Cholera on the Shores of the Emajõgi River Koolera Emajõe kallastel. Ühe 19. sajandil Supilinnas elanud teadlase töömailt

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Ken Kalling


Connecting Supilinn with the history of science is not simple. The question is subjectness – the direct contribution of Supilinn to the creation of science. (To the contrary, Supilinn as an object, e.g. as a scientist’s habitat, may not have played any substantive role in the development of science. It is also difficult to compile a list of science-oriented academics who have been Supilinn residents, because, who remembers the people that might have rented “rooms” here anymore?!) 

Luckily, an opportunity to write about science in Supilinn is provided by the fact that, in the late 19th century and the early 20th century, Bernhard Körber (1837-1915), a famous hygienist of the period, lived in the house at no. 9 Tähtvere Street. He established a system of drilled wells in his garden at home, which he used for scientific work. In this way, the research of ground water carried out at the University of Tartu, during the last decade of the 19th century, developed into an environment in which Supilinn was able to contribute to the scientific life of the day. 

In addition to the professor’s abode, Supilinn’s geology also played a role, as did the fact that it was a working class area, where the poorer and less educated population lived, and where sanitary conditions were inadequate, and therefore, diseases spread. Thus, Körber’s research provides important background for the outbreaks of cholera that hit the city in the second half of the 19th century. Despite the aforementioned, it is known that cholera bypassed Supilinn. The possible difference of Supilinn, compared to the other districts of Tartu, which were also problematic as far as sanitation was concerned, was its less urbanised environment. There was more greenery in Supilinn; the residents of Supilinn often continued their agricultural production. At that time, there was a clear difference between the behaviour of epidemics among the rural and urban populations, and therefore, Supilinn may have been saved from the epidemic by accident (one possible reason was that epidemics bypassed more sparsely populated rural areas).  

In conclusion, the participation of Supilinn in anti-cholera sanitary work was related more to the history of science, but was also vital, because Körber’s bio-statistical approach lived on in the work and activities of his students long after the professor retired. 

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