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Overviews of the Collections

Estonian Collections at the Library of Congress

Taru Spiegel
Reference Specialist

The European Reading Room provides direct access to a number of reference works on Estonia, such as dictionaries, encyclopedias, atlases, histories, biographical directories, bibliographies, and other reference materials. The reading room makes available for onsite use numerous bibliographic databases and full-text resources, a number of which contain citations or texts pertaining to Estonia, e.g., ISI Emerging Markets.

The General Collections

The Library's general collections of monographs, bound periodicals, and annuals include approximately 8,300 titles from or about Estonia. The number rises to nearly 14,000 with the inclusion of materials relating to Livonia and the Baltic countries as a whole. (Between the 13th and 18th centuries, the area known as Livonia coincided roughly with much of today's Estonia and Latvia.) The general collections cover all disciplines of the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences, with particular strengths in history, language, and literature. Additionally, Estonian belles lettres titles number well over 1,000.

Approximately 48 percent of the Library's Estonian-related materials are in Estonian, 20 percent in English, 15 percent in Russian, 7 percent in Swedish, 5 percent in German, and 1 percent in Finnish, a language related to Estonian. The remaining materials are in more than a dozen other languages. The collections also include runs of more than 700 serial titles from or about Estonia, such as periodicals, bulletins, annuals, and newspapers. Because serials are multi-volume, as are some monographs, the monographic and serial collections from or about Estonia exceed 15,000 volumes. About three-quarters of the materials published in Estonia come from Tallinn, and one-quarter from Tartu and elsewhere. As of 2000, the Library has averaged annual receipts of approximately 100 monographic titles from Estonia, and approximately 80 Estonia-related titles published outside Estonia.

Because of the shifting boundaries and populations of Estonia over the centuries, searching for materials pertaining to Estonia must also include, by necessity, Sweden, Denmark, the Hanseatic League, the Teutonic Knights, Livonia, Germany, Russia, the Soviet Union, other Baltic countries, and the areas of the Estonian diaspora.

Items of Note in the Library's General Collections

The general collections hold more than 800 works on Estonian history, and more than 1,000 on Baltic history. Included are works by or about Estonia's last president before Soviet incorporation, lawyer and journalist Konstantin Päts (1874-1956), and the first president of the restored republic, writer and film director Lennart Meri (1929-2006).

Library holdings include around a dozen versions, in various languages, of the Chronicle of Henry of Livonia (c.1187-c.1259), describing the origins of Livonia (Origines Livoniae sacrae et civilis), such as The Chronicle of Henry of Livonia, a translation with introduction and notes by James A. Brundage, 1961. Other early chronicles of Livonia in the collections are versions of the 12th-13th century Livländische Reimchronik, such as the one translated and introduced by Jerry Smith and William Urban in The Livonian Rhymed Chronicle, 2001. Justifications for the ruling order are further found in the 14th-century Die jüngere livländische Reimchronik of Bartholomäus Hoeneke (1315-48) by Dr. K. Höhlbaum, 1872, and Salomon Henning's (1528-89) Lifflendische churlendische Chronica; was sich vom Jahr Christi 1554 biss auff 1590 in den langwierigen moscowiterischen vnd andern Kriegen, an nothdrenglicher Veränderunge der Obrigkeit vnd Stände in Lieffland, sieder dess letzten Herrn Meisters, vnd ersten in Lieffland zu Churland vnd Semigalln Hertzogen, gedenckwirdiges zugetragen, 1594.

The history of Estonian literature is well represented, and includes works by the Baltic Germans Reiner Brockmann (1609-47), and the numerous titles, in various languages, by Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744-1803), e.g., Reiner Brockmann, teosed = Reineroy Brokmannoy poiemata, and von Herder's influential Stimmen der Völker in Liedern: Volkslieder: 2 Teile, 1779.

The Library holds about 50 titles from 1861 to the present relating to the Estonian national epic poem, the Kalevipoeg, as well as about 60 titles relating to Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald (1803-82), the physician, poet, and folklorist who compiled the Kalevipoeg and many other works.

The collections have dozens of works each by Estonia's possibly best-known and most-translated authors Jaan Kross (1920-2007) and Jaan Kaplinski, (1941- ), some translated into English. Other well-known Estonian authors include Eduard Vilde (1865-1933), Oskar Luts (1887-1953), Marie Under (1883-1980), Anton Hansen Tammsaare (1878-1940), and Friedebert Tuglas (1886-1971).

