On the significance of Karl Ernst von Baer’s doctoral thesis On Estonians’ Endemic Diseases (1814) for Estonian anthropology


  • Jaan Kasmel Centre for Physical Anthropology, University of Tartu
  • Tiiu Kasmel Centre for Physical Anthropology, University of Tartu




K.E. von Baer, physical anthropology, medical anthropology, history of anthropology, Estonia


In the second chapter of his first research paper, the doctoral dissertation written in Latin and defended at the University of Tartu (the former Imperial University of Dorpat) in 1814, K.E. von Baer, the future natural scientist of world renown, characterised the body build and mentality of Estonians (men, women and children), in a considerably more detailed way than the previous brief overviews. Therefore, this paper is considered the beginning of research of Estonians from the viewpoint of physical anthropology.

The current overview will deal with the role of Juhan Aul, Professor of Zoology at the University of Tartu, in giving an anthropological assessment to Baer’s doctoral thesis.

This is followed by a discussion on whether Baer’s thesis belongs to the area of medical topography (geography). Our examination shows that Baer’s medical geographical thesis might be called an anthropological medical geographical paper.

Finally, the question is posed whether the material presented in Baer’s doctoral thesis on the relations between Estonians’ health, well-being, culture, society and environment corresponds to the characteristics of the notion “medical anthropology” that has been in use since 1963, so that it could be considered the beginning of Estonian medical anthropology.


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