Who Owned the Right of the First Night in Estonia?

Merili Metsvahi is a Senior Researcher of Estonian and Comparative Folklore at the University of Tartu.

Le droit du Seigneur

‘Le droit du Seigneur’ (1874) by Vasily Polenov. An old man brings his young daughters to their feudal lord. Image credit: Wikipedia

The right of the first night, or the right of the local noble to deflower local peasant brides on their wedding night before their newlywed husbands, has never been a historic fact in Estonia. However, it holds a certain place in the nation’s cultural memory – and have done so for the last hundred years.

While in Germany last summer, I discussed this topic with the German historian Jörg Wettlaufer, whose interdisciplinary doctoral thesis “Das Herrenrecht der ersten Nacht” (‘The Right of the First Night’) was published as a book in 1999. He was surprised that the first night’s stereotype reached Estonia as late as in the beginning of the 20th century.

However, considering Estonia’s historic circumstances, it is not surprising that the myth spread so late. When the French had to do some groundwork to overthrow the feudal rule in the 18th century, droit du seigneur (‘the right of the first night’ in French) was a perfect tool to discredit the nobility. The same was true for Estonia at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries – spreading the first night’s stereotype was a great tool to agitate people against the Germans.

French philosopher and historian Voltaire wrote in his Philosophical Dictionary in 1764 that in the Middle Ages the right of the first night was used around Europe. Historical records don’t confirm that. Despite the lack of original sources and the scarceness of other resources, a lot of historians and law historians, political and cultural figures dealt with the topic during the 19th century. At the end of the 19th century, when German historian Karl Schmidt strongly doubted the former existence of the right of the first night in Europe, the scientific discussion around this topic started to die out. Continue reading

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I am the one who knocks – overcoming the small cultural differences on a term abroad

Before arriving in Estonia, I wondered how it would be to spend six months in the north of Europe. I knew about a few things – beautiful nature, the vibrant student city, the emotional history – but how it would be to live in the City of good thoughts was not imaginable for me.

My first lecture in Estonia was on a Tuesday morning, where we heard about English-speaking cultures. Already beforehand I was excited: the lecture was supposed to be held in the historic Main Building that can also be found on numerous postcards. In walking through the hall to my lecture, I felt honoured to learn in this historic building, which makes you feel the past of nearly 400 years of research. As soon as the lecture was over, I was surprised that everybody left the room immediately. It struck me as very rude, or maybe I had missed a command from the lecturer? My confusion was caused because in my home country (Germany) the audience always knocks on the table at the end of a lecture or presentation. It is called ‘academic knocking’, and there are several rumours on how this tradition started. Accordingly, I was the one who knocked on the table – the only one. But luckily it was just for a second and then I left with the others. Until this day I never questioned the necessity of it nor did I think of it as unusual.

‘The Kissing Students’ sculpture and fountain is one of the most recognised symbols of Tartu. Photo: Kathrin Hüing

Estonia is a quiet country. I knew that before, but coming from the highly populated Germany, it was sometimes a bit hard for me to get used to the calm way in the north – awkward situations in the lectures where nobody would answer questions from the professors included.

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How Rector’s Golf Cup Tournament was organised: take a peek

Last Sunday, the 8th University of Tartu Rector’s Cup Golf Tournament was held at the Otepää Golf Centre, where I was set at the forefront of the organizing team when I started working at UT. Yes, I am a relatively fresh employee of UT. I guess it can even be said aloud that I am on a trial period. Thus, this event was the first major test for me. In the past, I’ve arranged one wedding – my own. I think it went well, because we’re soon going to celebrate our fifth anniversary.

University of Tartu Rector’s Cup Golf Tournament. Photo: Andres Tennus.

When my colleague, Mrs Teele Arak, gave me a task to organize the golf tournament and told me about her experience, knowledge, and tips, it seemed to be a cosmic venture. I didn’t know much about golf at this time and everything at the university was new to me. But Teele did a good job and explained everything in astonishing detail. Multiple times! And I wrote everything down in my purple notebook. In the middle of June, a reception webinar took place in the next house, which I also helped to organize, but somehow I lost my purple notebook somewhere during the process. “Oh no!” I shouted to myself. I was already thinking we couldn’t organize the golf tournament without it. Luckily, it showed up about a week later in the Multimedia Center and I got back my peace of mind. There were also important notes about organizing the University of Tartu Open Doors Day (LUP), very detailed info also from Teele.

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Scientists, students, and companies interested in scientific cooperation will start working together

Last week, Delta Centre received its cornerstone. It will be built in the city centre of Tartu, next to the shore of Emajõgi river. Scientists, students, and companies interested in scientific cooperation will start working there.

“In Estonia, Delta Centre will be the most important hub of information technology, mathematics, and economics, which supports advancing science in entrepreneurship and engages entrepreneurs in the development of the university’s core activities”, said Toomas Asser, Rector of the University of Tartu. “An important additional proof of the necessity of this building is the fact that University of Tartu enrolment is extraordinarily successful in IT specialities”.

