Historical Overview of the BRIAI

A predecessor of the Institute of Baltic Region History and Archaeology is the Centre for West Lithuanian and Prussian History (VLPIC), which commenced its activities at Klaipėda University in January of 1992. It was the first institution of scientific research in Lithuania where the newly created team of historians and archaeologists pursued professional research of the regional past.

The establishment of the Centre for History in Klaipėda concurred with the increasing efforts of the international community of historians to transgress ideologically based disputes by switching over to the dialogue and discussions, to judge each other through the prism of consent instead of permanent confrontation, and to seek for the elements in the regional past that not only divide but also unite, which followed the major historical transformations in Europe at the end of the nineties of the 20th century. Historically, Klaipėda had been the place of common coexistence of Lithuanians and Germans; thus it is no coincidence that the activities of the Centre for History, founded specifically in this city, were predominantly focused on the investigation of the relations between Germans and Lithuanians from the Middle Ages up to the Twentieth Century. Yet it was the only research field among others pursued in the Centre for History because this research institution sought to promote mutual understanding of all the nations and cultural tolerance in the Baltic Sea Region.

In their research activities, the staff of VLPIC focused on the investigation of the relations between the Order of the Teutonic Knights in Prussia and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the development of societies of these states, the history of the German-Lithuanian relationships in Prussian Lithuania, highlighting political and social turning points in the 20th century experienced by the former territory of East Prussia, and the past of the historical region of Žemaitija (Samogitia). Historical and archaeological investigations of Klaipėda, Palanga and other towns and townships of Western Lithuania, as well as analysis of historical issues of the Kaliningrad Oblast and the former East Prussia, were accomplished in the Centre for History. In cooperation with the Polish colleagues, it initiated underwater archaeology, a research field new to Lithuania. In collaboration with the Nordostdeutsches Kulturwerk Institute in Lüneburg, the collection of the archive indispensable for historical urban research work started in Klaipėda; the Thomas Mann Cultural Centre was founded in Nida as a venue for cultural dialogue between different nations, etc.

The activities of the Centre in the years 1992-2003, with regard to the priorities of scientific research in the Baltic Sea Region, were coordinated by the Academic Board composed of scientists from Lithuania, Germany, Poland, Latvia and Sweden, which was headed by Dr Eckhard Matthes in 1993 to 1999, later by Professor Udo Arnold. By actively pursuing the project, research and organizational activities, VLPIC consolidated its reputation in the area of scholarly research in the region of the Baltic Sea and other countries. The continuing cooperation with the scientific research and dissemination organizations operating in these countries enabled VLPIC to pursue research projects relevant to the development of humanities in the region and to hold conferences and seminars on the subjects oftentimes first engaged in Lithuania by the historians of Klaipėda University.

The high academic potential and the experience of VLPIC in establishing contacts with foreign scientific research institutions resulted in the reorganization of the Centre for History, which had operated for over a decade, as part of institutional changes made in Klaipėda University in the years 2003-2004. The Centre for West Lithuanian and Prussian History, which was part of the Faculty of Social Sciences at that time, was transformed into the Institute of Baltic Region History and Archaeology (BRIAI), an autonomous scholarly research subdivision at the faculty level. Such restructuring created a tool for the implementation of the increasing ambitions of the University seeking to enhance its potential for scientific research in the Baltic Sea Region.

Reorganization of the Centre facilitated the recruitment of reputable Lithuanian and foreign scholars to the Institute based in Klaipėda, and enabled the creation of a joint school for postgraduate doctoral (PhD) studies together with the Lithuanian Institute of History. This reorganization was especially important for the development of archaeological investigations in Klaipėda University oriented towards cooperation with the scientific research establishments in the Baltic Sea Region. One of the most solid and dynamically developing centres for archaeological investigations both in Lithuania and on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea has been created in BRIAI in the course of a few years.

Directors of the VLPIC and the BRIAI

  • 1992–1993 – Doc Dr Alvydas Nikžentaitis;
  • June 1993 – January 1998 – Doc Dr Vladas Žulkus;
  • February 1998 – September 1999 – Prof S. C. Rowell, PhD (Cantab);
  • September 1999 – February 2001 – Dr Vacys Vaivada;
  • February 2001 – October 2002 – Prof habil. Dr Vladas Žulkus;
  • December 2002 – June 2018 – Doc Dr Silva Pocytė;
  • since June 2018 – Dr Vasilijus Safronovas.

Premises of the VLPIC and the BRIAI

In November 1992, the Council of the City of Klaipėda handed over to Klaipėda University a building situated in Tilžės Str. 13, Klaipėda, specially designated for the needs of the Centre for West Lithuanian and Prussian History. The history of the building is special for the fact that writer Ieva Simonaitytė lived there intermittently in the period from 1931 to 1938. After moving into the building at the beginning of 1993, work offices for scientific staff, two lecture rooms were equipped on the premises, also, a library was established due to efforts of the staff and sponsors of the Centre for History. The Institute of Baltic Region History and Archaeology left these premises on April 8, 2009. In the process of modernizing its infrastructure, Klaipėda University transferred the premises to the then active Turto bankas, AB, the company organized by the Government of the Republic of Lithuania for the purpose of organization of renovation of the state-owned immovable property. In the spring of 2009, the Institute was relocated to the campus of Klaipėda University, a collection of buildings which earlier accommodated barracks, and settled in the pride of the campus – the building, which was renovated last during the period of 2004–2009.