Humanities as one of the milestones of society

Humanities as one of the milestones of society
  • 16. July 2019
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- Anneli Saro. Foto: Andres Tennus -

When talking about economy, we often think about energetics, technology and innovation. But humanities is definitely also a part of it and has a great impact on society.

Nevertheless, we are still hearing that humanities are useless and the studies carried out with taxpayers’ money have no use to society. It is difficult to change one’s mindset. Especially because everything cannot be measured in money. For example, the Estonian Constitution, the preamble of which states that we have to ensure the preservation of the Estonian language and culture.

Studies are different and their necessity cannot be judged by the title alone. “Researchers are often in a situation in which decisions are not made based on science and research,” Anneli Saro, the Professor of Theatre Research at the University of Tartu, said. She added that there is no need to commission a research just to do research. Research based on science, statistics and the analysis of international experience is becoming more and more important.

One of the priorities of the current government is science-based economy which is founded on theory and the experience of other countries.

There are several examples of how researchers can benefit the public sector and the entire society. It is popular to commission Estonian language courses for improving everyday formal language. There are also studies carried out related to the acquisition of Estonian as a second language which seek to find solutions why Russian schools have not succeeded in language acquisition etc.


Entrepreneurial studies in humanities

It is emphasised everywhere that entrepreneurial studies are very important but what is entrepreneurial studies in humanities?

The University of Tartu has an iAcademy innovation programme which connects the world of students, researchers and entrepreneurs to emphasise cooperation. In the framework of this programme, a compass for selecting productions at Vanemuine Theatre was created with the help of theatre researchers, economists and students of other fields at the University of Tartu, which helps to find a suitable production amongst the diverse repertoire. “In general, people go see drama. People do not have the courage to go see opera or ballet. In fact, they should be encouraged because in order to go and listen to, for example, beautiful music, one can also go and enjoy a dance performance. Compass is based on keywords based on emotions and science. We investigated what scientific articles have to say about it and what people consider important when visiting the theatre,” Saro explained.

In order to improve cultural politics, the operation of amateur theatres and the subject of financing has also been addressed. In particular, the researchers of the University of Tartu are participating in an international research project which studies how the work of amateur theatres and their financing is organised in other small European countries. The research is carried out in cooperation with Estonian Amateur Theatre Association who is very interested in the results. This subject is much broader for Estonia because folk culture is not merely amateur theatre, choir singing and folk dancing, but it is a lot more abundant spectrum and the funding model has to be clear.

“Estonia funds folk culture and non-formal education but it is funded by different instruments. However, the main responsibility lies with local authorities. Unfortunately, local authorities have different strategies and policies. The teachers of non-formal education have said that the distribution of money is very opaque in their opinion and this is, in turn, creating a sense of injustice. Now the question is whether the state should intervene,” the Professor of Theatre Research asks.

The law states that the distribution of money should be transparent and no one can be discriminated. Municipal hobby schools should not be preferred in front of private schools but no one checks it. The task for us, researchers is, on the one hand, to carry out studies and, on the other hand, to develop the cultural policy and terminology through best practices,” Saro is certain. Adding that sometimes things are done incorrectly out of ignorance. We could help make reasoned decisions on the distribution of money for non-formal education and activities.

Speaking of other examples, it is known that the city of Tartu is running for the European Capital of Culture in 2024 and the winner (either Tartu or Narva) is decided in August 2019. The theatre researchers of the University of Tartu, who have extensive theatre audience research competence, helped to design a programme of audience development for the candidature book. In case the title European Capital of Culture comes to Tartu, these activities can be implemented and their impact evaluated.

Although sometimes it seems that there is enough culture consumption in Estonia, studies show that only certain groups are related to the creation and consumption of culture in a narrower sense. Others (e.g. older, foreign language speaking or people with special needs) are excluded. “Culture has been considered a very important tool for integration and it could be systematically used in Estonia for that purpose”, the professor pointed out.


These examples are related to language and culture issues. Therefore, education, semiotics, culture, psychology, history and all social activities which concern the researches of humanities, are important for economics.

Money is obviously vital in all those matters. It has been said enough that works obtained by procurement are not the most comprehensive and do not produce the desired results.  The question here is whether the study is compiled by a postgraduate or with the help of professors, who have a wider picture and who can concretise the information better. Internet surveys can obviously be carried out for free but the economic expenses have to be borne by someone anyway. Therefore, it is very important that the grant application opportunities would be guaranteed in the field of humanities as well.

“Lately there is increasingly more talk about the lack of empathy in society – of understanding each other. The right is not able to understand the left and vice versa,” Saro stated and admitted that emotional education, empathy, the ability to understand people and their perspective is very important and that is exactly what humanities do.

Author: Kaja Mõts

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