KTU Library virtual exhibition

We lack a Higher Education School, which alone can form a salutary roof over the whole of our cultural life, protecting it from the cruel rains, frosts and chills of history. Our Higher Education School, not one that is foreign, will be able to provide bright-minded people to our Homeland, without the need for them to go away from home, people who will be able to bring order to our lives and lead us on to a bright and beautiful future, to freedom and happiness.

The first Lithuanian higher education school. Higher Courses: opening day: 27 January 1920. Kaunas, 1920, p. 3.

About the exhibition

The books in the Stock of Rare Books contain various signs of book ownership (ex-librises, stamps, dedications, marginalia, autographs, inscriptions, etc.). The stamp and inscription of the Higher Courses (further HC) can be found in the books.

The stamp of the Higher Courses (Fig. 1) contains several inscriptions. Inscribed in a circle around the frame: The I Higher Education School of Lithuania and HIGHER COURSES. In the middle of the frame there is a Baltic pagan priestess at the burning altar. The altar is inscribed with the Latin motto “IGNIS AETERNUS”, which, means “eternal fire”. Also the year of the foundation of the Courses is inscribed in the frame: MCMXX, i.e. 1920.

The letters HC in the Higher Courses inscription (Fig. 2) are an abbreviation for Higher Courses. It is difficult to say what exactly the year and the numbers above and below the dash mean. To find the answer, a more detailed analysis of the recording and management of HC books is needed.

Some of the books show only the HC stamp (Fig. 3), others show the stamp and the entry (Fig. 4) or just the entry (Fig. 5).
On the basis of these book marks and the books in the Library’s inventory, a collection of “Higher Courses” books has been established in the Stock of Rare Books.

Fig. 1. HC Book Mark 1920–1922 m.

Fig. 2. HC Ownership Inscription

Fig. 3. HC Stamp

Fig. 4. HC Stamp and Ownership Inscription

Fig. 5. HC Ownership Inscription

This exhibition aims to recall the founding of the Higher Courses, and to introduce the curriculums that were part of them, for which books were purchased or otherwise collected. Also one of the aims is to trace the HC Library’s further development and to reveal the diversity of themes and languages of its books preserved in the Stock of Rare Books to this day.

Higher Courses

HC lectors*

Vincas Čepinskis Physicist, Chemist and Pioneer of Physical Chemistry in Lithuania

In the autumn of 1919, mathematician and physicist Zigmas Žemaitis came up with the idea of establishing a higher education school in Kaunas. The idea was endorsed by Tadas Ivanauskas, Augustinas Janulaitis, Jonas Vabalas-Gudaitis and Liudas Valionis, who formed an organisational group of initiators.

At the the same year, in the beginning of October, the organising group published a questionnaire in the newspapers, to which more than three hundred young people responded within three days, expressing their interest in attending the Higher Courses. The received feedback showed that many candidates (around 75%) “want to study natural and mathematical sciences and applied sciences, such as medicine and technology”¹.

This data helped the organisers to define the way forward for their activity. The group of initiators, invited by scientific and public figures, approved the idea of setting up the courses and elected an executive committee, which included Zigmas Žemaitis, Tadas Ivanauskas, Augustinas Janulaitis, Jonas Vabalas-Gudaitis, Jurgis Alekna, Kazimieras Vasiliauskas and Eduardas Volteris. This commission drafted the Statute of the Higher Courses, which was approved by the Ministry of Education on 5 January 1920, and set up a public organisation for the establishment and support of the Courses, it was called the Society of Higher Sciences².

HC lectors*

Zigmas Žemaitis Physicist, Mathematician, Cultural and Public Figure, Organiser and First Chairman of the HC (1920), Head of the Mathematics-Physics Department of the HC Album of Lithuania. [Kaunas], [1921], p. 205.

