News in brief:

The International Seminar «Oral History as the Reflector of Societal Change and Emerging Cultural Differences and Values»

May 11 -13, 2000 University of Tartu, the Chair of Estonian and Comparative Folklore. Projekt coordinator Ph.D. Tiiu Jaago.Supported by Open Estonia Foundation grant no. E00-3.01-03-02-03.

In today's society it is important to understand the (social, ethnic, occupational, etc.) idiosyncrasies of minorities, their adaptation at a certain point of time in a certain cultural area, because society is oriented to integration, not the assimilation of ethnic minorities. Each geographical region is also a region with unique and distinctive historical experience. At the end of the 20th century man perceives his uniqueness and also the need to share his knowledge with the rest of the world. The Estonians, like other nations from the former Soviet Union, are driven by something else: they feel the need to talk about things they were not allowed to talk about before. «This is real life, not history,» said a woman who described me the events of World War II in Tartu.

The main goal of the project was to organise an international interdisciplinary seminar on oral history in Tartu, on the following reasons: 1) the cultural research of the 1990s has resulted in numerous studies in Estonia and its neighbouring countries, and it was time for comparing and generalising these isolated works; 2) researchers from different fields of science have studied individual biographies, which reflect the narrators' past experience, but it is not known what conclusion could one or another field of science draw from these stories; 3) the practical need for generalisation arises from the topicality of the subject (life story days, family days, research into genealogy, seminars on curing souls; integration and social politics; university curriculum, etc.); it is also important to standardise terminology. The English term 'oral history' has no counterpart in the Estonian language, in my opinion it should be translated as 'pärimuslik ajalugu' (heritageted history), since written narrative history has occupied an important place in the Estonian tradition (unlike the tradition of the United States, the birth place of the term 'oral history') and there is no reason for distinguishing the oral history from the written forms of history.

On May 11, Rutt Hinrikus (scholar of literature and the chairperson of the society Estonian Life Stories «Eesti Elulood») gave a presentation of the collection and the publications of life stories in the archives of the Estonian Literature Museum. The collection «Eesti Elulood» volumes I-II attracted particular attention and approval.

Reports delivered on May 12-13 could be divided in three thematic groups: (1) the peaks of human life in the late 20th century oral history; (2) the oral history of social and ethnic minorities (biographies of the deaf, for example); (3) the oral history concerning recent historical events. Adopting a foreign culture and language is possible only through understanding one's own.

A genealogical study of school children from Maardu and East-Virumaa «Who am I?» conducted by Reet Filippov and Karin Undrits was presented. The genealogical study treated the self-identity of Estonian Russians. On the basis of the study, Merle Karusoo has staged a performance.

The seminar concluded with an unusual sightseeing tour in Tartu guided by Kalev Jaago, the archivist at the Estonian History Archives. He introduced Tartu from the viewpoint of oral history, connecting the sites with certain people.

The electronic version of the seminar proceedings «Pärimuslik ajalugu» in Estonian and Oral History as the Reflector of Societal Change and Emerging Cultural Differences and Values in English. is available on the address A collection of seminar proceedings in Estonian and English will be published in 2001.

Tiiu Jaago, Tartu

Kalev Jaago and Tiiu Jaago. Photo by Arvo Tarmula 2000.