(28 February 1922 – 28 October 1993)
Juri Lotman, who established the Department of Semiotics in the University of Tartu, was the founder of the Tartu-Moscow school of semiotics and one of the leading figures of cultural semiotics. As a thinker who contributed to the study of literature, theories of culture and history, and semiotics, he was known both for his deep knowledge of histories of culture and a refined theoretical sense. One of the main purposes of the Department of Semiotics is to preserve, study, and develop the tradition of Juri Lotman and the Tartu-Moscow school.
The basic premise of cultural semiotics, which Juri Lotman helped establish, is that cultures can be seen as intertwined complex of semiotic, that is, meaningful systems, or in Lotman’s own words: “Semiotics of culture is a field that studies the mutual interaction of semiotic systems of differing structures, the internal unevenness of the semiotic space, the inevitability of semiotic polyglottism.” This entire interaction between signs systems and meaningful processes he called the “semiosphere”, and to study it he developed a corresponding methodology, in order to view such cultural multilinguality as being comprised of secondary modelling systems.
Juri Lotman’s long scientific career took him from structural analyses of artistic texts and from typologies of culture to the study of the unpredictable, explosive dynamics of cultural change, all supported by a wealth of analyses of literature, film, 19th century Russian culture and history, and many other topics. And it is precisely this plurality of cultural phenomena, their relations, occasional contradictions, in brief, the dynamics of cultural multiplicity, which is the main field of research in the Department of Semiotics today.
Juri Lotman’s writings are being continually published even today. There have been several translations into English, such as Culture and Explosion (2009), Universe of the Mind (1990), The Structure of the Artistic Text (1977), and others. The basics of cultural semiotics as a new field of research are presented in the Theses of the Semiotic Study of Cultures (as Applied to Slavic Texts) (1975). Juri Lotman also established the now oldest journal of semiotics, the Sign Systems Studies, first published in 1964.
Lotman's epistolary archive - letters from and to Lotman, stored in the Library of Tartu University; includes a detailed biography
A few writings by Juri Lotman [the number in parentheses refers to the number in the list of Juri Lotman's publications in English]:
 Lotman, Juri 1979. Culture as collective intellect and the problems of artificial intelligence. (Shukman, Ann, trans.) In: O’Toole, Lawrence Michael; Shukman, Ann (eds.), Dramatic Structure: Poetic and Cognitive Semantics. (Russian Poetics in Translation 6.) Oxford: Holdan Books, 84–96.