Petras Avižonis
Ophthalmologist, Public and Political Figure,  Head of the HC Medical Department

On 27 January 1920, the Higher Courses were ceremonially opened in “the hall of the later Seimas and the “Aušra” (Eng.: Dawn) girls’ gymnasium”3. They laid the foundations for the University of Lithuania; they assembled a distinguished research staff, gathered a contingent of prospective students, and drafted the Statute of the University. In 1920, Higher Courses were managed by Zigmas Žemaitis, and from 1921 to 1922, by Jonas Gudaitis-Vabalas.4

In a small booklet published in Kaunas in 1920, called “The First Higher Education School of Lithuania. Higher Courses: The Day of the Unveiling: 27 January 1920” (Fig. 7), a detailed introduction to the historical and cultural situation of the country, which highlighted the need for a higher education institution, and the first steps in its creation are provided here. The statutes of the Society for Higher Education and the Higher Courses are also presented (purpose of the course, type of course, chapters, students, lecturers and supervisors of practical work, board of directors of the course, funds of the course, auditing committee, etc.).

Juozas Eretas
Literature Historian, Founder and First Chairman of the Lithuanian Telegram Agency (ELTA), Volunteer in the Lithuanian Armed Forces, Public Figure

Eduardas Volteris
Bibliographer, Archaeologist, Researcher of Slavic and Baltic Languages and Culture, Ethnographer, Head of the HC Humanities Department

Fig. 6. HC book with an ownership mark: signature of Jonas Vabalas-Gudaitis

Fig. 7

Vaclovas Biržiška
Lawyer, Cultural Historian, Founder and Long-Time Director of the Lithuanian University Library

Julijonas Gravrogkas Mechanical Engineer, Organiser and Manager of the Technical School in Vilnius and later in Kaunas Lithuanian Encyclopaedia. 1941, t. 9, p. 550.

522 students joined the courses, of whom 244 were real students with school graduation certificates5. More than 40 lecturers gave lectures. Six departments have been opened in the Higher Courses: The Humanities Department was managed by Volteris, the Law Department by Janulaitis, the Mathematics-Physics Department by Žemaitis, Nature by Ivanauskas, Medicine by Motiejus Nasvytis and later by Petras Avižonis, and Technology by Jonas Šimoliūnas6 (In the book “Lietuvos universitetas = The University of Lithuania…” (1923) it is stated that the Technical Department was managed by Pranas Jodelė7).

The courses were taught in accordance with university regulations and programmes. “Departments being opened in the Higher Courses: 1) Department of Humanities (History, Philology, Pedagogy). 2) Law Department. 3) Mathematics-Physics Department.  4) Nature Department (with agronomy section). 4) Medicine Department (with veterinary section). 6) Technical Department. Note: Where appropriate, other departments or sections shall be established and existing chapters merged.”8

Petras Leonas Lawyer, Advocate, Public and Political Figure, First Minister of Justice of the Republic of Lithuania
Stasys Dirmantas Surveyor, Brigadier General of the Lithuanian Armed Forces, political and public figure, Head of the Department of Geodesy of HC

Tadas Ivanauskas Zoologist, Naturalist, Writer, Founder and Manager of the Nature Research Station (1919) in Kaunas, Head of the Nature Department of HC Album of Lithuania. [Kaunas], [1921], p. 217.
Vladas Lašas Physiologist, Allergist, Political and Public Figure


Jurgis Čiurlys Railway Engineer, Political Activist
Antanas Purėnas Chemist, Cultural, Social and Political Activist, One of the Organisers of the Higher Courses

Higher Courses started without housing facilities and education tools. “When one remembers the price of every little thing that has to be bought now, and especially such rarities as educational books and the various instruments necessary for teaching, it will be easy to understand how large a sum of money will have to be raised for the foundation of the establishment of the Higher Education School.”9

“Auxiliary” institutions, including libraries, were set up alongside the Higher Courses.10 The course libraries were created from a variety of sources: books were bought according to the study programmes, brought from home by lecturers, donated, etc.

