On June 27th Stanford University Libraries in partnership with Baltic Heritage Network, National Archives of Estonia and VEMU/Estonian Studies Center in Toronto held a conference on collecting and researching Estonians abroad.
Estonian Minister of Culture Rein Lang gave a talk about Estonian museums with particular emphasis on legislation and the database www.muis.ee, which reflects the collections of Estonian museums. Tõnis Lukas, director of the Estonian National Museum focused his presentation on diaspora Estonian museum collections and their potential.
Piret Noorhani, chief archivist at the Toronto-based Estonian Studies Centre and VEMU, spoke about Baltic Heritage Network as a mediator of archives, museums and other memory institutions that have holdings pertaining to the Baltic diaspora. She also elaborated on www.balther.net which is the most comprehensive portal for finding information on Estonian materials outside of Estonia. The Baltic Heritage Network is active in facilitating cooperation between community members and heritage specialists through summer schools, conferences, seminars and archival assistance. The next speaker Maarja Merivoo-Parro shared her insights on both Baltic Heritage Network and the Immigration History Research Center as a board member and young diaspora researchers seminar organizer in the former and a Fulbright scholar in the latter. She focused on exploring the realm of possible outputs for diaspora research. The
National Archives of Estonia was represented by the Head of the Acquisitions Department Tiiu Kravtsev and public relations adviser Birgit Kibal who provided an overview of the present state of Estonian archives. They also introduced original databases to be found at www.ra.ee Researchers can use these free of charge to get access to thousands of digitized archival materials regarding Estonians in Estonia and abroad. The National Archives offers archival assistance to diaspora communities and is currently developing a database specifically designed for Estonian archives outside of Estonia.
The next speaker was Taavi Kotka, Deputy Secretary General for Communication and State Information Systems at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications. He took the audience on a journey of the dangers and possibilities of the digital world all the while emphasizing memory institutions’ need to keep up with wider developments in the IT world. He then yielded the floor to hosts Liisi Eglit from Stanford University Libraries and David Jacobs from the Hoover Institution. Liisi provided the listeners information about the Estonian collection at Stanford. One of her missions as Assistant Curator of Estonian and Baltic collections is to collect literature, periodicals and archival materials about the history and present of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Archivist David Jacobs focused his presentation on the Baltic collections at Hoover Institution and brought out that Estonian-themed materials were among the first ones that were registered as holdings. Now the Hoover Institution has several fascinating Estonia-related documents on a wide array of topics, for example Radio Free Europe, Displaced Persons camps and Karl Robert Pusta.
The conference confirmed that Estonian archives are doing very well with regard to digitalization. It also became obvious that there is still a lot of confusion in diaspora communities about what is valuable and deserves preservation and what is not. Too often extremely unique material such as diaries, letters and postcards are discarded to make room for printed material, some of which is not considered rare at all. It is crucial that members of diasporas always consult with professionals from the Baltic Heritage Network, Estonian National Archives, Stanford University or University of Minnesota, who are aware of each others collections and can give good advice as to what can be done with materials.
There is hope that the three large repositories of Estonian materials in the US – the Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota, Stanford University Libraries and the Hoover Institution will begin to coordinate activities with one another in order to create a system that would help donors of materials as well as researchers in the planning of their activities.