You can take some Estonian museum home with you!
Article by: Agnes Aljas, Research Secretary of the Estonian National Museum
The Estonian National Museum has welcomed visitors to its architecturally-stunning building in Tartu since2016. The museum’s mission is to store and share museum objects and knowledge related to Estonian culture and people living in Estonia that have been collected in the last 110 years. Its exhibitions cover over 6000 m2 and have been seen by a million visitors from Estonia and hundreds from other countries. How has the museum made visiting convenient for multi-lingual people with different interests, wishes, and expectations?
The museum’s exhibition area, which in total is the size of a football field, offers two permanent exhibitions and many larger and smaller temporary exhibitions. The permanent exhibition „Encounters“ expands upon Estonian cultural history and tells stories of the everyday life of ordinary Estonian people, stretching out on a timeline of 11 000 years. All those stories offer explanations of why Estonians have become who they are now. The exhibition offers the joy of recognition for many as each culture borrows from its closer and more distant neighbours.
The permanent exhibition „Echo of the Urals“ is unique in the whole world, dedicated to the speakers of Estonian kindred languages — the Finno-Ugric indigenous peoples without their own statehood. The central idea of the exhibition is inspired by the differences between the daily activities, rituals and traditional art of Finno-Ugric women and men.
The passion of contemporary Estonia is to implement innovative digital solutions, and the Estonian National Museum is no exception. The majority of visitors come from Estonia, Finland, Latvia, and Russia. To provide them a convenient possibility to view the exhibition in their own language without making the texts too long and thus the exhibition as a visual medium too heavy, the museum started to create exhibition texts on e-paper.
The permanent exhibition „Encounters“ has been provided with tickets in the e-ink and RFID-system. Upon purchasing a ticket, the visitor is asked about their language preference and can select the text one of seven available languages. Wherever you see text in the museum, such as on e-books or touch screens or when selecting film sub-titles on each of the exhibits, the ticket enables contactless selection of your preferred language, allowing you to enjoy the exhibition without the guide or interpreter. Currently the explanations are available in Estonian, English, Russian, Finnish, French, Latvian and German, and the system enables to add an infinite number of languages for new translations.
The „Explore the Museum at Home“ environment contains large volumes of content but luckily the way it has been designed allows visitors to select the topics they are interested in before they visit the museum in-person. The entire 3500 m2 of the exhibition is packed with information created with the help of the Estonian National Museum and Estonian scientists, introducing contemporary understanding about Estonia’s past — the everyday life of regular Estonian people who have lived here through the ages. The databases contain a lot of knowledge on exciting topics, hundreds of hours of films are meant to be used also at home, after the museum visit. When you enter the „Explore the Museum at Home“ website, you can see the topics you saved on your ticket and study the material.
To sum up — at home you can watch films, study databases, read texts and look at pictures, but you can also supplement topics with your family photos. The „Encounters“ exhibition is built to encourage discussion. The „Explore the Museum at Home“ environment is also looking forward to receive comments and personal memories from visitors.
Museums have created a wide range of electronic material that is available online. During the COVID-19 pandemic, museums have been increasingly active in preparing virtual curator tours and exhibition introductions. The „Explore the Museum at Home“ project opens up Estonian cultural heritage to schools and all visitors in a versatile manner.