Eduardas Volteris, a bibliographer, researcher of Slavic and Baltic languages and culture, head of the Humanities Department of the Higher Courses, went to Germany and bought the most necessary books and ordered journals for studies in all specialities. A loan of 120 000 Marks was taken from a bank for this purpose. The organisers of the Higher Courses brought their own textbooks and notes from home. “Educational books were collected and borrowed from whoever had them”.11

Pranas Dovydaitis Lawyer, Philosopher, Signatory of the Independence Act of 16 February 1918, Prime Minister, Editor of the Newspaper “Viltis” (Hope)

The size of the Higher Courses library is mentioned in Vladas Žukas’ book “Life for a Book: Vaclovas Biržiška”. It states that “the library’s chronological catalogue comprised 63 pages”12. Information is also available from the University of Lithuania Library’s asset list. “The larger donation was made by the former library of the Higher Courses, which, together with all the assets of these courses, was passed to the University and handed over to the University Library on 1 June 1923. In total, 1832 works and 122 duplicate volumes have been transferred in here”.13 The list was signed by the Chairman of the Library Commission, Prof. Bučys, and by the long-standing Head of the University Library, Prof. Vaclovas Biržiška.14

Fig. 9. Fragment of the list of library assets

To this day, the Library preserves a number of books published in different languages, in different disciplines and bearing the stamp and/or inscription of the Higher Courses. It can be assumed that some of the publications used in the courses do not bear any identification marks. Further studies of the Library’s inventory of books may help to determine the exact number of surviving books (some of which have been handed over to other research institutions, etc.).

Course Books

The KTU Library’s “Higher Courses” collection consists of books from different publishing years, in different languages and topics. The books, used in the Courses, were mostly published at the beginning of the 20th century (some publications appeared while the HC was already active, i.e. in 1920 or 1921), others were published in the second half of the 19th century. Linguistically, most of the books are in German, and a bit less in Polish. Other books are in Lithuanian, Latvian, French and Russian. As mentioned earlier, in Germany, the Head of the Humanities Department, Eduardas Volteris, bought the most necessary books and ordered journals for all the specialities, so that the collection is made up of a wide range of titles.

The exhibition presents only a small fraction of the Higher Courses books. They have been selected on the basis of their importance for Lithuania and their significance for their field of science.

Books of the 19th Century

With the exception of a group of books published in the last decades of the 19th century, the majority of the collection is found to be in Polish and German. Only a few prints in Russian were found. Books in the humanity field (history) predominate, but there are also books in the natural sciences (physics, mathematics, etc.).

The oldest book in the Higher Courses collection is the 3rd volume of “Polska wieków średnich” (Poland in the Middle Ages), published in Poznań in 1859 by Joachim Lelewel, a Polish historian, cartographer, geographer, and a professor at the Universities of Vilnius, Cracow and Brussels.

Other books in this group: The Historical Researches of the Polish historian Jósef Wolff, published in 1886. A study by the Polish historian Bernard Kalicki on Bogusław Radvila, a nobleman and military leader of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, is published in Krakow in 1878 in the journal “Ród Gedimina” (Gediminas Family), Nikolai Petrov’s (Петров Николай Иванович) almost 600-page historical essay “Belarus and Lithuania: the historical fate of the North-Western region” (Белоруссия и Litva. Исторические судьбы Северо-Западного края), published in St Petersburg in 1890, and many others.

The book “Guide to Coats of Arms of the Nobility of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania” (“Herbarz rycerstwa W. X. Litewskiego”) by the Lithuanian historian, Jesuit, theologian, philosopher, and professor of the Vilnius University, Albertas Kojalavičius-Vijūkas (or Vaitiekus Vijūkas-Kojalavičius, Polish: Wojciech Wijuk Kojałowicz), was published in 1897 in Kraków.

Almost all books in the natural sciences field are published in German. Only one book in Russian was included in this group. It is the famous Russian physicist Fyodor Petrushevsky’s (Фёдор Фомич Петрушевский) “Course of Observational Physics” (Курс наблюдательной физики), published in St Petersburg in 1874.

Books, published at the end of the 19th century, used in the course: Lecture material “Elements der Höheren Mathematik” (Elements of Higher Mathematics) by Professor Otto Biermann of the Technical University of Brno (Leipzig, 1895), “Zahlentheorie” (The Theory of Numbers), published by the French mathematician Adrien-Marie Legendre (Leipzig, 1893), “Theoretische kinematik” (Theoretical Kinematics) by Franz Reuleaux, a German scientist distinguished in the fields of mechanics and mechanical engineering, published in Braunschweig in 1875, etc.