Authors from "behind the iron curtain" include Hando Runnel (1938- ) and Mats Traat (1936- ). Diaspora authors Bernard Kangro (1910-94), Karl Ristikivi (1912-77), and others are also found in translation. The independent Republic of Estonia is represented by the works of authors such as Mati Unt (1944- ) and Emil Tode writing as Tõnu Õnnepalu (1962- ). More-recent authors Mihkel Mutt (1953- ) and Doris Kareva (1958- ) represent the trend toward a more international approach. Several Estonian authors are found in English, German, Finnish, and Russian translations.

The American Folklife Center

Estonian independence movements have been closely tied to feelings of a unique Estonian nationality, partially represented by folklore and folk songs, of which the Library has more than 200 titles. The American Folklife Center has various links to sources of Estonian folklore.

Geography and Map Reading Room

The Geography and Map Reading Room provides access to millions of maps, atlases, and other cartographic materials, including those pertaining to Estonia, the Baltic countries, and Europe. Estonia (Estland), Courland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark are depicted, for instance, in the 18th-century map printed in Amsterdam, 1708: Carte des Courones du Nord, dedicated to Charles XII, King of Sweden, the Goths, and the Vends, Grand Duke of Finland, etc., while a more recent map covering the same areas would be the Automobile Association's Scandinavia and Baltic States: Including Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, 2000.

Map of Reval (Tallinn), from Mellin's Atlas von Liefland . . .To view maps that have been digitized by the Library of Congress, see the Online Map Collections, which includes Ludwig August Graf Mellin's Atlas von Liefland, oder von den beyden Gouvernementern u. Herzogthümern Lief- und Ehstland, und der Provinz Oesel: entworfen nach geometrischen Vermessungen, den neusten astronomischen Beobachtungen und nach sorgfaeltiger Untersuchung und Kentnis der Gegenden: das Ganze besteht aus einer Generalkarte und vierzehn Kreiskarten = Atlas de la Livonie ou des deux Gouvernemens et Duchés de Livonie et d'Esthonie, avec la Province d'Oesel: composé d'aprés quantité d'arpentages d'aprés la connaissance des lieux mêmes, et les derniérs observations astronomiques: contenant une carte générale et quatorze Cartes Speciales printed in Riga in 1798.

Law Library Reading Room

The Law Library Reading Room holds more than 500 titles pertaining to Estonian law. The collection reflects the history of Estonia under Swedish, German, Russian, and Soviet rule, and also as an independent nation. For instance:

Swedish laws are found in Sveciæ regni leges provinciales, prout quondam a potentissimo & serenissimo principe ac domino, domino Carolo IX Sueonum, Gothorum, Vandalorum, Finnonum, Careliorum, Lapponum in Norlandia, Cajanorum & Esthonum in Livonia, &c. rege, post recognitionem, confirmatæ, & anno 1608, by Johan Loccenius, 1672.

Feudal law is expounded in German, under Russian rule in Sammlungen / von der wahren natur / arten und beschaffenheiten der güter in Ehst- und Liefland / samt der insull Oesell / von der succession in selbige / und von der grösse und verschiedenheit der haacken derselben / zum nutzen und bequemlichkeit dererjenigen / die sich um die ehst- und lief- ländische landes-recht, gesetze und verordnungen zu bekümmern haben, by Johann David Bagge, 1762.

Estonian election law under Soviet rule is specified in the Estonian SSR's Polozhenie o vyborakh v Verkhovnyi Sovet Estonskoi SSR, 1954.

Constitutional law after independence is established in Restoration of the Independence of the Republic of Estonia: Selection of Legal Acts (1988-1991), by Advig Kiris, 1991, as well as in Eesti Vabariigi põhiseadus (Estonian constitution), 1992.

