Language studies have been an integral part of Vilnius University’s curriculum since the establishment of Vilnius Jesuit College in 1570. Back then, the primary language taught was Latin alongside Ancient Greek and Hebrew. Thus, even though the Faculty of Philology was established as recently as 1944, language studies were being taught even before the Jesuit College became a university in 1579.
The University’s academics were also interested in the Lithuanian language, which was still considered a colloquial language in the 17thcentury, as official state documents were in Latin, Ruthenian, and Polish. Konstantinas Sirvydas (1579 – 1631), a writer, linguist, and Vilnius University alumnus, wrote “A Dictionary of Three Languages”, the first printed dictionary of Lithuanian. Sirvydas’ work became the foundation of Lithuanian lexicology and linguistics.
In 1803, literary studies gained an increased status as the newly approved Statute of Vilnius Imperial University established four faculties: Physics and Mathematics, Medicine, Moral and Political Sciences, and Literature and Liberal Arts. Courses on rhetoric, poetry, Greek, Latin, Russian, and literature were taught at the latter faculty and were attended by students who later became prominent and internationally renowned Lithuanian scholars and writers, including Simonas Daukantas, Simonas Stanevičius, Adomas Mickevičius among others. In 1817, the faculty’s students also established the then-secret Philomathic Society, which is still active today in its modern iteration.
Despite early instances of linguistic scholarship, proper teaching in Lithuanian studies and philological studies in general only began in the 20th century, when in 1919, one year after the Declaration of Lithuanian Independence, the Faculty of Humanities was established. Jan Otrębski, a professor at the faculty, gave the first lectures on Lithuanian grammar, interpreting Mikalojus Daukša’s “Postilla cathocila”, Lithuanian dialectology, analysing texts in Lithuanian, and the morphology of Baltic languages.
After Vilnius University was closed in 1922, the Faculty of Humanities was relocated to Kaunas State University, where philology courses were taught by Jonas Jablonskis, Mykolas Biržiška, Jonas Tumas-Vaižgantas, Vincas Krėvė-Mickevičius, and Balys Sruoga among others. Twenty years later, in 1939, the Faculty of Humanities returned to Vilnius, with Vincas Mykolaitis-Putinas as the dean. In 1944, the faculty of History and Philology was established, and in 1953, students were first admitted to study the Lithuanian language and literature, and the Russian language and literature. There were also evening studies of English and literature and German and literature.
In 1968, the Faculty of History and Philology was divided into two faculties that still operate today as separate faculties of History and Philology. After the restoration of the independence of Lithuania in 1990, 5 new departments were established: Baltic Studies, Lithuanian Studies, Polish Philology (currently the Centre of Polish Studies), Scandinavian Studies (currently the Centre of Scandinavian Studies), and Translation Studies.
As the courses, professors, and students of Vilnius University changed, so did the University. Throughout time, the University received or acquired many new buildings, some of them built from the ground up and some refurbished from old inns and stables. Many buildings differ in their architectural style, and passageways had to be made between them, yet they still comprise the old central campus of Vilnius University with its 13 unique historical courtyards, the majority of which is occupied by the Faculty of Philology.