LETI Heroes: Peter Emanuel Hansen

LETI Heroes: Peter Emanuel Hansen

Read about the extraordinary life of Peter Emanuel Hansen (1846-1930), LETI professor and Danish-Russian literary figure.

02.09.2021 430

The 135th anniversary of LETI is a good occasion to recall the glorious history of the university and the people who made it. There are famous names - Popov, Graftio, Vologdin. Their bearers have become "icons" of new technologies that drove Russia to the forefront of world progress. 

However, there is another interesting, though not so widely-known, person in the LETI history. By the beginning of the 20th century, he had practiced what the modern higher school sees as its development vector. It was the teacher of our university Peter Emanuel Hansen or Peter Gotfridovich Hansen, as he was addressed in Russia.

Peter was born on October 12, 1846, in Copenhagen, into the merchant's family, which assumed a career in commerce – an excellent prospect of a prosperous life in 19th century Denmark. But our hero realized himself in such professions and places that his parents hardly knew about.

Education Peripeteia

Even by modern standards, Peter's education could be seen as "trendy." Studying at the Danish practical school, also known as the School of Civic Virtues, Peter got interested in humanities. Literature, philosophy, art history, and the English language, coupled with the basic physics (used in his later telegraph operator career), constitute an interdisciplinary set of disciplines that a modern "universal student" is to master.

Breaking the pattern

On graduating from school, Peter prepares for the actor's career. This decision contradicts family traditions and values taught in the School of Civic Virtues. In the 19th century, acting was not a prestigious profession, but the young man sets the bar high – at the age of 19, he successfully debuted in the Royal Theatre and combined acting with studies at the University of Copenhagen. Peter attended lectures on literature, art history, philosophy. It was in the Royal Theatre, where Hans Christian Andersen himself presented him a book of fairy tales with the author’s dedication. For several years Peter paves a blissful career track, but a voice issue interfered with acting and Peter's life changed 180 degrees. Now he studies skills of telegraph communication.

How Peter turned into Petr Gotfridovich

In 1871, Peter Hansen moved to Russia as an employee of the "Big Northern Telegraph Society" (Det Store Nordiske Telegraf-Selskab). The Russian Empire was an excellent platform for a new career, and now it was the career of a telegraph operator.

Ten years with telegraphy in small and large cities of Siberia after the Danish Royal Theatre - this was another school finished with honors. Practicing the then-advanced communication technologies and introducing them into Russian practices, Peter studied Russian, and not the bookish language, but lively and expressive. He made the first Russian literature translations into Danish, which later made him famous in his homeland. His first published translation of Ivan Goncharov's "A Common Story" was presented to the former Danish princess and, later, Empress Maria Feodorovna, wife of Alexander III.

Northern Capital and Electrotechnical Institute

In 1881, Hansen moved to St. Petersburg, getting a job in the City Telegraph Office. He teaches and soon becomes the head of one of the first telegraph schools at the Main Telegraph Station of St. Petersburg – another successful career path seemed to shape out. But the spirit of interdisciplinarity drives the 35-year-old Petr Gotfridovich to new endeavors: he is not only a translator who introduced Leo Tolstoy and Ivan Goncharov to the Danish reader, and Andersen, Ibsen, and Knut Hamsun – to the Russian reader, he is an innovator in education, the developer of the advanced method for group training of the Morse code machine operators: common table combined with individual workplaces. His method of group-individual work is in use for the second century in the run. Influenced by the ideas of Leo Tolstoy, journalist Hansen wrote socio-political essays for the Danish press, e.g., "The Experience of Village Recovery." In parallel with that, Petr Gotfridovich established himself as the talented teacher of English and author of textbooks that have been used by many generations of ETI students. Today, сopies of Hansen's works are kept in the main libraries of Russia.

Epilogue for the future

Petr Gotfridovich Hansen worked in the Electrotechnical Institute from 1886 till 1906. Then he added still another career track – manager of social programs and projects within the governmental department supervised by Empress Maria Feodorovna. In parallel with that, his submergence into writing and translations continued. It was his final professional track, which he followed last 30 years of his life, in Russia (until 1917) and Denmark.

Why does the example of Peter Hansen, a hero of his time, deserves the close attention of students and young scientists of LETI? Maybe, because he continued as the Universal Student through his life? Like the Renaissance genius, he insistently tried himself in diverse fields and technologies. Working with the telegraph key, he was thinking about sharing the skill with others in a most efficient way; in personal communication with Leo Tolstoy, he grasped all nuances of the writer’s thoughts and ideas to deliver them in his native language; he taught English, tuning future engineers for work on the global level. And, what really matters, Peter Hansen devoted several years of his life to our university, showing that the First Electrotechnical is the basis and start of an interesting life with interdisciplinary applications!