- Estonian History Museum
Pirita tee 56
The story of the Estonian History Museum begins in 1802, when Tallinn’s town hall pharmacist, Johann Burchard (1776–1838), started a collection called Mon Faible (My weakness, in French). The inspiration for collecting came from one decoratively marbled Easter egg. The first exhibit was a Chinese opium pipe.
In 1822, Burchard put on the exhibition "Antiquities and rarities" at the House of the Brotherhood of the Blackheads. This event was the first of its kind in Tallinn.
In 1842, an academic society of Baltic Germans, the Estonian Literature Society (ELS, Estländische Literärische Gesellschaft), was founded in Tallinn, and one of its aims was to establish a museum “to broaden our knowledge of this country by studying its history, art, manufacturing, technology and nature”. Extensive collections were compiled over the following twenty years, which formed the basis of the Provincial Museum of the Estonian Literature Society, founded in 1864 at the house of St. Canute's Guild.
In 1911, the ELS purchased premises on Toompea at 6 Kohtu Street, where the museum's innovative activities could flourish. As the only museum in the city, it became an important focal point in Tallinn's cultural life with educational lectures and exhibitions.
The Estonian National Museum in Tartu, founded in 1909, became the most important museum in the Republic of Estonia (1918–1940), but the Museum of the ELS retained its important position through its valuable collections, with the archaeological, natural science and cultural history collections and archive continuing to thrive.
Major changes took place at the Museum of the ELS after Estonia was incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1940. The museum was nationalised and the History Museum of the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic was established in its place. Some of the exhibits were transferred to other museums. The Estonian SSR Museum of Natural History was established using the collections of natural sciences. Overbearing ideological pressure ruined the museum in the following years. In addition to subjugating museum employees, items that were deemed harmful were eliminated, which meant destroying everything that reminded people of the Republic of Estonia. Still a majority of the main collections were preserved, some of which was saved thanks to the personal enthusiasm of the collection managers.
The museum moved to its current location at the Great Guild Hall in 1952.
Maarjamäe Palace, where the History and Revolution Museum of the Estonian SSR was opened in 1987, was amalgamated with the museum in 1975.
In 1989, the museum was renamed the Estonian History Museum. Many important exhibitions that introduced the contemporary history of Estonia were held in the late 1980s and early 1990s: “Tricolour Estonia” at the Great Guild Hall (1989) and “Stalinism in Estonia” at Maarjamäe Palace (1990).
The museum collection of the History Museum includes 12 collections, the earliest of which began in the mid-19th century with the collection of the museum of the Estonian Literature Society.
The oldest object in the collections of the Estonian History Museum is an Acheulean stone axe (dating back 1.5 million – 60 000 years ago) and the youngest object was used by someone only yesterday.
In the early 1860s, an archaeology collection was established in addition to the collections of documents, antiquities, seals, coins, art objects and natural sciences. The establishment of the Provincial Museum in 1864 was the first time when contemporary items were also collected, and displayed in public. The latter inspired people to bring an increasing amount of objects to the museum. In addition to donations, mainly from members of famous noble families of the time, and public figures, the collections were also supplemented by the acquisition of private collections. Tallinn’s town hall pharmacist Johann Burchard’s collection "Mon Faible", the collection of the academician Karl Ernst von Baer, and archaeological artefacts collected by history enthusiast Jaan Jung all ended up in the museum. 1875 saw the publication of the first catalogue of collections, compiled by G. J. von Hansen. The great value and scientific potential of the collections, archive and library of the Provincial Museum was also recognised by the Republic of Estonia.
Reforms implemented by the Soviet authorities during the 1940s–1960s significantly affected the museum collection as well. The collections of the Military Museum, Police Museum and some smaller museums were added to the History and Revolution Museum of the Estonian SSR. Materials of the Learned Estonian Society as well as items from the Postal Museum, Literature Museum and the Estonian National Museum were handed over to the museum. At the same time, the museum lost more than 200,000 objects. The Estonian SSR Museum of Natural History was established using the collections of natural sciences, and about 135,500 printed items became the core of the Baltica section of the Academic Library of Tallinn University.
From the early 1990s, the collections were replenished by objects dating back to the time of the first Republic of Estonia, and materials on political history that had survived the Soviet period. With the creation of the Film Museum in 2006, the museum collection was supplemented with items from the history of Estonian film. In 2016, the collection of the Estonian Museum of Economy was added to the museum collection.
All fonds have finding aids, which are available to researchers in the museum.
Researchers can also use the Estonian Museum Information System (MuIS) to search the Ajaloomuuseum's collections: https://www.muis.ee/
Artefacts and archival collections, which can be viewed at the Maarjamäe History Centre (Pirita tee 56, Tallinn), are open for researchers from Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Researchers can search the card files and materials in the artefact and archival collections by appointment with a collection manager. You can contact the collection managers by phone or e-mail. See: https://www.ajaloomuuseum.ee/about-museum/people/department-of-collections-and-research
To use the collections, researchers usually have to complete and sign an order form. You can also place an order accompanied with the item’s ID number by phone or e-mail at least two weekdays in advance
The collections of the Estonian History Museum are open to the public. Researcher access to the stack room is usually granted, but requires permission of the head of collections and accompaniment by a collection manager or the head of collections.
Wheelchair access is provided to all buildings and all exhibitions. For more information about getting to the Museum see: https://www.ajaloomuuseum.ee/visiting/getting-here-and-parking-information
The Estonian History Museum does not have a special reading room for researchers. The museum’s collections, including documentary materials, are housed at Maarjamäe Palace (Pirita tee 56, Tallinn) and at Lai Street in the Tallinn Old Town. Collections are open weekdays 9.00–17.00. Please give advance notice of your visit.