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« Tuna 4 / 2020

Arno Rafael Cederberg and the Development of Estonian Archival Administration 1922–1928

While the foundation for the basic organisation of the archives was successfully established in Estonia, and two state-financed archives – the National Archives in Tallinn and the Central Archives in Tartu – were founded in 1920–1922, in the following years, the clarification of the principles of archival administration and setting out their legal aspects in writing had to be actively engaged in alongside the application of those principles. This primarily meant the working out of the rules of procedure for the Archival Board as the institution that more generally was responsible for managing the administration of Estonia’s archives. At the same time, this also included the establishment of relations with the two central national archives. It was similarly important to reach an agreement with Latvia on the principles according to which archival records could be exchanged, since due to a lack of storage space, both sides needed to offload archival records of lesser importance and to gain possession of sources that shed light on the history of their own country and people, which were exceedingly important from the point of view of scholarly historical research work. From the aspect of scholarly research, it was no less important to at least agree on a convention with neighbouring countries, on the basis of which reciprocal lending of archival records could take place.

The subsequent undertakings nevertheless proved to be surprisingly complicated, not only due to substantive difficulties, but also to relations between the members of the Archival Board. Namely, the appointment of August Sildnik, who lacked sufficient preparation for the job, as acting director of the Central Archives caused astonishment among most of the Archival Board from the very start. It was, however, hoped that he would ask for advice from more experienced archival experts and over time would acquire the corresponding professional skills. Unfortunately, that is not how it went. Instead, a test of strength began that was to last for years between the University of Tartu Professor of Estonian and Nordic History A. R. Cederberg and A. Sildnik. The former was concerned to ensure that the state-financed archives (resp. the Central Archives) would start to function properly, while the latter tried to shield himself and the archive that he ran from any sort of supervision.

In summary, this culminated not only in making the drawing up, discussion and adoption of quite simple documents a needlessly time-consuming process. The Central Archives was placed at perhaps an even greater disadvantage. The incompetence and stubbornness of its director brought about quite considerable confusion in systematising archival records and other such matters. In turn, it took a great deal of time to later put them in order in accordance with requirements. Yet this pushed the signing of conventions with neighbouring countries concerning the exchange and lending of archival records into the more distant future, which in summary hindered the research work of historians from Estonia and from other countries.