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The Estonian Cultural History Archives (ECHA) were founded on April 6, 1929 through the merging of the funds of the Estonian Literary Society, Estonian National Museum, Academic Literary Society and Academic History Society. This was followed by extensive collection work. In 1940 - 1994 the Archive bore the name of a department of manuscripts. To date, collections have been replenished with donations from individuals and organisations, along with materials gathered and purchased by the Archives itself.

The ECHA is a central institution storing archival material concerning cultural history. It includes the following collections:

Art materials,
Audio and film tapes.

By early 2004 these collections had accumulated 154 195 manuscript items (in 370 funds), 149 866 photographs and negatives (in 222 funds), 3711 painting, etchings, drawings, sculptures, illustrations and other art materials, and 979 items of audio and film recordings.

Manuscript collection. The oldest records in the ECHA date back to the 16th century. The Archives keep the most important early manuscripts, correspondence, and documents of Estonian cultural history (for instance, those of Kristian Jaak Peterson, Otto Wilhelm Masing, Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald, Friedrich Robert Faehlmann, Lydia Koidula etc.). The personal archives of all of the celebrated literary classics of the 20th century (Anton Hansen Tammsaare, Gustav Suits, Marie Under, Friedebert Tuglas, Oskar Luts, Betti Alver, Bernard Kangro), as well as the famed linguists (Johannes Aavik, Paul Ariste, Julius Mägiste, Andrus Saareste) are kept at the Archives. The collections are regularly replenished by materials from modern authors (Jaan Kross, Hando Runnel, Paul - Erik Rum-mo, Jaan Kaplinski, Arvo Mägi, etc.). The files of the more important organisations, societies, publications, and publishers (The Estonian Learned Society, the Estonian Literary Society, the journal "Looming" (Creation), the Estonian Writers´ Co - operative) can also be found at ECHA. There are also numerous historical materials from others fields of culture, as well as from the sphere of the social and other sciences (church history, politics, social movements, natural sciences, education, journalism, the theatre, etc.) in the Archives. The collection containing biographies of Estonians, regularly replenished through special collection campaigns, is growing at a rapid rate.

The photo collection is remarcable both in terms of its content and historical extent. It contains photographs of prominent persons, as well as places associated with them, immortalisations of events and causes, urban panoramas, buildings of historical significance, etc. The rarities of the photo collection include five daguerreotypes, two ambrotypes and six ferrotypes dating from the middle of the century, as well as a collection of glass negatives.

The art collection consists of writers portraits and book illustrations, as well as a few other items. Also accommodated here are complete art collections that have been donated together with personal archives.

The audio and film tape collection can boast recordings on different media of literary and other events held in the Estonian Literary Museum and elsewhere, as well as memoirs of and interviews or TV recordings with writers and cultural figures.

To facilitate the search for materials, each collection is equipped with alphabetical card catalogues. A special computer database on memoirs, diaries and other biographical materials has been composed, which is available on location. A general database on all materials in the ECHA is under compilation, as well as a special database on the biographies collection.

The Estonian Cultural History Archives publish the more significant historical sources found here. It has released a textual criticism on Lydia Koidula's poems (1969), as well as the letters of Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald in six volumes (1953 - 1979), correspondence between Otto Wilhelm Masing and Johann Heinrich Rosenplänter in four volumes with indices (1995 - 1997), and an Estonian - German Dictionary by Salomo Heinrich Vestring (1998). Popular series of short publications "Litteraria" and thematically selected biographies of Estonians are also printed, as are collections of literary studies.

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