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Baltic studies: SUL's Baltic Studies Program

This guide provides an introduction to Baltic studies and helps with finding resources on Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian history, literature, and culture.

SUL's Baltic Studies Program

The Collection

SUL’s collection of Baltic books, periodicals, and manuscripts focuses on the occupation, resistance, freedom, and recovery (i.e. post-1991 transformation) of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, and highlights the countries’ connections to Finland and the other Nordic states. With more than 30,000 titles, this is one of the largest collections in the United States on the history, culture, literature, and current geopolitical and socio-economic challenges of the Baltic region. The collection is curated by SUL's Associate Curator for Estonian and Baltic Studies.

In addition to printed materials, SUL collects Baltic manuscripts focusing on two areas: the personal papers, letters, diaries, memoirs, photos, and video testimonies of Baltic refugees during and after World War II, and documents detailing the experiences of Baltic entrepreneurs currently active in Silicon Valley.

The Program

SUL maintains a program of events, exhibits, and projects around its Baltic materials to raise awareness of Baltic studies on and off campus. Numerous Baltic conferences, seminars, talks, exhibits, film screenings, and other events have been hosted, co-organized, and supported since the Program’s founding. For example, in 2014, the President of Estonia, Mr. Toomas Hendrik Ilves, and the Prime Minister of Estonia, Mr. Taavi Rõivas, visited Stanford and gave talks in the Cecil H. Green Library on issues related to digital society and e-residency. Mr. Ilves, who joined Stanford University in January 2017 as Visiting Fellow, also gave a series of talks addressing topics ranging from e-society and digital entrepreneurship to cyber security and geopolitical challenges of the Baltic countries. Together with Stanford’s Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies, the Program has organized a number of academic and public talks by visiting Baltic and Nordic academics, politicians, and diplomats. The Program has hosted several cultural events, including Baltic cultural evenings and film screenings.

In 2018, SUL hosted an international conference with a focus on Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. The 2018 AABS Conference at Stanford University: The 100th Anniversary of Baltic Independence brought together 470 scholars, including over 50 Stanford affiliates, interested in Baltic studies. The conference celebrated two important milestones – the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Association for the Advancement of Baltic Studies (AABS) and the 100th anniversary of independence for the Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The three-day conference program, held on the Stanford campus from June 1–3, featured 124 academic sessions, four keynotes, two exhibits, and numerous cultural and social events. 

The Baltic Way: History and Culture in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania 1918–2018, an exhibit set up in Cecil H. Green Library in 2018, pulled from the collections of Stanford Libraries and Hoover Institution Library and Archives in an attempt to explain the complicated history of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in the twentieth century, and considered their prospects and challenges in the twenty-first.

SUL actively collaborates with institutions and organizations on and off campus in the field of Baltic and Nordic-Baltic studies by conducting collaborative projects, organizing events, and exchanging ideas regarding collection development. SUL has played an active role in matching the Stanford Global Studies (SGS) Internship Program with host organizations in the Baltics and supporting the interns throughout their internships. SUL has built strong relationships with organizations, institutions, and people interested in supporting Baltic studies, including the Baltic embassies in the United States, Baltic consuls and honorary consuls, Baltic universities, libraries, archives, museums and governmental agencies, Nordic and Baltic academic and cultural organizations, and business/tech networks in the Bay Area.

In collaboration with Vabamu, CREEES, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Estonia, SUL also offers fellowships to Estonian scholars. The Short-Term Research Fellowships for Estonian Scholars enable Estonian researchers to make use of Stanford’s strong collections, academic knowledge, and networks related to the study of the history, society, politics, security, and foreign policy of Estonia and the Baltic region. Similarly, the Global Digital Governance Fellowship enables Estonian researchers, especially early- to mid-career scholars, to visit Stanford University and make use of its academic knowledge, networks, and collections related to the study of information and communications technology (ICT), digital society and economy, cyber security, smart governance, and technology and trust. The fellowship also aims at enhancing Estonian scholars’ ability to share their knowledge of and experience in issues related to cyber security, e-governance, and trust and technology with the research community at one of the top universities in the world and other relevant entities in Silicon Valley, thus contributing to a better understanding of these topics on a global level.

In 2022, Stanford Libraries and Vabamu established the Stanford-Estonia Exchange Program in Tallinn. The goal of the program is to serve as an anchor for all visits to Estonia and the Nordic-Baltic region by members of the Stanford community and related activities. As such, the program is linked to already existing flows of Stanford travelers, including the growing number of Stanford students holding internships or undergoing language study programs; Stanford’s faculty and staff visiting the region with the intent of carrying out research, delivering guest lectures, or attending conferences and other events; Stanford faculty and students engaging in Overseas Seminar programs; and Stanford faculty, staff, students, and alumni visiting the region. The Program is intended to greatly increase the number of Stanford visitors Estonia receives each year, and to enhance the experiences of the visitors. Stanford Libraries and Vabamu are also organizing Global Conversations, a series of talks, lectures, and seminars focusing on the benefits and fragility of freedom.

Olga Kistler-Ritso and the Kistler-Ritso Foundation's endowment

SUL's Baltic program was created thanks to the 2011 Kistler Ritso Foundation’s endowment to SUL, and the foundation’s continuing support for enhancing Baltic studies.

Olga Kistler-Ritso was born on 26 June 1920 in Ukraine. Her Russian mother died at a young age and Eduard, her Estonian father, was sent to a Siberian prison camp for years by the Bolsheviks. Along with her brother Aadu, Olga, who was only a few years old, had to take on the journey as a refugee – with the help of their uncle, the children managed to reach their father’s home. The uncle decided to give Olga to a foster family to provide his niece with a stable family life. Olga was adopted by the Olliku family.

Following in her father’s footsteps, Olga went to study at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Tartu and graduated in 1944. In the autumn of the same year, fearing the recurrence of the Soviet terror, she fled along with 80,000 other Estonians. Having found temporary refuge in a German refugee camp, she worked as an ophthalmologist and a pediatrician. In 1949, Olga migrated to the United States, where, as a result of her strong determination, she managed to start an eye surgery practice. Dr Olga Kistler-Ritso was a recognized specialist in her field. Olga kept herself well informed about the developments in Estonia. In 1976, she returned to Estonia to visit her country and relatives for the first time after her departure.

Olga wanted to contribute something big to Estonia, something that would inspire future generations to appreciate their history, and thus, almost half a century after fleeing from her homeland, she donated nearly three million euros for the development of her country and for the creation of the museum. Olga’s dream was that the crimes committed in Estonia’s recent history would never be repeated.

In 1998, the Kistler-Ritso Estonian Foundation and the organization of the same name in the United States were founded simultaneously to contribute to the research and remembrance of Estonia’s complex recent history. The mission of the Kistler-Ritso Estonian Foundation was to create a museum in Tallinn reflecting Estonia’s recent history. Vabamu Museum of Freedom and Occupations, founded on donations by Olga Kistler-Ritso, was opened to visitors on July 1, 2003. 

Olga Kistler-Ritso passed away in 2013 at the age of 93. Her mission is continued by daughter Sylvia Kistler Thompson, whose goal is to discuss Estonia’s recent history and culture in Estonia and abroad.

Read more about the Kistler-Ritso Foundation and Vabamu on the museum's website.