In 1897, 1891 and 1894 Leipzig, Gustav Kirchhoff, a German scientist and physicist known for his work in electronics, thermodynamics and other areas of physical science, published, the books “Lectures on Mechanics” (Vorlesungen über Mechanik), “Lectures on Mathematical Optics” (Vorlesungen über Mathematische Optik), and “Lectures on the Theory of Heat” (Vorlesungen über die Theorie der Wärme).

Books of the 20th Century

The books of the early 20th century are distinguished by their variety of languages and subjects. These books are in Lithuanian, Latvian, French, Russian, Polish and German. Books are grouped by language, and within groups by subject. Most of the books in this group are classified to the natural sciences fields.

Books in Lithuanian attract attention: Lecture material “The Exchange of Matter in Organisms” by the lecturer of the Higher Courses Liudas Vailionis, published in Chicago in 1914, the first book of “Writings” of the writer, prose writer, playwright, museologist and social activist Antanas Vienuols, published in Kaunas in 1920, and the Lithuanian manuscript, published in Lithuanian and Latin in Kaunas in 1906, “On the Polish Language in Lithuanian Churches. Lithuanian letter to His Holiness Pius X. To the Pope and all the Cardinals of the Catholic Church.”, by the Lithuanian public figure, the first editor of the newspaper “Aušra”, scientist, physician Jonas Basanavičius (listed as the main author).

Books in French focus on Lithuanian history and religion. The book “La Lituanie dans le passé et dans le présent” (Lithuania’s Past and Present), published in Geneva in 1916 by the philosopher and writer Vydūnas (Wilhelm Storost), has a special place. This book was translated into French by Antanas Viskantas, a philosopher, priest and doctor of theology who lived in Switzerland during World War I. The collection of the Higher Courses includes Viskantas’ own book “La Lituanie religieuse” (Religious Lithuania), published in Paris in 1918.

The collection includes several books in Latvian on cultural history and mathematics. The book “History of Latvian Culture” (Latvjukultūras vēsturē) by Arveds Švābe, a Latvian social activist, writer and translator, published in Riga in 1921, contains a book card that was written out when the book was placed in a library. This shows one of the steps of the management of books in the library at that time.

The largest number of books on natural sciences are in Russian: The Russian mathematician and philosopher Pavel Nekrasov’s (Павел Алексеевич Некрасов) “Theory of Probability” (Теория вероятностей), published in St Petersburg in 1912, and the mathematician Delp’s (Г. Дэльп) “Collection of Problems for Differential and Integral Calculus” (Сборник задач по дифференциальному и интегральному исчислениям), etc. However, this group contains books such as the publication of the Department of Agriculture “Modern Silo Towers” (Современные башенные силосы), A. F. Zekonivich’s (А. Ф. Зенькович) printed book published in Vilnius in 1914 by the North-West Branch of the Imperial Russian Geographical Society, consisting of two parts: “On the Local Court at the Border of Poland in the 15th and 16th Centuries” and “Plan of Vilnius in 1648” (О местном суде в XV–XVI вв. на Подляшье. План г. Вильны 1648 года. Вильна).

The group of HC books published in Polish is dominated by publications in the humanity field (history, linguistics, etc.).
These are the books such as “The Polish-Lithuanian Union: documents and reminiscences” (Unia Litwy z Polską: dokumenty i wspomnienia) by Polish historian Henryk Mościcki, published in Warsaw in 1919, the work “Attitudes to Foreigners in Lithuanian Laws in the Second Half of the 15th and in the 16th Centuries (1447-1588)” (Stanowisko cudzoziemców w prawie litewskiem w drugiej połowie XV i w XVI wieku (1447-1588), edited by the Polish legal historian Oswald Balser and written by the professor of the University of Lviv, Przemyslaw Dabkowski in 1912.

One book, published in 1904 in Krakow, draws special attention, it is called “The Question of the Lithuanian Alphabet in the State of Russia” (Kwestia alfabetu litewskiego w państwie rosyjskim) by Jan Niecisław Ignacy Baudouin de Courtenay, a renowned Polish linguist, a scholar, who was well versed in the Lithuanian language and had contacts with Lithuanian enlightenment figures.

