Virtuelle Hochschule Ostseeraum

Virtual University of the Baltic Sea Region

Virtuelle Hochschule Ostseeraum is an international, cross-institutional and interdisciplinary project that aims to establish a new virtual learning environment at the University of Greifswald and promote collaboration between the universities in the Baltic Sea region.


  • improvement and specialisation of courses for master students and advanced teacher programs;

  • qualification of academic teachers for the purpose of English virtual learning environments;

  • international connection of virtual learning courses and therefore specialisation of courses for the research emphasis on the Baltic Sea Area;

  • transferable application for all academic fields at the University of Greifswald.

International virtual learning environment

The teaching and learning activities take place in the shared digital space. Lecture and seminar formats are designed jointly by an international team of teachers from partner universities. Students can engage themselves in self-study with units accessible online (asynchronous teaching), online sessions with all students and teachers (synchronous teaching) as well as self-planned group work in international working groups. The students are accompanied by the teachers in cooperative projects, research-based learning is a central component of the courses. If the travel situation allows, the course is rounded off by a one-week excursion.

Since the working groups consist of participants from different countries, international networking of the students is made possible in addition to the internationalization of teaching. A virtual learning environment is also enabling students with social or personal issues (i.e. parenting, relocation, sickness, caring for a family member) to finish courses, which would otherwise be impossible for them.

The project is part of the internationalization strategy of the University of Greifswald. The cooperation between the lecturers also flows into the Greifswald research focus “Cultures of the Baltic Sea Region”.

Current partner universities

Stockholm University

Tampere University

St. Petersburg University

The project is open to new partnership proposals and ideas.

Actual courses Winter term 2021/22"

Mobility in the Pre-Modern Baltic Sea Region 

(Stockholm University)

Mobility in its various forms and scales is a fundamental aspect of human history. Already in pre-modern times, the Baltic Sea functioned as a route for travel and enabled the exchange of both goods and ideas. Mobility was thus a major factor of cultural contact – in most cases voluntary, in others forced. In many cases, the impact of this cultural exchange is still visible today. This course discusses different forms of mobility in the pre-modern Baltic Sea Region and examines the ways they can be assessed with the help of material that is still extant in the form of archives, collections, literature, or monuments. Students will learn to work with primary sources that were produced in the Baltic Sea region in pre-modern times.

(For participants from the University of Greifswald: please use the following links to access the lecture course and the seminar)

The students from the partner universities are welcomed to join online courses in English provided by the Nordic History chair, University of Greifswald

Lecture course: The Christianization of the North (bilingual) (Cordelia Heß, Prof. Dr. phil.)

In the period between 700 and 1200, Christianity gradually became the dominant religion in Scandinavia and Finland. The lecture series will provide a basic timeline for this phenomenon, highlight actors and processes, discuss theoretical approaches to conversion and identity formation and investigate different expressions of cultural and religious identity. Additional focus will be on the written and material sources which tell us about the period between the Viking Age and the Christian Middle Ages.

Most of the sessions will be uploaded and can be accessed asynchronously, they will be accompanied by short exercises. Some sessions will be live and give the opportunity to discuss the topics.

Seminar: Conversion of the Vikings (Cordelia Heß, Prof. Dr. phil.)

This seminar works best together with the lecture "Christianization of the North", in which substantial background knowledge is provided for reading and understanding of the texts and sources in this seminar. In the seminar, Latin historiographic and hagiographic sources as well as Old Norse sagas will be read and discussed.

Seminar: The Nordic paradox: Gender equality and antifeminism in Scandinavia (Cordelia Heß, Prof. Dr. phil.)

The Nordic countries rank amongst the top 5 in the Gender Equality Index. But women in these countries experience a comparatively higher degree of domestic violence, sexual harassment and abuse than in other European countries. This seminar will discuss historical and contemporary reasons and explanations for this phenomenon. Teaching and research literature will be primarily in English.

Seminar: Baltic Sea region history Creating Imagined Communities: Collective Memory between the Christianisation and the Nationalism in the Baltic Sea region (Gustavs Strenga, Dr.)

For enrollment or any questions: baltic-e-learninguni-greifswaldde or vitali.byluni-greifswaldde


Summer term 2021

maginatio borealis: Ideas of the North from the Middle Ages until today

The term "North" (lat: boreas) initially only denotes one direction of the sky or wind. Since ancient times, this term has also been associated with certain ideas or imaginations of a specifically northern area. The understanding of exactly where this space is to be located and what constitutes it - that is, what defines “the North” and distinguishes it from other regions - has changed over the years.

The course addresses the question of what ideas about the North looked like in different eras and contexts and what they still look like today. The lectures provide an overview of the conceptualizations of the North from the Middle Ages to the present, they are supplemented by guest lecturers. The seminars mainly consist of project work in groups that examine individual case studies independently and present work results.