Local History and Genealogy Reading Room

The U.S. Census of 2000 reports more than 25,000 Americans of Estonian ancestry. The Library's Local History and Genealogy (LH&G) Reading Room has some materials relating to Estonian-Americans. Again, because Estonia was part of the Russian Empire during the height of the European migration to the United States, information should also be sought in Russian emigration records, such as Migration from the Russian Empire: Lists of Passengers Arriving at the Port of New York, 1995. The history of Estonians in North America may be found by searching subject headings such as "Estonian Americans," "Estonia--History," or "Names, Personal--Estonia." This image from 1942 shows relatives of a Connecticut Estonian farmer. The Estonian relatives had not been heard from since World War II started.

The reference collection and catalogs in the LH&G Reading Room are intended primarily to facilitate research in the United States. Foreign genealogy or local history research should begin with the Library's online catalog, and with resources in the European and Main reading rooms.

Manuscript Reading Room

The Manuscript Division collects Americana, including materials pertaining to U.S. relations of any nature with other countries. The division thus has custody of the papers of many American diplomats, such as the Soviet specialist Ambassador Loy Henderson (1892-1986), whose professional activities also included the Baltic countries.

Microform Reading Room

The Microform Reading Room has some titles relating to Estonia, e.g., a discussion of the status of Baltic nobility in Balti parunid Eesti elus; wõitlus üliwõimu pärast ordo ajast ilamasõjani, Balti riigi loomise ja Saksamaa külge liitumise katsed, laiendatud mõisnikkude maapäewad ja Riia Landesraat, Balti riigist Eesti Wabariiki, 1918. Radio Free Europe's East European Leadership Lists, 1989, names various Communist Party leaders in the former Soviet Union.

Performing Arts Reading Room

The musical tradition is very strong in Estonia, and this country of 1.3 million inhabitants has produced such internationally known musicians as the composer Arvo Pärt (1935- ) and conductor Neeme Järvi (1937- ), about each of whom the Library has some 200 related items in its collections. Also well represented are Veljo Tormis (1930- ), Jaan Rääts (1932- ), Eduard Tubin (1905-82), and a number of others. The 1994 sound recording Singing Revolution Estonia, celebrates the well-known Estonian singing demonstrations for freedom, especially between 1987 and 1990.

In addition to the Library of Congress Online Catalog, the Recorded Sound Reference Center maintains a database of many more sound recordings, both musical and non-musical, called the Sound Online Inventory and Catalog (SONIC), which includes items such as a National Press Club luncheon address given by a member of the Estonian Supreme Soviet, Marju Lauristin, on November 7, 1989.

Esto '76:  Baltimore, July 5-11, 1976, by Maret Maiste.The Prints and Photographs Reading Room collections number more than 13 million images. These include photographs, fine and popular prints and drawings, posters, and architectural and engineering drawings. While international in scope, the collections are particularly rich in U.S.-related materials. For photographs and other images relating to Estonia, see the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog.

Rare Book and Special Collections Reading Room

The Library's Rare Book and Special Collections Reading Room has custody of a number of volumes relating to Estonia. Most were published before 1800 (as a general rule, works published before 1801 are found in the Rare Book Reading Room; later publications usually are in the general collections). Because Estonia's history has been connected with a number of neighboring countries, rare books with information pertaining to Estonia will be found in collections featuring these countries, as well. Among the Library's rare book holdings are:


The Library's collections include runs of more than 700 retrospective or current newspapers, magazines, journals, bulletins, annuals, and other serials from or about Estonia, or the Baltic area that includes Estonia. These materials are housed in the European Reading Room, the Newspaper and Current Periodical Reading Room, the Microform Reading Room, as well as in the Library's general collections. Newspapers on microfilm include some runs of the newspapers Postimees and Eesti Päevaleht, as well as periodicals such as Eesti naine and Eesti statistika kvartalikiri.

Digitized Materials

The Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania country studies were produced by the Library's Federal Research Division in 1996. Law Library information about Estonian law and government is also available online.

Online Catalog

Because not all items in special collections are listed separately in the Library's online catalog, researchers should contact the appropriate reading rooms for advice from specialists, and for access to additional finding aids. For instance, the European Reading Room houses a pamphlet collection with miscellaneous items.

American Memory

Many Library of Congress collections have been digitized and are available online. American Memory provides selected digitized items that relate to Estonia and Estonian-Americans, such as maps and photographs.

Ask a Librarian

Written questions may be submitted to the Library by using the online Ask a Librarian interface.

Additional Estonian resources at the Library of Congress

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  February 23, 2017
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