A special place is also occupied by the multi-authored publication of the Polish literary historian and philologist Jan Czubek, published in Cracow in 1913 under the title “Correspondence” (Korespondencya). This literature historian was one of the first to codify and study the written heritage of the Philomatics. The HC collection contains four volumes of this publication (published 1815-1823).

Some of the books published in German are in the humanity and social science fields. That is the “Dictionary of the Etymology of the Roman Peoples” (Romanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch) by the linguist Wilhelm Meyer-Lübke, published in Heidelberg in 1911, “History of German Literature” (Geschichte der Deutschen Literatur) by German philologist and literary historian Wilhelm Scherer, published in Berlin in 1920, “A Sketch of the Geography and History of the Peoples of the Ancient East” (Grundriss der Geographie und Geschichte des AltenOrients) by the German orientalist Fritz Hommel’s seminal study, published in Munich in 1904, Ernst Traumann’s “Faust of Goethe with explanations of its composition and content” (Goethes Faust nach Entstehung und Inhalterklärt), published in Munich in 1920, and others. One interesting book is by Wilhelm Max Wundt, a German physiologist, psychologist, founder of the experimental and cognitive branches of psychology, who emphasised the importance of folk psychology, myths and folklore in the study of thinking and memory, “The Psychology of the Nation. A study of the laws of the development of language, myths and customs” (Völkerpsychologie. Eine Untersuchung der Entwicklungsgesetze von Sprache, Mythus und Sitte), the book was published in 1920 in Leipzig.

The majority of books published in German are in the natural sciences, classified as physical and technological sciences: “History of Physics from the Earliest Times to the End of the 18th Century” (Geschichte der Physik von den ältesten Zeiten bis zum Ausgange des achtzehnten Jahrhunderts) by Ernst Gerland, a German historian of physics, published in Munich, Berlin in 1913, the 6th edition of the joint work “Introduction to the Study of Chemistry” (Einleitung in das Studium der Chemie) by Ira Remsen, an American professor of chemistry, and Karl Seubert, a German professor of inorganic and analytical chemistry, it was published in Tübingen in 1920.

Also the 4th volume of the book “Lectures on Technical Mechanics” (Vorlesungen über Technische Mechanik), dedicated to the topic of dynamics, by August Föppl, professor of mechanics at the Technical University of Munich, was published in Berlin in 1919, German mathematician Heinrich Emil Timerding’s “Geometry of Force” (Geometrie der Kräfte), published in Leipzig in 1908, Wilhelm Teubert’s book “River Shipbuilding” (Flußschiffbau), published in Leipzig in 1920, Rudolf Tormin’s “Lime, Cement and Plaster” (Kalk, Zement und Gips), written in Gothic font, and published in 1905, etc.

1Lietuvos Universitetas, 1579-1803-1922 / red. Pranas Čepėnas. Chicago: Lietuvių profesorių draugija Amerikoje, 1972, p. 149.
2Pirmoji aukštoji Lietuvos mokykla. Aukštieji Kursai: atidengimo diena: 1920 m. sausio 27 d. Kaunas, 1920, p. 5.
3Lietuvos Universitetas…, p. 149.
4Ten pat, p. 150.
5Ten pat, p. 149.
6Ten pat, p. 150.
7Lietuvos universitetas = The University of Lithuania: [statutas, mokslų planai, taisyklės]. Kaunas: [s. n.], 1923 (Kaunas: Valstybės sp.), p. 7.
8Pirmoji aukštoji Lietuvos mokykla…, p. 16.
9Ten pat, p. 7.
10Ten pat, p. 17.
11Lietuvos Universitetas…, p. 149.
12Gyvenimas knygai: Vaclovas Biržiška / Vladas Žukas; Vilniaus universitetas. Vilnius : Vilniaus universitetas, 2012. p. 154.
13Lietuvos universiteto veikimo apyskaita 1922-1924 = Report of the University of Lithuania February, 1922 – June, 1924, Kaunas, 1925, p. 23.
14Ten pat, p. 24.