SUL’s Assistant Curator for Estonian and Baltic Studies, Liisi Esse, defended her doctoral thesis on August 24 at the University of Tartu, Estonia.
Liisi’s thesis is titled “Estonian soldiers in the First World War: the war experience and its postwar meaning.” It is the first attempt to comprehensively explore and analyze the collective component of the war experiences of Estonian soldiers who served in the Russian Army during WWI, and the postwar, often long-lasting traces of these experiences. Below is a brief summary of her thesis.
The 100th anniversary from the outbreak of the First World War (WWI) has increased the number of academic studies dedicated to the war both in Western Europe as well as in Estonia and elsewhere in Eastern Europe, where it was heretofore rather known as the “forgotten war.” This increased focus has revealed several gaps in the local historiography, especially in relation to the social and cultural aspects of the war. Among these gaps is the topic of the war experience of soldiers and its post-war meaning, which stands in the center of this doctoral thesis.
The thesis relies on Estonian soldiers’ letters, diaries, memoirs and materials of veterans’ organizations, and analyzes both the common as well as previously less explored elements of the war experience of Estonian soldiers who served in the Russian Army during WWI. The thesis examines the formation of the experience during the war as well as its postwar meaning over a long timespan, i.e. how the experience was perceived and re-implemented in the transformed sociopolitical context during the interwar period and the Soviet era.
By analyzing the central aspects of the Estonians’ war experience (enemy-image, self-image, relations with fellow soldiers and with the home front, returning home), the factors that affected these aspects (the context of the Russian Army, postwar conflicts), and the postwar meaning of the experience, the thesis places the Estonian case study into the wider framework of the local and international historiography and highlights the need to further research the experiences of minorities who served in the Russian Army as well as the numerous aspects of the “long” WWI on the Eastern Front.
For more info and online version of the thesis, see here.