Academic journal article Trames

Emil Kraepelin and German Psychiatry in Multicultural Dorpat/Tartu, 1886-1891

Academic journal article Trames

Emil Kraepelin and German Psychiatry in Multicultural Dorpat/Tartu, 1886-1891

Article excerpt

1. Languages in the psychiatric microcosm--Introduction

In her novel of 1955, dedicated 'to my home town of Dorpat', it seemed only right to the writer Else Hueck-Dehio (1897-1976), with her romanticising memories, that the figure of a Baltic German medical professor in Dorpat shortly before the First World War should be portrayed in a conversation with a patient speaking Estonian (Hueck-Dehio 1955:46-47). As the daughter of a well-known physician for internal medicine and pathology in Dorpat, Karl Dehio (1851-1927), who not only played an important role in the 'Medical Society of Dorpat' (EAA 3576.1.4, Meeting minutes of the Medical Society of Dorpat), but also at the University there since he was called in 1886, the author could well have obtained a view of medical practice in the city that she was to leave after the war. Her fictional figure, Professor Erhard Haller, understands the Estonian words of his patient, a peasant woman, who represents the native population and its demands. "I want him to be clever like you, Herr Professor", she says of her son, "and like all the many Saksad (Germans) living in their white houses, who understand everything better. The dear Lord did not create cleverness just for you. That is why we send our sons to the secondary school in the town". The professor in the novel, worried as he is about the future of the German-speaking elite and their culture in the Baltic region, still understands not only the words, but also the intention of the Estonian patient: "In his just heart he could not refuse the demand for social equality which the words of the peasant woman so clearly conveyed, the directness of it going straight to the heart, as does all that is primitive. He had been well acquainted with this phenomenon for years, namely the Estonian peasant sons who sat on the school benches, writing excellent examinations by means of iron-hard work. He saw here a development which not only could not be stopped, but was justified". Over 30 years after the rather abrupt end of Baltic German privilege in the Baltic provinces that had now long belonged to Russia, the author portrayed in a rather unreflective manner the elitist position of a professor towards the Estonian population, which was regarded as lower-class, but with whom he at least tried to communicate in their native language. But this was probably not a matter of course.

For a long time, the Medical Faculty in particular had been dominated by professors of the German Reich, who often saw their time in Dorpat as a temporary step on the career ladder and therefore paid little attention to the multicultural situation, and even less to the native language (Tammiksaar 2016). To learn Estonian--this was attempted only briefly even by the thirty-year-old psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin, who had been called to the university in 1886 from the German Empire to Dorpat. This foreign language seemed too difficult to him, and neither did he learn much of the official language, Russian. The academic language at the time at one of the leading universities of the northwestern part of the Russian Empire in the 19th century was, to a great extent, still German, a matter that, however, increasingly found refusal on the part of the Russian authorities responsible for education and universities, at the latest from the reign of Czar Alexander III (1881-1894). As is well-known, within a few years this was to change--the University of Dorpat was reorganised into the Russian University of Yur'ev in 1893, and Russian was established as the language of education in the course of the university reform (Donnert 2007:15, 29-69). The policy of enforced Russification caused difficulties particularly for the professors who came from the German Reich, but it also called up more or less open opposition among the Baltic Germans to the measures taken by the government in St. Petersburg (Donnert 2007:58-73). The language debate at the University of Dorpat expressed a general change of policy towards the Baltic regions on the part of the government in St. …

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