Department of Ethnology

The academic programme of ethnography emerged in Estonia at the University of Tartu in 1923 by the founding of the Chair of Ethnography, led by Associate Professor Ilmari Manninen. The close collaboration with Finnish scholars determined also the expansion of research area to include the Finno‐Ugric cultures. Many of those teaching at the university were simultaneously leading figures in arranging the depositories and conducting research at Estonian National Museum (ENM) prior to the World War II.

After World War II ethnography was taught by Associate Professor Arved Luts at Chair of History of the Soviet Union as ancillary science of history in University of Tartu. At the Estonian Academy of Science, ethnography was a part of the Institute of History, led by the ‘grand old man’ of Estonian ethnography, Ants Viires. Ethnographers’ main topics during the Soviet time continued to be traditional architecture, means of transportation, handicraft, food, folk costumes, and folk art – that is, mainly the material culture of the 19th century.

The Chair of Ethnology was established in 1994 at the Department of History, led by Professor Elle Vunder, and since 2004 by Professor Art Leete. In 2007, the Chair of Ethnology was reorganized into department of the Institute of Cultural Research and Fine Arts at University of Tartu, whereas it remains the only academic institution in Estonia that provides comprehensive BA, MA and PhD programmes in the field of ethnology. Since 2010 Kristin Kuutma is working at the institute as Professor of cultural research. As of today, we have 30 BA‐students of cultural research, 15 MA‐students and 15 PhD students of Ethnology. There are 13 employees at the Department. We study various manifestations of culture, the conceptualizations of heritage processes and identity construction, contemporary religion, and memory practices. Our researchers are exploring how different cultural domains relate to contemporary transcultural processes on global, regional and local levels and study them through various discourses, cultural practices, and knowledge systems. Both contemporary and historical topics are being researched, the studies are focused on Estonia as well as on Finno‐Ugrians in Russia but also, for instance, on subcultures in Germany and Yakutia or gender issues in Indonesia.

Estonian journals and book series on ethnology and folkloristics include Journal of Ethnology and Folkloristics (published jointly by departments of Ethnology, Folkloristics, ENM, and Estonian Literary Museum), Folklore. Electronic Journal of Folklore and Mäetagused (both published by ELM), Eesti Rahva Muuseumi Aastaraamat, the monographs’ series of ENM, and others. The departments are cooperating with both museums, latter being also prospective employers of our alumni.

The collaboration between Estonian ethnologists, folklorists, and anthropologists (as well as other disciplines as semiotics, contemporary cultural studies, studies of religion,
communication studies, landscape studies, and archaeology) takes also place under the auspices of the Center of Excellence in Cultural Theory (CECT), a research organization
established in 2008. Uniting researchers from both Tartu and Tallinn Universities, it organizes theoretical seminars, intensive seminars, symposiums, and a conference once a year.

Department of Ethnology in 2015. (From left to right, back row): Laur Vallikivi, Aimar Ventsel, Liivo Niglas, Maarja Kaaristo, Ene Kõresaar, Kirsti Jõesalu, Ester Bardone. (First row): Kristin Kuutma, Art Leete.


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