Gamification of History: Explaining Soviet Culture Through Digital Formats

Not so long ago, students were often told that “there are no what-ifs in history”. Contemporary history education has largely given up the idea of a singular and linear way of narrating the past. However, many history educators are still struggling to find ways to incorporate multiple perspectives and controversial narratives into history class, especially when the topic is an emotional one.

The digital learning project “History on Screen”, developed by semioticians of the University of Tartu as a part of the Õpiveski programmeimplies that there are many different stories that can be told about the past and that playing around with them can lead to a deeper understanding of the nature of history.

Through the example of Estonian Leelo Tungal’s novel “The Little Comrade” and its film adaptation, we teach high school students to acquire different historical perspectives, analyze sources, and develop historical literacy. The platform includes a map of the story-world and three theoretical chapters on different topics: mediation of the past, the role of perspective, and cultural memory and memory conflicts.

3 chapters

Time and history: three theoretical chapters of the digital learning project “History on Screen”. Image credit: Alexandra Milyakina and Opsti OÜ

We argue that our relationship with the past is a complex process, which is in line with the idea of ‘historical culture’ proposed by German history scholar Jörn Rüsen. Each person is not just a passive receiver of historical facts, but also plays a creative role both in reception and dissemination of different presentations of the past in varied media. Apart from reading history textbooks and listening to teachers’ lectures, people learn by listening to parents and grandparents, watching TV, and visiting museums. Continue reading

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Widen Your Horizons: Meet Our Scientists and Their Work

Did you know that our university’s scientists have their own Instagram account, which is managed only by them? Meet our researchers in their fieldwork, lab experiments, and discoveries! Photos are free for use by all – please indicate the author.  @unitartuscience

This is a unique project that introduces the achievements and daily activities of our university researchers through social media and through their own eyes in a way that inspires and increases interest among young people, the main users of Instagram, in science.


Today, approximately 20 scientists from different fields participate in the photo-blog project: geography, entomology, theology, robotics, plant genetics, ethnology, history, molecular biology, physics and electrochemia, evolutionary biology, philosophy, animal ecology, etc.

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Socio-Economic and Ethnic Segregation on the Rise

University of Tartu Professor of Urban and Population Geography Tiit Tammaru is currently a visiting professor at Delft University of Technology in Holland. He gave an interview on his research to the local Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment. Tammaru’s main fields of research include migration, ethnic minorities, and social inequalities. Below is a slightly shortened transcript of our professor’s interview.

“We studied socio-economic segregation in European cities with many teams all across Europe, and the main finding was that segregation has increased everywhere. Rich and poor people are moving to different neighborhoods. What we also see is an increasing socio-economic segregation on the one hand and ethnic segregation on the other. The number of ethnic minorities is growing in European cities, so these two dimensions of segregation overlap more and more.

Swedish flag in between buildings

Surprisingly, Stockholm is an example of an increasing segregation. Photo by Jonathan Brinkhorst on Unsplash

One example where segregation grew a lot was a bit surprising to us — it was Stockholm. We often think of Sweden as a social democratic welfare state with very low levels of segregation, but segregation has increased a lot. There are three different factors that make it happen in Stockholm.

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Saving Shark Babies

Sharks are a vital part of marine ecology, keeping everything beneath them in the food chain in check. But they’re being caught and consumed at an alarming rate, and people aren’t even realising it. UT Senior Research Communication Specialist Randel Kreitsberg writes about Sharklab Malta founder Greg Nowell’s work in raising awareness and preserving these fantastic creatures.

I’ll pick you up at 2.45,’ Greg says casually. ‘AM?’ ‘Yes,’ he smiles.

There is a one hour gap, between three and four in the morning, before the Pixkerija (fish market) in Marsa opens to the public. This is the time when fishermen arrive with their catch, but their clients, chefs and managers of Maltese restaurants, have yet to appear.

Greg Nowell (in the middle) is „responsible“ for saving almost 300 shark babies and releasing into wild. Photo: Randel Kreisberg

It is also when Greg Nowell, founder of the Sharklab Malta elasmobranch conservation group, and a small crowd of volunteers inspect the shelves and boxes of fresh catch. They’re looking for two local catshark species—nursehounds and lesser spotted catsharks—so they can cut them open and save the viable eggs still inside the females in the hopes of releasing them back into the wild.

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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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