Scholarly interest grew with the founding of the Estonian Alexander School and the Estonian Writer's Society, both headed by Jakob Hurt. Inspired by the Finnish Kalevala , Friedrich Robert Faehlmann outlined and Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald completed the Estonian epic Kalevipoeg , which was published from 1857 to 1861.Other aspects of culture were adapted from earlier usages and made "more Estonian" as older traditions such as the wearing of folk clothing and singing in the traditional style declined.Estonians have strong connections to local traditions related primarily to different dialects and reinforced by variations in customs and dress.
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Under these policies, approximately 17 percent of Estonians were converted to the Russian Orthodox religion.
Apart from the actual number of conversions, the policy suggested a cultural basis for challenging the domination of the Baltic Germans, who used religion to justify the socioeconomic status quo.
In 1857, a new newspaper, the Perno Postimees ( Pärnu Mailman ), published by Johannes Voldemar Jannsen, became the first publication to refer to "Estonian people" ( eesti rahvas ) instead of "country folk" and catered to a popular readership by publishing articles in colloquial Estonian that dealt with everyday concerns.
Other newspapers followed, including Sakala, edited by Carl Robert Jakobson.
The development of a written language was important to cultural awareness.
The first Estonian book was printed in 1535, and a Bible was published in 1739.
Place names have been traced to this period, suggesting a link between language and homeland.
The first written evidence of Estonian is in the Chronican Livoniae (1180–1227), which includes descriptions of the society and a selection of words and phrases.
Estonians referred to themselves as maarahvas ("country folk") and to a Baltic German as a saks (short for "German").