The Baltic Way: History and Culture in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania 1918–2018

display poster for exhibit "The Baltic Way"

Stanford Libraries’ new exhibit considers 100 years of Baltic history

In partnership with the Hoover Institution Library & Archives, Stanford Libraries presents The Baltic Way, an exhibition that aims to tell the complicated history of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in the twentieth century, and considers their prospects and challenges in the twenty-first. The Baltic Way: History and Culture in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania 1918–2018 will open May 10 and run through August 18, 2018 in the Cecil H. Green Library, Bing Wing, on the Stanford campus.

The exhibition is presented in two parts. A chronological narrative, presented in Green Library’s Peterson Gallery, begins with the run-up to the First World War and concludes with the three countries’ liberation from the Soviet Union in 1991. Aspects of Baltic culture and heritage, such as the region’s rich song traditions, reverence for nature, and penchant for innovation, are featured in the nearby Munger Rotunda.

The exhibit’s title, The Baltic Way, commemorates the 1989 Baltic Way protest, in which people in all three countries linked hands to demand independence from the USSR. The protest took place on the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the agreement between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union that ended the first period of the independence of the Baltic republics.The Baltic Way also celebrates the three countries’ uniquely Baltic cultural heritage. 

Stanford Libraries and Hoover Institution Library & Archives staff worked together to create the exhibition using materials from their respective collections related to the history and culture of the Baltic region. The showdraws heavily on the Hoover Archives’ significant historical collections including posters, photographs, correspondence, and official documents, supplemented by the Stanford Libraries’ holdings of publications, oral histories, and personal archives of U.S. immigrants from the Baltic region. Also included are photographs from the traveling exhibit Becoming Post Soviet: Nationhood as Experience in Lithuania(Yale University)and items on loan from Baltic enterprises in Silicon Valley.

The exhibition takes visitors through the Baltic countries’ tumultuous history of autonomy, recurrent occupations, resistance, liberation, and concern for the future. Postcard images, from a Red Cross album in the Hoover Archives collection, document post-WWI living conditions in repurposed Latvian bunkers and ruins. A map, paired with photographs, represents the post-war feeding stations established in Estonia by the American Relief Administration. A photograph of Stalin smiling in 1939 is displayed beneath a poster image of a Lithuanian flag laid across railroad tracks, commemorating the 1941 Soviet deportation of thousands of Lithuanians to Siberia. Photographs and letters preserved by displaced persons who fled to the U.S. in the aftermath of WWII demonstrate the journey, hopes, and struggles to preserve cultural heritage of those who took refuge. Back in the Baltics, resistance to occupation continued in subtle and overt ways, intensifying in the 1980s. A series of images of tattooed and pierced Estonian punks demonstrates the defiance of youth, while photographs of street protests and clashes with armed military personnel attest to the hard-won nature of liberation. 

“This exhibition is a powerful reminder of the threats to the Baltic region that unfortunately continue to confront Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and even Finland.  However, the exhibit is testimony to the extraordinary transformation the Baltic states have undergone after regaining independence in 1991,” said Michael Keller, the Ida M. Green University Librarian at Stanford. “Freedom and democracy in those nations have permitted and encouraged artistic, economic, technological, agricultural, social, educational, and cultural advances of extraordinary magnitude.”

The Baltic Way shows the incredible story of the people of these three countries who, in the face of decades-long hardships and suffering, have continued to treasure freedom and democratic values. It is the constant yearning for freedom and the will to fight for it that have taken the Baltic states where they are today – independent countries often praised as role-models of democracy and innovation,” said Keller. 

Keller also notes how the exhibition demonstrates how the Libraries’ collections and those at the Hoover Institution complement one another, offering scholars valuable resources, from materials that reflect the region’s history and culture to those that document the vast transformation of the Baltic states after 1991. 

The Baltic Waywas co-curated by Liisi Esse, Associate Curator for Estonian and Baltic Studies, Stanford Libraries, and David Jacobs, Hoover Institution Library & Archives project archivist, and produced by Special Collections exhibits designer Becky Fischbach. Katrīna Kalniņa and Natasha Porfirenko assisted with research and item selection.

In conjunction with the exhibition, Stanford Libraries will host an international Baltic studies conference celebrating the 100th anniversary of independence for the Baltic republics from June 1-3. The 2018 AABS Conference at Stanford University: The 100th Anniversary of Baltic Independence will feature four keynote talks and 130panels, roundtable discussions, and workshops on 15 broad topics. Several cultural events, receptions, and tours of the Stanford campus will also be offered.

CONTACT: Gabrielle Karampelas;; 650-497-4417

Liisi Esse;; 650-736-4724        
Becky Fischbach;; 650-725-1020

Note: Exhibit cases in the Peterson Gallery and Munger Rotunda are illuminated from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. The library and exhibit will be closed on Sundays June 17 and July 4. Visitors are encouraged to call 650-723-0931 or visit confirm hours.