The Learned Estonian Society, founded in 1838, is the oldest active scientific society in Estonia. From the start its aim has been, as stated in the first statutes, to further knowledge of the past and present of the Estonian nation, its language and literature, as well as the country settled by the Estonians.
Today, practical activities of the LES are primarily expressed through organising open lectures and larger scientific colloquia as well as cooperation by publishing monographs and miscellanea.
Once a year the Yearbook of the LES is published. It is an open access journal which means that all content is freely available without charge to the user or his/her insitution. The content of the yearbook and summaries in english can be found: http://oes.ut.ee/publikatsioonid/
The most important works, published in cooperation with the LES have been the writing of the three-volume History of Estonia (1700-2000), ordered by the ministry of education. The volume VI was published in 2005. The volume V was published in 2010.
The Proceedings of the Learned Estonian Society 35th issue is the book consisting the materials of scientifical conference dedicated on G. Fr. Bunges 200. jubilee was published in 2006.
In cooperation with the LES have also been published the miscellany dedicated to the 75th birthday of Sulev Vahtre “Muinasaja loojangust omariikluse läveni” (From the Dawn of the Ancient Times to the Threshold of Independence), ed. A. Andresen, Tartu 2001, and a monograph of Silvia Laul about the Iron Age in South-East Estonia: Silvia Laul. Rauaaja kultuuri kujunemine Eesti kaguosas (500 e.Kr-500 p.Kr). (Muinasaja Teadus 9, ÕESi Kirjad 7) Tallinn 2001.
Lemmit Mark’s manuscript “History of the Older Estonian Historiography” was published.
According to its statutes, the LES is traditionally located by the University of Tartu, and the core of its membership is constituted by the members of the Faculty of Philosophy.
Thus, the location of the LES is in the rooms of the Historical Department of the University /3 Lossi St, Tartu 51003/, and the present president of the LES is prof. Marju Luts-Sootak (from 2014).
From January 2001, the LES is associated with the Estonian Academy of Sciences.
The Learned Estonian Society was founded on 18 January 1838 in Tartu (then Dorpat).
The Founders were three professors of the University (Professor of Law, Friedrich Georg v. Bunge; Professor of Anatomy, Alexander Friedrich v. Hueck; and Professor of History, Friedrich Karl Hermann Kruse), the medical doctor and writer Friedrich Robert Faehlmann and the lecturer of the Estonian language Dietrich Heinrich Jürgenson, as well as two school-teachers and twelwe Lutheran Pastors.
In accordance with the statutes, confirmed a year later, the main aim of the Society, related to the University, was to investigate the past and the present of the Estonian nation, its language, literature and the country settled by Estonians. Therefore, publishing Proceedings, collecting artefactual and written monuments of the Estonians and the establishment of an Estonian Museum were intended.
During the first years, the activities of the LES were primarily dedicated to the practical educating of peasants and the raising of the intellectual level of the country people: several works were published for this purpose.
From 1840, the “Proceedings of the Learned Estonian Society” (Verhandlungen der Gelehrten Estnischen Gesellschaft/Õpetatud Eesti Seltsi Toimetused, Dorpat/Tartu 1840-1943, vol. 1-34) were published.
The national heroic epic “Kalevipoeg” by Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald is considered as the most valuable achievement of the first decades of the Society. It appeared from 1857 to 1861 as a scientific Estonian-German publication of the Society and some decades later became a prominent factor in the growth of national consciousness.
In the 1860s, the first period of the activities of the LES came to an end. The founders were replaced by a new generation, less interested in the enlightening of the people. Now remaining more distant from the Estonian national movement, the Society placed more emphasis on scientific activities. Progress was achieved here particularly during the long-term presidentship (1869-1899) of the Philology Professor Leo Meyer.
From 1861, the “Annales of the Learned Estonian Society” (Sitzungsberichte der Gelehrten Estnischen Gesellschaft/Õpetatud Eesti Seltsi Aastaraamat, Dorpat/Tartu 1861-1938, vol. 1-71) appeared.
Within 1863-1869 seven volumes of the “Writings of the Learned Estonian Society” (Schriften der Gelehrten Estnischen Gesellschaft) were published in addition to the “Proceedings”. Exchange relations with other learned societies made it possible to introduce their research results to the scientific world of the time.
The LES grew constantly, so that the number of the members exceeded 300 in the second half of the 19th century. Along with eminent scholars of German extraction (Leo Meyer, Constantin Grewingk, Carl Schirren, Eduard Winkelmann, Richard Hausmann et al.), an increasing number of Estonians joined the Society (Jakob Hurt, Jaan Jung, Mihkel Veske, Karl August Hermann, Martin Lipp, Villem Reiman, Oskar Kallas, Jaan Tõnisson et al.).
At the beginning of the 20th century the work of the Society gradually deteriorated owing to unfavourable social and political conditions. There were tensions inside the Society as well as between the Society and the University. During the World War I, the activities of the Society were interrupted.
With a new momentum, the Society was revived in 1919 under the leadership of Peeter Põld, who was also the curator of the now national Estonian University.
Since there were several institutions now, engaged in collecting and preserving the monuments of the Estonian past, the Society could confine itself to research and publishing its results.
New publications were brought into being: “Annual Reports of Estonian Philology and History” (Eesti filoloogia ja ajaloo aastaülevaade, Tartu 1922-1938, vol. 1-7), “Letters of the Learned Estonian Society” (Õpetatud Eesti Seltsi Kirjad, Tartu 1922-1939, vol. 1-5) and the “Special Issues” (Eritoimetused, Tartu 1931-1933, vol. 1-2). In the “Proceedings of the Learned Estonian Society” (Õpetatud Eesti Seltsi Toimetused) voluminous monographs of Paul Johansen, Harri Moora, Oskar Loorits, Armin Tuulse, Sten Karling et al. were published.
Under the Soviet occupation, the LES was first subordinated to the Academy of Sciences of the Estonian Soviet Socialistic Republic in the end of the 1940s. In the June of 1950 the Society was closed.
The second rebirth of the LES took place in 1988 – a time of revival for so many societies and traditions interrupted in the Soviet time – as well as the year of the 150th anniversary of the LES.
At the foundation assembly on 10 October 1988 the new statutes of the LES, largely relying on the pre-war ones were confirmed and Prof. Dr. Herbert Ligi was elected the first president of the re-founded Society.
At present there are 115 members and 17 members of honour in the LES. From 2014, Marju Luts-Sootak is president of the LES.
More about history of the LES
All articles, published by the LES before the World War Two can be found in a bibliography:
Õpetatud Eesti Seltsi perioodiliste ja jätkväljaannete koondregistrid. Tartu 1977.