Arno Rafael Cederberg Eesti Vabariigi Tartu Ülikooli õppejõuna [Abstract: Arno Rafael Cederberg as a Professor at the Estonian Republic’s University of Tartu]


  • Mihkel Truman University of Tartu



University of Tartu, History, Arno Rafael Cederberg


Abstract: Arno Rafael Cederberg as a Professor at the Estonian Republic’s University of Tartu

Soon after the Republic of Estonia declared itself independent on the 24th of February 1918, academics and politicians of the newly formed nation wished to found a new national university built on the foundation of the former Imperial University of Tartu. This university would teach in the Estonian language, with the aim of offering higher educational studies in Estonian, as well as building up Estonian national sciences.

By the spring of 1919, the committee for reopening the university was ready to open the university for studies and research in the autumn of the same year. However, they were struggling to find suitably qualified professors, as Estonians had generally been excluded from the imperial university. Prior to 1918, only three Estonians had worked as professors at the University of Tartu, while others were forced to find positions at Russian universities.

In order to avoid delaying the opening of the new university, the committee decided to invite foreign professors to fill the vacant positions. They were particularly keen on Finnish professors, with whom Estonians had formed strong ties during the early 20th century. Thus, in the first half of the 1920s, Estonian research and university life was supported by eight Finnish professors.

This article focuses on one of them, namely Professor A. R. Cederberg, Professor of Estonian and Nordic History, and his activity and contributions to the formation of a new field of science and its study at the University of Tartu, as well as in the rest of Estonia.

As Cederberg was an experienced archivist, he was asked to help build up the archives of Estonia and organise the collection of the Estonian National Museum, while working for the University in parallel. Despite his large workload, he was able to quickly set goals and priorities for the development of Estonian historical science and its study programme at the university. Prior to the opening of the national university, Estonian history had primarily been researched by Baltic Germans, whose goals and visions of history differed significantly from those of Estonians.

Cederberg believed that historical research efforts should focus more on the period of Swedish rule from the 16th century until the beginning of the 18th century. This period of Estonian history had previously been largely ignored by the historical community in favour of other historical periods. While working in mainly Finnish and Scandinavian archives during summer and winter holidays, he found many sources that shed light on the period of Swedish rule in Estonia. By directing students towards researching the early modern era in Estonia, he ensured that dozens of seminar works and Master’s and Doctor’s theses were written on this subject.

Cederberg was not convinced that the foundation of Estonian historical science could be based only on research conducted at the university. As such he decided to found the first Estonian Academic Historical Society right after his arrival in Tartu in the early 1920s. While the primary goal of this society was to get students interested in history, particularly Estonian history, the society quickly developed into the centre of Estonian historical science.

During the eight-and-a-half years he worked at the University of Tartu, Cederberg contributed enormously to the development of Estonian historical science. He built up an entirely new field of science and study based on the histories of Estonia and the Nordic countries, and educated a plethora of outstanding young historians (such as H. Sepp, H. Kruus, P. Treiberg (Tarvel), J. Vasar, E. Blumfeldt, A. Soom, O. Liiv, G. Rauch, etc.), who vigorously and effectively continued the work their professor had started.


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Author Biography

Mihkel Truman, University of Tartu

Mihkel Truman is a PhD student at the Institute of History and Archaeology, University of Tartu.