Summer school “Estonian Cultural Heritage Abroad II”

August 26, 2008

The traditional summer school ”Estonian Cultural Heritage Abroad II” was held in Käsmu on June 17-22, 2008. The summer school was organized by the Baltic Heritage Network’s Estonian working group. Also this time the summer school was sponsored by the Compatriot Program (Estonian Ministry of Education and Research).

Two years running the working group has organized a summer school on archival matters, which this time was held at Laane boardinghouse in Käsmu, North Estonia. The summer school is meant for the Estonians living abroad engaged in collecting and preserving the cultural heritage of the Estonian diaspora. Volunteers working in the Estonian archives abroad as well as other members of Estonian communities interested in collecting and preserving cultural heritage, in the East or in the West, are welcome. This year there were altogether 50 participants from nine countries (USA, Australia, Canada, Latvia, Sweden, Great Britain, Germany, Russia, Estonia). Some had already participated in the 2007 summer school at Koke, Võru County, others were first-timers. The institutions represented included the Estonian Archives in the United States, the Estonian Archives in Australia, the Tartu Institute Archives and Library (Toronto), the Estonian National Congress in Sweden, the Estonian Society of Cologne, the Karelian Cultural Centre, the Karelian National Archives, the Immigration History Research Center (Minnesota), the Estonian Heritage Club in Canada, the Estonian House in New York and the St. Petersburg Estonian Cultural Society.

The six days of the summer school were filled with both serious work and active leisure. On the first day the participants arrived and settled in; the main program of the day consisted of a tour in the neighbourhood guided by professor emeritus Enn Tarvel (Käsmu, Palmse, Sagadi, Vihula, Altja and back to Käsmu along the coastal road). On Wednesday 18 June serious work started. The first three days were thematical: the digitization of cultural heritage, cultural heritage and legal issues, collecting and researching life stories. The themes had been chosen according to the wishes of the participants of the 2007 summer school. The fourth day was planned as a free forum where everybody could take the floor or present a paper.

On June 18 Koit Saarevet (National Archives) launched the digitization theme with his paper ”Scanning and Digitizing with Simple Means”. The next speakers dealt with more specific areas: Ivi Tomingas (Film Archives) talked about the digitization of photo collections, Maido Selgmäe (Estonian National Museum) introduced the digitization of film collections and Jaan Tamm (Estonian Literary Museum) gave a thorough overview of the digitization of sound recordings. The evening hours were filled by the movie Young Eagles, an impressive example of Estonian film history.

The next day was dedicated to legal issues. Hanno Vares (National Archives) talked about cultural heritage and the protection of personal data and Anne Kalvi (Tartu University) clarified cultural heritage and copyright issues. In addition Elizabeth Haven Hawley (Immigration History Research Center) introduced legal issues of the American archives in her paper in English.

As by the end of the day the heavy rain clouds had cleared away and even the sun peeped out the participants managed to take a walk in Käsmu and learn more about this beautiful place. They were guided by Anto Juske, an expert on Käsmu’s history and legends.

On June 20 Tiina Ann Kirss (Tartu University), Rutt Hinrikus (Estonian Literary Museum) and Riina Reinvelt (Estonian National Museum) shared their knowledge of collecting and researching life stories. Tiina Kirss led in the topic by making the participants contemplate on the importance of life stories as ’minor’ history and sharing her experience of collecting the life stories of Toronto Estonians. Rutt Hinrikus gave an overview of collecting life stories in Estonia and of the activities of the Association for Estonian Life Stories. Riina Reinvelt talked about biographical interviews with Estonians living abroad. She advised the listeners on how to conduct an interview, illustrating with examples from the collected materials. The life stories day ended with a nostalgic ’evening of memories’ where the participants shared their own memories on the topics ”My First Trip Abroad” and ”My First Visit to Estonia”.

On the free forum day the participants had an opportunity to introduce their own doings and discuss future cooperation. There was also a training for the editors of the home pages of the Estonian archives abroad. The talks were given by Piret Noorhani (about the Baltic Heritage Network), Jaak Viller (about the activities and future of the Compatriot Program), Anne Valmas (about the Centre for Estonian Literature Abroad at the Tallinn University Academic Library), Aleksander Sünter (about the Estonian Folk Music Centre), Anne-Ly Reima and Kaja Kumer-Haukanõmm (about the conference on the role of the diaspora in re-establishing Estonia’s independence) and Elena Usatcheva (about the National Archives of the Karelian Republic and the Karelian Estonian Society ”Ochag”). Tiina Tamman from England introduced her research on August Torma. The translator Ruta Karma from Latvia gave a reading of the Latvian writer Inga Abele’s short story ”Käsmu” inspired by the writers impressions of the place. Anne Valmas’s new publication Väliseesti mälestusteraamatud. Kirjanduse nimestik. (Exile Estonian Memoirs. A Catalogue.) was also presented.

In the day-time old Thor put up an emotional spectacle of changing rain and hail torrents; in the evening, however, the spirits rose to the skies at a joyful final party. The participants sang popular songs, old and new, led by a famous Estonian composer Veljo Tormis and accompanied by Aleksander Sünter and his instruments by turns. Lottery prizes in support of BaltHerNet were also drawn. The first prize, free participance in 2009 BaltHerNet conference, was won by Maie Barrow, head of the Estonian Archives in Australia.

The final talks on Sunday summarized all the thoughts and sentiments of the summer school. It is essential to meet regularly in order to learn new things, share experiences and make contacts to strengthen future cooperation. Those dedicated to the preservation of Estonian cultural heritage understand well the importance of the synergy and motive power generated by cooperation. Several participants wished to join Baltic Heritage Network in order to support its aims and develop cooperation in preserving the Estonian and Baltic heritage abroad.

In 2009 Baltic Heritage Network will organize an international conference instead of a summer school, to be held in Tartu on 7-10 July. The conference is a continuation of the 2006 Tartu Conference on the Baltic Archives Abroad.

Karin Kiisk

See also: Sydney Archivists in Käsmu Summer 2008 & Suvekool „Eesti kultuuripärand võõrsil II“