Kirjandus ja digitaalne tehnoloogia / Literature and Digital Technology


  • Marin Laak Eesti Kirjandusmuuseum / Estonian Literary Museum
  • Piret Viires Tallinna Ülikool / Tallinn University



eesti kirjandus, kirjandusteadus, digitaalne kirjandus, kirjandusajalugu, tekstikorpused, digihumanitaaria, Estonian literature, literary studies, digital literature, literature history, text corpuses, digital humanities


Eesti kirjanduse ja digitehnoloogilise pöörde suhted ulatuvad juba enam kui kahekümne aasta tagusesse aega. Siinse artikliga antakse ülevaade, kuidas digitaalne tehnoloogia on mõjutanud Eestis kirjanduse, sh kirjandusajaloo üle mõtlemist ning nüüdisaegseid kirjanduslikke vorme. Tuuakse näiteid Eestis teostatud digihumanitaariaga seostatavatest projektidest ja digitaalse kirjanduse avaldumisvormidest. Samuti arutletakse artiklis digihumanitaaria mõiste üle ja selle üle, mida tähendab eesti kirjanduse uurimine digihumanitaaria kontekstis. Püstitatakse ka küsimus, kas digihumanitaaria muudab kirjandusuurimises midagi olemuslikult – kas ta on kirjandusuurimise tööriist/meetod või hoopis täiesti uus distsipliin.


The relations between Estonian literature and the digital technological turn date back to more than twenty years. The aim of this article is to give an overview as to how digital technology has influenced re-thinking about literature and literary history in Estonia as well as has had impact on creating new digital literary genres.  The authors of the article have a twenty-year experience both as researchers and practitioners in this field.

The article introduces some examples of the projects created in Estonia that can be related to digital humanities and also some examples of Estonian digital literature. Also, the concept of digital humanities and its meaning for Estonian literary studies will be discussed below.

The concept of digital humanities has been used actively during last decade. Although the field of digital humanities is quite broad, in Estonia this concept has been used rather as a synonym for methods of quantitative computer analysis: linguists have used it very productively in analysing text corpora and computer linguistics has developed it into an independent discipline. Up until now, there have been only a few attempts to analyse literary texts using quantitative computer analysis method in Estonia.

However, the concept of digital humanities can be interpreted in a much broader sense. Susan Schreibman, Ray Siemens, John Unsworth (2016) find that digital humanities is not only computational modelling and analysis of humanities information, but also the cultural study of digital technologies, their creative possibilities, and their social impact (Schreibman et al 2016, xvii–xviii). It appears, then, that the concept of digital humanities is wider and it can be said that it encompasses also creative digital practices and analysing it, as well as creating, interpreting and analysing digital projects of literary historical narrative and cultural web resources.

In Estonia, the research on the electronic new media and the application of digital technology in the field of literary studies can be traced back to the second half of the 1990s.

Up to the present, the research has followed these three main directions:

1)         New forms of literary genres in the electronic environment. Digitally born literature and the appearance of other new forms of art have been examined in Estonia since 1996, when the first hypertextual poems were created, followed by more complex works of digital literature combining different media (text, video, sound, image) and literature in social media. The article gives a short overview of this kind of literature in Estonia and poses a question about the limits of literature. What defines literature if digital literature is a hybrid artefact combining text, image, and video? Can we still talk about literature when it is created using the technology of virtual reality and has no traditional features at all? Is it still literature or rather a VR movie or a VR computer game?

2)         Digitisation of earlier literature and the creation of digital bookshelves. These are literary environments created using digital technologies. As examples there can be mentioned the ongoing project “EWOD. Estonian Writers Online Dictionary” (University of Tartu) and the project for digitising earlier Estonian literature and creating a digital bookshelf “EEVA. The Text Corpus of Earlier Estonian Literature” ( The latter was created at the University of Tartu already in 2002; it makes accessible mostly the works of Baltic German writers. 

3)         Development of a new model of the literary historical narrative; application this model in the digital environment.

Three large-scale projects for digital representation of Estonian literary history were initiated during the years 1997–2007, with the objective of developing a model of the new literary historical narrative for applying in the digital environment and creating new interactive information environments.

The Estonian Literary Museum carried out an Estonian Tiger Leap project “ERNI. Estonian Literary History in texts 1924–25” in 1997–2001 ( The project tested the method of reception aesthetics in representing the Estonian literary history of the 1920s. Its objective was to use a relatively limited amount of well-studied material in testing a new type of literary historical narrative and it was based on the visualisation of the network of relations between literary texts and metatexts in the form of hypertext.

At the University of Tartu, the project “The Estonian National Epic The Kalevipoeg” was developed within the framework of the project CULTOS (Cultural Tools of Learning: Tools and Services IST-2000-28134) in 2001–2003. Again, it was a project for visualising literary relationships, requiring the knowledge of the source text and intertexts and reproducing them in the form of a network of intertextual relations.

The project “Kreutzwald’s Century: the Estonian Cultural History Web” (in progress) was created at the Estonian Literary Museum in 2004 with the objective of modelling and representing a new narrative of literary history ( This was a hybrid project which synthesised the study of the classical narrative of literary history, the needs of the user of the digital new media theory, and the development of digital resources for memory institutions. The underlying idea of the project was to make all the works of fiction of one author, as well as their biography, archival sources, etc., dynamically visible for the reader on an interactive time axis.

However, the final and so far open-ended question posed in the article is whether digital humanities is essentially a tool for literary research, or is it an entirely new research approach, a new discipline – Computational Literary Analyses or Digital Literary Studies. A further discussion is needed for finding answers to this challenging question.

Regardless, it is clear that rapid developments in technology bring along also rapid changes in the humanities. Hence, the future of literature and literary research depends both on the developments regarding digital technology as well as the humanities and the mutual impacts of both domains.


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Author Biographies

Marin Laak, Eesti Kirjandusmuuseum / Estonian Literary Museum

Marin Laak – PhD, Eesti Kirjandusmuuseumi ja Eesti-uuringute Tippkeskuse vanemteadur, uurimisprojekti „Kirjanduse formaalsed ja informaalsed võrgustikud kultuuriloo allikate põhjal“ (IUT22-2) vastutav täitja. Uurimisvaldkonnad: eest 19. ja 20. sajandi kirjanduse ajalugu, eepos „Kalevipoeg“ rahvusliku tüvitekstina, digitaalne kirjandus ja kirjandushistoriograafia.


Marin Laak – PhD, Senior Reseacher of Estonian Literary Museum and Centre of Excellence in Estonian Studies, principal investigator of the research project “Formal and Informal Networks of Literature, Based on Sources of Cultural History”. Research interests: Estonian literature in the 19th and 20th century, epic “Kalevipoeg” as a national core text, digital literature and historiography of literature.

Piret Viires, Tallinna Ülikool / Tallinn University

Piret Viires – PhD, Tallinna Ülikooli eesti kirjanduse ja kirjandusteooria professor. Uurimisvaldkonnad: tänapäeva eesti kirjandus, postmodernism ja post-postmodernism; kirjanduse ja tehnoloogia suhted, digitaalne kirjandus.


Piret Viires – PhD, Professor of the Estonian literature and literature theory at the Tallinn University, School of Humanities. Research interests: contemporary Estonian literature, Postmodernism and Post-postmodernism, relationships of literature and technology, digital literature.






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