Stanford Libraries and Vabamu launch online exhibit on freedom and the history of Estonia

April 25, 2022
Liisi Esse
Hidden Estonian flag, ca. 1939-1940. Vabamu Museum of Occupations and Freedom Key Artifacts Collection, 1939-1991:

Stanford Libraries and Vabamu have launched a new online exhibit, “The Aim is Freedom: A History of Occupations and Independence in Estonia." The exhibit, which was curated by making use of Stanford's online exhibit platform Spotlight, draws material from Vabamu's collection of manuscripts and artifacts and explains the historical events through personal stories. The exhibit introduces the history of Estonia during the Nazi and Soviet occupations and describes the story of the restoration of Estonia’s independence in the 1980s and 1990s.

Piret Karro, Vabamu’s Curator and Exhibitions Manager commented, “With the exhibition, we can make key objects of Vabamu's collections accessible as well as introduce Estonia’s recent history in the years 1939–1991 internationally. Visitors to the online exhibition will learn about the turbulent changes of power between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia during World War II, they will learn about the tools and systems that were used to maintain a totalitarian regime. The exhibition ends with the 1980-1990s by telling the story of the Singing Revolution and showing how Estonians organized effectively to restore their independence. The online exhibition showcases personal stories that give an insight into the restoration of Estonian freedom.”

Students from Tallinn, Tartu, and Stanford helped to put together the exhibition during their internships at Vabamu. Anna-Kristiina Pae, a student at the Institute of Cultural Sciences of the University of Tartu said, “Thanks to this experience, I got a better overview of what it means to work in a museum, how a project is being prepared, and what cooperation between different organizations looks like."

The joint exhibit was the culmination of SUL's and Vabamu's recent collaborative digitization project, in which SUL acquired digital files of 200 artifacts that represent key holdings of the Vabamu collections. During the project, SUL and Vabamu produced new English-language metadata for the material, enhancing global access to the content. The collection is publicly accessible at Stanford Libraries as the Vabamu Museum of Occupations and Freedom Key Artifacts Collection, 1939-1991

Vabamu is the largest active non-profit museum in Estonia. Vabamu’s mission is to educate the people of Estonia and its visitors about the recent past, sense the fragility of freedom, and advocate for justice and the rule of law. It was founded by Olga Kistler-Ritso, an Estonian-American refugee, in partnership with the Estonian government, to support her wish that Estonia never again be occupied by a foreign power. Vabamu's Patron, President Lennart Meri, declared Vabamu to be “Freedom’s House."

Vabamu's team is thankful to student interns who helped with the project: Karolina Frei and Karl-Erik Laurents from Tallinn University, Oskar Poll and Anna-Kristiina Pae from the University of Tartu, and Barbara Florence Sanford and Michael Byrne Carragee from Stanford University.