public lectures were held, and connections with Russian-ruled Lithuania intensified. Kurschat undertook a government-sponsored field trip in 1872 (amidst some suspicion that he was gathering intelligence for the German government), corresponded with Simonas Daukantas, and entered into contact with Valančius. The University of Königsberg also attracted linguists with a Lithuanian interest from wider parts of Europe. After Kurschat, the activities of the seminar decreased, but the University of Königsberg remained a prominent international centre for Baltic studies and a significant publishing centre for Lithuanian books.

    The 16th-century University of Vilnius was restructured into a large imperial-Russian institution in 1803, with 32 professors in 4 faculties. It was closed in the aftermath of the 1831 uprising and only re-established after 1918 in what was then an independent Lithuanian state.

    Lithuanian language classes were proposed in an 1822 memorandum which failed to obtain ministerial approval. Scholarly interest in Lithuanian primarily came from the department of Slavic philology under the antiquarian Ivan Lobojko. Many university students of the so-called Samogitian movement (Valiūnas, Daukantas) attended popular seminars by the poet Juliusz Słowacki, whose department of rhetoric and poetry strove to purify the Polish language from “Lithuaniasms”.

    Following the university’s closure, educational institutions were suspended or moved to Russia (e.g. the Theological Seminary, established in 1808, transferred to St Petersburg in 1844). The most influential remaining institution was the Kaunas Priests’ Seminary (moved from Varniai to Kaunas in 1864). After the 1863 rising, a Lithuanian language course was introduced there, taught for 17 years by Antanas Baranauskas. Seminary students were actively involved in smuggling Lithuanian books into the territory of Lithuania.

    Lithuanian students after 1832 moved to study at the universities in Dorpat/Tartu, St Petersburg, and, most importantly, Moscow (where Fortunatov taught a course on Lithuanian from 1882). Moscow attracted some 2000 Lithuanian students between 1833 and 1917, among them leading figures of the Lithuanian national movement such as Basanavičius and Jablonskis. They organized cultural activities and formed associations; in the mid-1860s, the Polish-Lithuanian organization <em>Ogól</em> included students from the territory of the Lithuanian Grand Duchy who idealized Czech nationalism, envisioned a kingdom around the iconic town of Telšiai, and developed a national self-identification which set Lithuanians apart from Poles.

    Similar patterns occurred at the University of Tartu (Dorpat), which was reopened as an imperial university in 1802, with Lithuanian language courses introduced in 1883 and taught by Jan Baudouin de Courtenay, followed by Jazeps Lautenbach. In the course of the century, Lithuanian students increased from 22 to 160, gravitating to the field of medicine. Students from Belorussia, Lithuania, and Poland belonged to the organization <em>Polonia</em> (1828). Around 1855, relations between Lithuanian and Polish students became tense, and Lithuanians left the Polish organization <em>Ogól</em> and established their own organization <em>Szegól</em> afterwards. The legal society of Lithuanian students in Dorpat separated from the organization <em>Polonia</em> in 1907.

    At the University of St Petersburg, Lithuanian and Latvian were taught from the mid-1880s. While the St Petersburg Roman Catholic Theological Academy was associated with the secret literary community <em>Rzeczpospolita Baublisowa</em> (1850-62), the University of St Petersburg was the site for the secret circle of the Lithuanian Students (1875), which evolved into the Lithuanian Student Society (1892), the members of which were involved in activities related to the banned Lithuanian press.

    Lithuanian was taught elsewhere as well, including the universities of Leipzig (1840-1916), Prague (e.g. 1885-1931), and Kazan (1845-1929).

    Word Count: 869

  • Article version:
  • DOI:
  • Direct URL:
  • Bendžius, Andrius (ed.); Vilniaus Universiteto Istorija, 1803-1940 (Vilnius: Mokslas, 1977).

    Citavičiūtė, Liucija; Karaliaučiaus universiteto Lietuvių kalbos seminaras: istorija ir reikšmė lietuvių kultūrai (Vilnius: Lietuvių literatūros ir tautosakos institutas, 2005).

    Girdzijauskas, Juozapas (ed.); Lietuvių literatūros istorija. XIX amžius (Vilnius: Lietuvių literatūros ir tautosakos institutas, 2001).

    Sabaliauskas, Algirdas; Noted scholars of the Lithuanian language (Chicago, IL: Akademines skautijos leidykla, 1973).

    Tyla, Antanas; Lietuviai ir Lietuvos jaunimas Tartu Universitete 1802-1918 metais (Vilnius: Lietuvos nacionalinis muziejus, 2013).

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    All articles in the Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe edited by Joep Leerssen are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://www.spinnet.eu.

    © the author and SPIN. Cite as follows (or as adapted to your stylesheet of choice): Sniečkutė, Marija, 2022. "Universities, university chairs : Lithuania", Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe, ed. Joep Leerssen (electronic version; Amsterdam: Study Platform on Interlocking Nationalisms, https://ernie.uva.nl/), article version, last changed 29-03-2022, consulted 07-12-2023.