Information Day on Archival Matters in Hamburg, January 19, 2008

February 19, 2008

On January 19, 2008 an information day on archival matters was held in Hamburg, Germany. The information day was organized by the working group of the Estonian archives abroad and the Academic Society of Hamburg Estonians, a member of the Estonian Society in the Federal Republic of Germany.

Similar information days, which introduce the activities of the working group of the Estonian archives abroad and provide training in archival matters, have earlier been held in Stockholm (March 19, 2006) and St. Petersburg (March 17, 2007). This time the participants gathered in Hamburg on 18-21 January by the invitation of the Academic Society of Hamburg Estonians.

The information day was held in the premises of the Finnish Seamen’s Mission. The members of the working group gave talks on archival matters and answered the participants’ questions. After mutual introductions Piret Noorhani (Estonian National Museum) gave a paper titled ”Preserving Estonian Cultural Heritage Abroad: Experiences and Future Plans”. She introduced the concept of the working group of the Estonian archives abroad, its achievements and future plans, the Compatriot Program, the existing archives in expatriate Estonian communities and their experiences. In her paper ”Establishing and Keeping the Archives of a Society: Guidelines for Document and Archival Management” Tiiu Kravtsev (Estonian State Archives) advised how to establish archives. She talked about the main types of documents in the archives of societies and about structuring, arranging and preserving archives etc. Merike Kiipus’s (Estonian Literary Museum) paper ”On the Preservation of Paper Documents from the Perspective of an Archival Library” continued the topic.  M. Kiipus presented a thorough insight into the organizing principles of libraries and touched upon the requirements of storage conditions and preservation work.

The feedback from the audience revealed that Estonians’ main problem in their archival work is the shortage of money, time, and premises. At the same time, however, they are interested in collecting and preserving their cultural heritage. What they need is information and advise from experts on how to organize and preserve archives-in-progress.

From the Finnish Seamen’s Mission the participants headed for the Hamburg office of Enterprise Estonia in the city centre. The walk from the church to the office turned out to be, thanks to Liilika M. Allev’s brilliant and proficient guiding, a refreshing and cultivating breathing spell before the last presentation. Using the excellent internet connection of Enterprise Estonia Birgit Kibal (Estonian National Archives) gave a talk titled ”Data Bases of the State Archives in the Service of Amateur Historians (Researching One’s Family Tree)”. She introduced the Saga web project of the Archives that is of great help to those wishing to study their family tree.

On January 20 the working group visited Kaja Telschow in Bad Oldesloe. K. Telschow, a former employee of the Tallinn City Archives who is now teaching at the University of Hamburg, gave an overview of the archives of the Estonian Society in the Federal Republic of Germany in Berlin that she had helped to arrange. Some general problems concerning the preservation of the cultural heritage of German Estonians also came up in the discussion. The group concluded that it is necessary to get a more accurate survey of the collections of archival value.

After the rest of the group had set off for home, its leader Piret Noorhani continued for Aachen and Cologne. In Aachen she met Sulo Rosenthal, Mare Rahkema and Merike Miländer to discuss the compiling and publishing of the jubilee album of the Estonian Society in the Federal Republic of Germany. A great deal of preparatory work has already been done; now it needs to be brought to a successful end. Estonian colleagues are willing to make their own contribution to enable the publication of the album by ESTO 2009.

After that Piret Noorhani met the chairwoman of the Estonian Society of Cologne Mare Rahkema and member Triinu England to advise how to arrange the society’s archives. In 2007 the Estonian Society of Cologne received financial support from the Compatriot Program for putting their archives in order, which has been used very purposefully. As such their archival project could serve as an example and inspiration to other expatriate Estonian communitites. During the meeting the creation of a home page that would gather together the cultural heritage of German Estonians was also discussed.

The visit to Germany was important and useful in many respects. The hosts received information about what has been done for preserving Estonian cultural heritage abroad in other Estonian communities and at home. The advise given by the members of the working group should help German Estonians more consciously and effectively organize their archives. The established contacts enable them to get advise and help from Estonia in solving problems that might come up in their archival work. It was pleasant to experience that also the younger generation, so-called new expatriate Estonians, had interest and sense of responsibility. This could guarantee the preservation of the most essential part of German Estonians’ cultural heritage and thereby the preservation of Estonianness as well. The visit provided the members of the working group with essential additional knowledge about the archival collections of German Estonians. It is to be hoped that the plans made together will be realized. To achieve this, the working group wishes its partners in Germany energy and patience.

The working group is very grateful to Mare Rahkema, Riina Leminsky, Liilika M. Allev and all others who contributed to the success of the meetings. We would also like to thank the Compatriot Program for financial support.

Karin Kiisk
Piret Noorhani