Delta Centre will be finished by 2020. Author: arhitekt11 OÜ

The centre, which will be finished by 2020, will have a four-storey education and research building (total surface area of 17 500 m2) and a five-storey business building (total surface area of 4700 m2). The education and research building brings together UT information technology, computer science, computer engineering and robotics, economic science and business education, mathematics, and statistical learning and research. The UT Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation will also move into the house, which will help with its support services to bring research-based entrepreneurship as close to the university as possible. Research-based enterprises that are open to diverse cooperation with the university will become tenants of the entrepreneurship building.

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Neuroscientist Jaan Aru: smart devices don’t make you better in your work

No one regrets in the last hour of their life “sorry that I didn’t respond faster to an e-mail”. But for some reason, people think that constantly checking e-mails on a smart device and answering them right away is something important. Touching the smartphone is an addiction, and neuroscientist Jaan Aru explains why touching the phone is one of the most mysterious and dangerous habits.

Why does the brain love to get addicted? The brain can be addicted to many different things. The reason is that it is evolutionary for the brain to learn important, correct, and new things.

These important and correct things in our evolutionary history are, for example, where to get some good crops, where to find a good, fresh place with good berries, and so on. If there is something very good about something, certain chemicals will be triggered in the brain, which will lead to the fact that this thing will be learned right away, that the place or the way you obtained the food will be remembered.

It is very important that if there is something very good, then to learn quickly and right away about it. The problem is that we bring this brain into a modern society, where something very good and enjoyable for the brain can be obtained by injection or… by moving your thumb.

Smartphones control our attention and therefore our time and the future. Author\/Source: Jeanne Menjoulet\/Flickr Creative Commons

This is the reason why our brain can be very addicted nowadays. Our society has well-regulated access to drugs. The availability of tobacco and alcohol is regulated; minors are completely prohibited.

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A moss thought to be extinct is resurrected in a University of Tartu laboratory

The University of Tartu scientists collected a peat sample from Lääne-Virumaal Äntu nature reserve, which grew sprouts of Meesia longiseta moss, previously thought to be extinct. Now Tartu has anecdotes comparing the resurrection of moss to the resurrection of mammoths.

Meesia longiseta is thought to be a biological relic from colder climate times. It received its Estonian name from its very long – over 10 cm – sphorophytes, carrying pear-shaped pollen capsules. In addition to sphorophytes, this species is distinctive from a very similar Meesia trifaria because of its smooth leaf edges.

Estonia is a home to three kinds of Meesia moss; however, the last sighting of Meesia longiseta was from 82 years ago. That’s why it was thought to be extinct. Last year, University of Tartu scientists found the sprouts of the moss growing in their lab. It was a pleasant surprise, but far from miraculous.

Sprouts of Meesia longiseta, previously thought to be extinct. These sprang from the diaspore bank collected by University of Tartu bryologists. Author/Source: Nele Ingerpuu

Longitudal study

University of Tartu bryologists [translation: moss scientists] collected peat samples in autumn 2016 from three Estonian bogs in order to measure diversity in the diaspore bank.

The diaspore bank of mosses reduces the extinction risk of an ecological system the same way as the seed banks of vascular plants. A relevant reminder: the main propagation means for vascular plants are seeds and spores, but for mosses spores and gemmae. Diaspore bank is the reserve of plant propagation means that stay underground in the earth or peat for a shorter or longer time in a restive state. Such a bank might sprout a new plant when suitable conditions arrive, such as reduced competition or a new environmental situation.

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Why leaving the research site is important for a political scientist

I received inspiration and motivation for this article from two important projects that I participated in this summer which will have a long-lasting impact for me and for my country (Ukraine). Hence, this article will speak concisely about two interesting stories that can make the life of every political scientist brighter and more vivid and turn the boring summer days into active and truly fruitful ones.

Back in April, I applied to help organize an important project that would help to bring the most talented Ukrainian teenagers together and establish a network of enthusiasts. These people would share the passion and motivation to deliver different projects and make their community better. The project was a simulation of the Model United Nations, where teenagers could learn how the organization works by representing a certain UN country and debating different issues, taking into account the political stance of the country they represented.

The group photo of counsellors and campers in the camp “Moloda Gvardiya”, Odessa, Ukraine. Photo: Camp Model UN 2018/Matthew Yarbrough.

In the beautiful city of Odessa on the Black Sea, I and 20 other American and Ukrainian volunteers had around 70 talented students from every corner of Ukraine, all of whom were passionate to learn about international relations and diplomacy and to improve their public speaking skills. My personal motivation beyond volunteering at the camp and helping campers understand global trends was to share my own experience in international relations and democracy, as well as to teach campers how to look for opportunities in the world. I was also interested in getting to know more about the problems that the current generation of teenagers is overwhelmed with, how they define their values, how teenagers set their priorities, and how they identify themselves in general.

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