Winter term 2020/21

Religious Mobility in the Pre-Modern Baltic Sea Region

The course was dedicated to religiously motivated mobility in the premodern Baltic Sea region: crusades, pilgrimages and preaching tours. The recorded lecture videos served as an introduction to individual phenomena of premodern mobility, presented the basics of modern and contemporary theories about migration. The lectures were prepared by researchers of this phenomenon from Greifswald, Stockholm, Tampere and St. Petersburg.

The students had the choice between five subject areas, on which they could work in groups on a project basis. The results were then presented in various forms (text or video) and a criteria-driven peer review enabled the students to examine the work of the other groups in-depth and provide extensive feedback.

Saints and Heroes from Christianization to Nationalism: Symbol, Image, Memory (Nord-West Russia, Baltic and Nordic countries)

“Saints and Heroes from Christianization to Nationalism: Symbol, Image, Memory (Nord-West Russia, Baltic and Nordic countries)”is a research project between the University of Greifswald and Saint-Petersburg State University which investigates the roles and impact of saints and heroes on the identities of groups and societies in the Baltic Sea region between the Middle Ages and modernity. Cults of saints in the Middle Ages were used for the formation of Christian identities directly after the Christianization of the northern and eastern regions of the Baltic Sea. After the Middle Ages, in the early modern period as well as the modern period, further mythologization of the cults of local saints took place and additionally, heroes were found in the past. Heroes were historical figures associated with a particular event, important for the formation of the image of a group’s identity. In the era of national romanticism, some of these rulers, military leaders or scholars were raised to the status of national heroes. Saints and heroes became symbolic figures in which fundamentally important images of local, ethnocultural and later national discourse were embodied and the emergence of an ‘imagined community’ became possible.

This project proposes the study of the evolution of images of medieval saints and heroes based in the Baltic Sea region from the Middle Ages to the early modern and modern period, thereby filling a gap of research on heroes which has been primarily focused on Western Europe. All Christian confessions (Catholicism, Protestantism, Orthodoxy) are represented here, paganism remained influential for a long time. The initial diversity of identities makes this region particularly interesting for comparative research, as well as the obvious differences in the preferences of chosen heroes: male or female, individuals or collectives, military or intellectual.

The aim of this project is a comparative analysis of key figures of national and local identity in the Baltic Sea region – basically, what qualified a person to become a hero for later periods. In some cases, this will mean the actual cult of personalities; in others, certain persons only lend their names to places of significance to a specific population. The comparison of these phenomena will gain deeper insights into the patterns of development of national and nationalistic cultures around the Baltic Sea and thus help explain differences in contemporary political culture. The geographical scope of the study is Northern Germany, Scandinavia, Southern Finland and Karelia, the Northwest lands of Russia, former Livonia (modern-day Estonia and Latvia), the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania (modern-day Lithuania and Belarus), Prussia and Pomerania of the Kingdom of Poland (Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth).

Principal Investigator (University of Greifswald) Prof. Dr. Cordelia Heß

Principal Investigator (Saint-Petersburg State University) Prof. Dr. Alexander Filyushkin

Researcher (University of Greifswald) PhD Gustavs Strenga

Funding period: 01.04.2021-31.03.2024

Funding: Joint funding scheme of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) and the Russian Science Foundation (RSF)

Heilige und Helden von der Christianisierung bis zum Nationalismus: Symbol, Bild, Erinnerung (nordwestliches Russland, baltische und nordische Länder) 

"Heilige und Helden von der Christianisierung bis zum Nationalismus: Symbol, Bild, Erinnerung (nordwestliches Russland, baltische und nordische Länder)" ist ein Forschungsprojekt zwischen der Universität Greifswald und der Staatlichen Universität Sankt Petersburg. Es untersucht die Rolle und den Einfluss von Heiligen und Helden auf die Identitäten von Gruppen und Gesellschaften im Ostseeraum zwischen dem Mittelalter und der Moderne. Heiligenkulte im Mittelalter wurden unmittelbar nach der Christianisierung der nördlichen und östlichen Ostseeregionen zur Bildung christlicher Identitäten genutzt. Nach dem Mittelalter, in der frühen Neuzeit und auch in der Moderne fand eine weitere Mythologisierung der Kulte lokaler Heiliger statt. Zusätzlich wurden Helden in der Vergangenheit gefunden, die mit einem bestimmten Ereignis in Verbindung gebracht wurden und für die Bildung des Identitätsbildes einer Gruppe wichtig waren. In der Ära der Nationalromantik wurden einige dieser Herrscher, Militärführer oder Gelehrte zu Nationalhelden erhoben. Heilige und Helden entpuppten sich als Symbolfiguren, in denen grundlegend wichtige Bilder des lokalen, ethnokulturellen und später nationalen Diskurses verkörpert wurden und dank derer die Entstehung einer "imaginierten Gemeinschaft" möglich wurde.

