The Summer School on Estonian Cultural Heritage Abroad 2007

December 18, 2007

The summer school on Estonian cultural heritage abroad was held at Koke, Võru County, August 21-25, 2007. The summer school was organized by the working group of the Estonian archives abroad and the Karl Ristikivi Society.

While the 2006 Tartu conference on the Baltic archives abroad gave a preliminary overview of the Estonian cultural heritage abroad, the aim of the summer school was purely practical – to clarify what and how to collect as well as what and how to preserve so that future researchers can use it. The participants included volunteers working in the Estonian archives abroad and members of the Estonian communities in the United States, Australia, Canada, Russia, Germany, Finland, Sweden, Latvia and England interested in collecting and preserving cultural heritage of Estonians.

The summer school opened with a discussion on the theme Väliseestlus? Eksiil? Diasporaa? (“Expatriate Estonian? Exile? Diaspora?”) which sounded the participants about their linguistic feeling and preferences. Besides the participants professors Aadu Must and Tiina Kirss from Tartu University and Maie Barrow from the Estonian Archives in Australia took part in the discussion led by Janika Kronberg, the director of the Estonian Literary Museum. Dissecting the topic the participants came to the conclusion that defining Estonians at home and abroad has throughout times depended on the position of both the definer and the defined as well as on the political context in which the issues of nationalism are currently dealt with. The language is a dynamic and multilayered phenomenon, and choices of words depend on a concrete time and situation. The use of the word väliseestlane (expatriate Estonian) did not seem to cause overly painful reactions in the participants, though it did evoke different personal attitudes and interpretations.

The programme included lectures and practical trainings during which specialists from the National Archives, the Estonian Literary Museum, the Estonian National Museum and the Tallinn University Academic Library shared their knowledge about how to collect, describe, catalogue and preserve the collections. The IT company Portal Invest Ltd. conducted training for the editors of the home pages of the Estonian archives abroad. The concept of the information portal Baltic Heritage Network was also presented as well as the Internet edition of the proceedings of the 2006 Tartu conference on the Baltic archives abroad in Estonian, English, and Latvian.

During five days everybody had enough time to discuss problems in archive work, exchange experience, make contacts, and plan for future. The summer school at Koke was certainly very useful. The acquired knowledge helps Estonians living abroad not only more consciously organize collecting and preserving their cultural heritage but also better interpret their work.

The summer school was sponsored by the Compatriot Program.

Kaja Haukanõmm
member of the working group of the Estonian archives abroad