Circle of History Students
The Circle of History Students was a society for history students and lecturers at the University of Tartu during Soviet times which was officially part of the Students' Scientific Union. Although it was an official organisation, the Circle of History Students offered space for relatively free discussions between students and lecturers. It was a breeding ground for the growing protest spirit in the late 1980s. The Circle of History Students archive, which is preserved today in the National Archives of Estonia, contains various documents about its activities. Although it followed the formal rules for Soviet public speaking, these documents also display ironic and critical attitudes towards the regime, and reflect the free atmosphere for research and communication in the society.
Tartu maakond, Vahi, Estonia 60534
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Name of collection
- Circle of History of the Students' Scientifical Society at the State University of Tartu
Provenance and cultural activities
The Circle of History Students was formed in 1946 as an organisation bringing together history students and lecturers at the University of Tartu, and began collecting material from the very beginning. Still active at the university today, it was a society with a small membership and trust between members during Soviet times, which made for a relatively free milieu for self-expression, and through these conditions a better opportunity for professional development.
However, the documents and other items in the collection do not always reflect the atmosphere inside the society. Many of the documents express loyalty to the state, because its activities were controlled by the university administration and the KGB. It is hard to determine how strong this control was. Since the students were 'controlled’ by supervisors who were lecturers, it is clear that they were not allowed to act freely. However, these supervisors often did not act as controlling inspectors at events, but created a suitable space to talk freely about modern history. The brave self-expression during events held by the Circle of History Students also shows that its members trusted each other. When writing reports for the authorities, they compiled a 'correct’ version from different descriptions. Thus, members of the society knew ‘how to act', and not to attract suspicion.
The documents in the collection were stored in the Library of the Institute of History and Archaeology at the University of Tartu until 2000. Documents were collected and preserved by former members of the society. In 2000, the archive was handed over to the National Archives of Estonia. About half of the archive originates from this transfer. Later, 31 files were collected (18 in 2007, and 13 in 2016). Today, the archive is kept in the building of the National Archives of Estonia on Vahi Street. It was fully digitised in the spring of 2017, and made available in the Saaga web archive. Digitisation was carried out at the initiative of current members of the Circle of History Students.
The archive is currently used mostly by students who use it for study or for their BA theses. Material in the archive is also used for exhibitions; the most important ones were the jubilee exhibitions of the Circle of History Students in 1986 and 2006.
Description of content
The archive contains 11 series of documents: statutes and protocols of meetings, work plans and reports, chronicles and historical overviews, material relating to scientific work, correspondence, leaflets, newspaper cuttings and publications, photographs and reproductions, pennants, testimonials and seals, collected material, and material about the History Society at the University of Tartu. There are 67 files altogether, consisting of hundreds of different items.
Most of the archive is made up of the texts of presentations. These show how the subjects and the content of presentations changed according to the political situation. At the beginning, the subjects were prescribed, but the conditions soon eased. For example, there were presentations about prewar student organisations which were banned during Soviet times.
The documents in this collection are mostly in Estonian, although there are a few reports to the authorities, lists of participants in excursions, and letters in Russian regarding excursions.
- grey literature (regular archival documents such as brochures, bulletins, leaflets, reports, intelligence files, records, working papers, meeting minutes): 100-499
- manuscripts (ego-documents, diaries, notes, letters, drafts, etc.): 100-499
- memorabilia (posters, flyers, stamps, etc.): 100-499
- photos: 10-99
Geographical scope of recent operation
Date of founding
Place of founding
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Creator(s) of content
Important events in the history of the collection
- parts are closed to the public
Author(s) of this page
- Tark, Triin
Varje Sootak. 2016. "Oaas keset kõrbe." Universitas Tartuensis, April. Accessed August 20, 2017. http://www.ajakiri.ut.ee/artikkel/1856.
Türna, Tõnis, interview by Kuusik , Külli , July 20, 2017, July 19, 2017. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection