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The Institute of Baltic Region History and Archaeology of KU Celebrates its 30th Aniversary

This year, the staff of the Institute of Baltic Region History and Archaeology (BRIAI) of Klaipėda University celebrates an important anniversary: 30 years ago, on 2 January 1992, the Centre for West Lithuanian and Prussian History, which developed into the BRIAI, was founded at the then one-year-old Klaipėda University. During the first month of its existence, in the internal documents of the University, it was referred to as the Centre for History of Lithuania Minor, while in 2003, it was renamed Institute of Baltic Region History and Archaeology.

“Today, the KU Institute of Baltic Region History and Archaeology can be compared to an adult. It has its own  stance. It is very gratifying to watch how a child grows up into an adult; one sees their maturity and mind and can be proud of having contributed to all that,” says habil. dr. Alvydas Nikžentaitis Director of the Lithuanian Institute of History, who well remembers the origins of the research institution ready to celebrate its 30th anniversary this year. Dr. Nikžentaitis, who had come from Vilnius to Klaipėda at that time, took part in talks with the city authorities about the necessity of establishing such an institution. “It was not difficult to become a Klaipedian. We felt the attention and support from the city authorities. We were given not only the premises but also the funds for settling in. Support for education and culture was given not merely in words,” recalls dr. Nikžentaitis. The mission of the Centre was to meet the need for the knowledge about the past of the regions, especially Prussia (Lithuania Minor) and Žemaitija. “Historians and archaeologists got together at the Centre to start systematic research into the history of Klaipėda and to testify to the fact that the history of Klaipėda Region was also the history of Lithuania. We had to decipher it from the perspective of both Lithuania and East Prussia and convey it to the public in an objective way, without embellishments”, says dr. Nikžentaitis, one of the pioneers of BRIAI.

Strengths of the Institute: from underwater archeology to research in military history

The Institute of Baltic Region History and Archaeology is an outstanding and acclaimed research and academic division of KU, located in one of the most beautiful buildings of the historical complex of buildings of the University. It brings together researchers focusing on societal and cultural change in the prehistoric and historical Baltic Sea Region and supervises three cycle studies in the fields of history and archeology. The main strengths of the Institute include underwater archeology of the Eastern Baltic Region, the archeology of the Middle Ages and Early Modern Times, the culture of Modern and Postmodern Times, and social and military history. The Institute closely cooperates with its partners: Lithuanian museums, cultural centres, institutes and universities, and with the research institutions of Germany, Poland, Estonia, the United Kingdom, and others. After Cambridge University had launched the Baltic Geopolitics Programme in 2021, the BRIAI, together with nine other Baltic Sea Region institutes interested in modern Baltic history and political processes, formed an informal network to support this idea. The Institute publishes two internationally recognised peer-reviewed journals on the history and archeology of the Baltic Region, Acta Historica Universitatis Klaipedensis and Archaeologia Baltica, respectively. The researchers of the BRIAI and their works earn the highest marks in national and international research competitions, and they have received state awards for their merits to Lithuania.

Dr. Vasilijus Safronovas, Director of the Institute since 2018, says: “In the first year, the staff of the then Centre were three people:  Alvydas Nikžentaitis, Vladas Žulkus, and Silva Pocytė. Today, the Institute boasts over 40 researchers. The areas of activity have naturally expanded as well. We started work with the archeology of Western Lithuania, the relationships between Lithuania and the Teutonic Order, and the history of Žemaitija and Lithuania Minor. Currently, the Institute employs seven groups of researchers interested in a wide range of issues of the past of the southeastern Baltic Sea Region, from prehistoric landscapes on the current Lithuanian coast and the change in technology in prehistoric times to the research into the memory of the First World War, Judaica, anti-Semitism, and historical imagination in the 20th century.” According to dr. Safronovas, in some areas, the  BRIAI is the undisputed leader in Lithuania. “Three of the five Lithuanian archaeologists most cited in the world work at our Institute. Yet our influence is not limited to Lithuania. We have our own niches in research, and due to them we are known in the global networks of researchers who work on similar issues. In addition, we work with students and pay a lot of attention to the dissemination of scientific knowledge.”

Dr. Safronovas has no doubt that the jubilee year of the Institute’s activity will provide numerous opportunities to rejoice in the discoveries of the BRIAI archaeologists and historians. “During 2022, at least several major projects implemented by the Institute in recent years will be completed. As always, we will try to share their results as widely as possible. Thus, you will definitely hear about us again”, promises dr. Safronovas.

In 2022, KU will celebrate two anniversaries

“Congratulations to the BRIAI community, past and present, on its anniversary. Age is not just about numbers, it’s about works. We can be proud that, in 30 years, a strong research institution developed at KU whose works can be seen not only here in Lithuania, but in the entire Baltic Region and well beyond. Historians and archaeologists, their discoveries underground and underwater, books, and new specialists trained in these fields form the face of our University. The jubilee year, I believe, will be a good opportunity for the public to get to know this part of the KU community and its activities better,” prof. dr. Artūras Razbadauskas, Rector of KU, congratulated the KU BRIAI community on the occasion of its 30th anniversary.

Incidentally, another important division of KU, the Klaipėda University Press, will also celebrate its 30th anniversary this year.

Chronology of the development of the Institute of Baltic Region History and Archeology

  • On 2 January 1992, the Centre for History of Lithuania Minor was established by Resolution No. 55 of the Senate of KU (11 December 1991) and Order No. 43 of the Rector of KU (30 December 1991).
  • On 12 February 1992, the KU Senate approved the temporary Statutes of the Centre, in accordance with which it was named the Research Centre for History of Western Lithuania and Prussia.
  • On 6 March 1992, by the Order of Vice-Rector for Academic Affairs of KU, the Centre for History of Lithuania Minor was renamed the Research Centre for History of Western Lithuania and Prussia (VLPIC). Its first director was dr. Alvydas Nikžentaitis.
  • On 1 June 1993, by Resolution No. 33 of the KU Senate (5 May 1993), the Department of History and Sociology (headed by dr. Vaidutis Laurėnas) at the Faculty of Humanities was divided into two separate departments: of Political Sciences and Sociology (headed by dr. Vaidutis Laurėnas) and of History (headed by dr. Alvydas Nikžentaitis). On 27 May 1993, by Order No. 74 of the Rector of KU, the VLPIC was assigned to the Department of History, and assoc. prof. dr. Vladas Žulkus became its director.
  • On 1 July 1994, the Faculty of Social Sciences was established at KU, which included the Department of History together with the VLPIC.
  • On 23 May 2003, the KU Senate adopted a resolution to approve the establishment of the University Institute of Baltic Region History and Archeology.
  • On 1 July 2003, the Department of History, together with the VLPIC, was transferred from the Faculty of Social Sciences back to the Faculty of Humanities. The VLPIC was separated from the Department and re-organised into a faculty-level university division, the Institute of Baltic Region History and Archeology (BRIAI).