The course had a particular focus on interpretation – how we tell our stories and present matters to others – a topic I am truly passionate about and a skill necessary and important to both of my roles. Taking the course in Estonia was a very meaningful experience, rich in content and inspiring on many levels.
Nevertheless, it is apparent that from the smallest to the largest of organisations and groups we visited – all of them were working hard to appeal to and engage with the public at large to allow them to continue connecting with their heritage, history, and archaeology.
Maarika Naagel of Heritage Tours for outstanding hospitality, infectious enthusiasm, expert knowledge and endless patience; for generously sharing their home; and for safe driving, music and random introductions to Estonian subculture.
Estonians have built a successful marine tourism product. It has been made possible by the willing cooperation between the EU, the state, the municipalities, community groups and entrepreneurs, and supported by national and regional policy.
Estonian runic singing began to decline as European influences took prevalence. When I heard this I was reminded of a passage in a book called ‘Soil and Soul’ by Alastair McIntosh, when he described a ‘loss of cultural self-confidence’ that occurred in Gaelic culture with the advent of television and radio. The singing that used to accompany activities such as weaving, rowing and ploughing gradually fell silent.
This trip has inspired me to finally bite the bullet and sign up to Gaelic classes (a part of my own heritage that was not passed down by my great-grandparents). On the Sandwood estate where I work we are also developing a plan to gather unrecorded Gaelic place names from older members of the community, to see what more they can tell us about the area’s people, history and ecology before they are lost forever. This trip has inspired me to believe this is a project well worth undertaking.
Rapid development is the watchword for Estonia. New infrastructure, new roads, integration of technology and heavy investment – both nationally and from the European Union – speak of a country facing forward. It is heartening to see that this is not to the detriment or exclusion of natural, built and cultural heritage. Tradition runs deep and, for the most part, it is incorporated into Estonian identity along with this rapid progress. Development has been carefully balanced, in the main, with nature. Estonians value nature and their relationship with it in a different way to Scotland, it being more integrated and present in their lives, all around them rather than being something one takes a trip to visit.
Exhibits included 3D site models – making the castle more accessible for visually impaired visitors, and old maps and archaeological site drawings printed on Perspex which could be slid over one another showing how the site changed through time (an idea I’d like to steal for Archaeology Scotland!). My favourite exhibit was the wall of artefacts found during recent excavations. Pot fragments displayed over the outline of the type of pot they came from and bridle parts displayed over a sketch of a horse’s head made it obvious what the artefacts were, and were used for in the past – sketches like this would be a great addition to our Artefact Investigation kits.
The ‘singing revolution’ is the time between 1986 and 1991 when Estonians gathered in large numbers to sing revolutionary songs in a non-violent protest against the soviet occupation. Culturally this was a powerful way of Estonia retaining its identity. 100,000 Estonians gathered for 7 days and nights in the Tallinn song festival grounds.
‘Until now, revolutions have been filled with destruction, burning, killing and hate, but we started our revolution with a smile and a song’
Estonian Activist Heinz Valk who coined the term ‘ singing revolution’
Aa is for Everything is a personal record of a week-long exploration of Estonia’s cultural heritage that took place from 4-11 August 2019. It contains personal reflections and observations, bits and pieces of history gleaned from our guide and from my own research, inspiration from conversations with my tour companions, and from the information imparted […]
What inspired and impressed me most was the chosen narrative, the acceptance that different idea(l)s of Estonia exist, from the Estonian diaspora, islanders, people from the countryside, from towns or from Tallinn. It wasn’t supporting one national idea of what Estonia is, which too often seems to be propagated by countries even today but showing that there are many and that there is room for all of them. Visitors were also frequently asked to consider “what would you have done?” instead of condemning everything in good or bad. It was the perfect ending, summing up what we all had come to notice – that Estonians are a very resourceful and colourful people, proud of who they are and where they are from.
I’ll treasure many memories from our time in Estonia – swimming in the Baltic sea at sunset, climbing a lighthouse, seeing a moose, meeting Mari, but I also want to hold onto the lessons learned, and bring those home with me.
I can draw many parallels with Scotland – both have dramatic landscapes, vast wilderness and habitats, rich heritage and stunning beaches. And both have the same strongest asset- it’s people. I’ll be doing everything I can to embed what I’ve learned into helping connect, and reconnect, Scotland’s people with what they have on their doorstep, and the stories, skills and ancestry in their blood.