Although the National Archives as an institution is young, the establishment of the national archives system started already at the beginning of the Republic of Estonia. National Archives was born directly after the end of Estonian War of Independence on 3 March 1920 when the Archives Committee’s first discussions were held at the library of the University of Tartu to discuss the future of the national written heritage and the formation of our own state’s archives.
It was back then decided that the Historical Archives will be established in Tartu as the holding place for historically significant institutions’ records, and the State Archives in Tallinn as the keeper of records of active state agencies. Directions drawn by the Archive Committee can be considered as the first steps to offer some consistent solutions for acquisition, preservation, and usage of the archival records. Also, a relationship of trust was established between the agencies and archives at that time.
The Archives Act of 1935 strengthened the role of archives in the preservation and usage of society’s valuable records. During the Soviet occupation the archives continued their work, the regional archives, which were active in larger towns, were renamed as city archives and governed by Moscow. The years of 1940–1988 can be characterised as an interruption of the former archival administration, Sovietization of the archives and closure of the archival content. The period of 1988–1998 can be called the De-Sovietization era of the archives which brought along a transition to a modern archival administration and disclosure of the archival content.
According to the Estonia’s second Archives Act in 1998, the National Archives of Estonia became active on January 1, 1999. The years of 1999–2011 could be defined as a period of organisational development and consolidation for the National Archives, as well as, more importantly, a phase for transitioning to online archival services and establishment of digital archival management. The first decade of the 21st century completely transformed archival management and use of archives.
Since 2012, the National Archives acts on the basis of a renewed Archives Act as well as Archival rules. As the national archivist of Estonia, Mr. Priit Pirsko has stated, the key objective of the 2011 Act was to establish optimal legal conditions for the final transition to digital record and archival management. The archival management of the current era is perhaps most characterised by the digital transformation – the constantly growing digitization of analogue media and acceptance of born-digital content. The National Archives is a centre of the national archivy by leading and developing acquisition, preservation, and usability of the archival records (see also About us).
Further information on recent history of the National Archives can be found in the overviews and annual reports of the National Archives (the first articles in the biennial overviews between 1999–2018 are available also in English). In addition, the jubilee speeches held on 2 March 2020 can be accessed at the article about the National Archives of Estonia 100.