Das Projekt wird die Entwicklung von Bildern mittelalterlicher Heiliger und Helden aus dem Ostseeraum vom Mittelalter bis zur frühen Neuzeit und Moderne untersuchen und damit eine Lücke der bisher vor allem auf Westeuropa konzentrierten Heldenforschung füllen. Alle christlichen Konfessionen (Katholizismus, Protestantismus, Orthodoxie) sind im Ostseeraum vertreten, und auch das Heidentum blieb lange Zeit einflussreich. Die anfängliche Vielfalt der Identitäten macht diese Region für die vergleichende Forschung besonders interessant, ebenso wie die offensichtlichen Unterschiede in den Vorlieben der gewählten Helden: männlich oder weiblich, individuell oder kollektiv, militärisch oder intellektuell.

Ziel des Projektes ist eine vergleichende Analyse von Schlüsselfiguren der nationalen und lokalen Identität im Ostseeraum - im Grunde genommen, was eine Person dazu qualifizierte, für spätere Zeiten zum Helden zu werden. In einigen Fällen wird es sich dabei um den tatsächlichen Kult von Persönlichkeiten handeln, in anderen leihen bestimmte Personen nur ihren Namen für Orte, die für eine bestimmte Bevölkerung von Bedeutung sind. Der Vergleich dieser Phänomene soll tiefere Einblicke in die Entwicklungsmuster nationaler und nationalistischer Kulturen rund um die Ostsee ermöglichen und so helfen, Unterschiede in der zeitgenössischen politischen Kultur zu erklären. Der geographische Geltungsbereich der Studie umfasst Norddeutschland, Skandinavien, Südfinnland und Karelien, die nordwestlichen Gebiete Russlands, das ehemalige Livland (das heutige Estland und Lettland), das ehemalige Großfürstentum Litauen (das heutige Litauen und Weißrussland), Preußen und das Pommern des Königreichs Polen (Polnisch-Litauisches Commonwealth).

Projektleiterin (Universität Greifswald) Prof. Dr. Cordelia Heß

Projektleiter (Staatliche Universität Sankt Petersburg) Prof. Dr. Alexander Filyushkin

Forscher (Universität Greifswald) PhD Gustavs Strenga 

Förderungszeitraum: 01.04.2021-31.03.2024

Fördermittel: Gemeinsames Förderprogramm der Deutschen Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) und der Russian Science Foundation (RSF)

Mission Before Colonisation: A Reassessment of Religious Contact in Greenland and Sápmi, 1000-1550.

Contact between Arctic and Fennoscandic peoples and Christian settlers and traders had occurred several centuries before missionaries became agents of European expansionism. Early contact between the different groups is nevertheless primarily and inevitably interpreted as the beginnings of colonial domination, and rarely as part of a political and religious strategy consciously adopted by Indigenous peoples and analogous to, for example, the Christianisation of Scandinavian kings or the Scandinavian elite. Such an interpretation can be regarded as a projection of later early modern and modern perspectives of accomplished colonisation and structures of power whereby the Indigenous populations are exclusively treated as the strange, powerless and ‘heathen’ Other. As a consequence of this projection, a form of preordained European dominance and superiority is assumed, even at the time of the earliest encounters. It is significant to note that the interpretation of conversion to Christianity as a form of active cultural appropriation is not meant to minimise the destructive and often fatal effects that contact with the European majority religion had on Indigenous societies. Rather, the project highlights the importance of recognising that early contacts with Christianity and the familiarisation and adoption of a new belief system (including fragments of it) may have been the result of a variety of motives, including active Indigenous agency. The aim of the project is therefore to conduct a re-reading of the available written and material sources dating from 1000 to 1550 with the goal of writing a non-lachrymose history of religious contact in Greenland and Sápmi, while avoiding any apologetic descriptions of Northern colonialism as a “kinder” form of domination and exploitation. This will be achieved through a deconstruction of current historiography and a re-evaluation of the archaeological material, jointly anchored in postcolonial research methodologies as a theoretical and ethical backdrop. Through such an approach, more neutral narratives of conversion, as well as Indigenous narratives of agency and power, come into play.

Mission before colonisation is led by Professor Dr. Cordelia Heß (University of Greifswald), and the team consists of research assistant Dr. Solveig Marie Wang (University of Greifswald), a PhD candidate, as well as advisor of Arctic archaeology Dr. Christian Koch Madsen (Greenland National Museum and Archives). The project is funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation) and will be conducted over a three-year period (01.01.2020-31.12.2023).