In this study, a sample of Estonian and Russian ABC-books published in Estonia between 1900 and 1997 was examined to reveal whether the content and discourse of these primary media have been adjusted to cultural and ideological changes in the 20th-century Estonia. It was assumed that primers manifest knowledge, beliefs and values that are socially shared and taken for granted by educators as well as in the society as a whole. Institutional dynamics, cultural milieu, role division by gender, and representation of nationalities were the objects of the quantitative content analysis of illustrations. For the analysis of topics and values in the primers, qualitative text analysis was applied. Construction of identities related to homeland, home and religion was scrutinised by the use of sociosemiotic discourse analysis.
The main conclusion is that Estonian ABC-books have reflected cultural and ideological changes in the society: we can detect conformity rather than resistance with regard to the dynamics of the social system. It is possible to observe a pattern that can be labelled modernization under ideological influences - hegemonic impulses proceeding from the shifts in political order have interfered with the slow wave of cultural modernization. Russian ABC-books published in Estonia are in many aspects similar to their Estonian counterparts.