Estonian Soviet encyclopedia

Knowledge building, contexts and dialogues


Keywords: Estonian Soviet Encyclopedia, Soviet ideology, knowledge creation, ­dialogue

The article examines the role of an encyclopedia and its transformation in Soviet society on the example of the Estonian Soviet encyclopedia (Eesti nõukogude entsüklopeedia, ENE). The focus is on three questions: In what contexts does ENE fit? How did the compilation of ENE begin and how did local aspirations and power ambitions take shape in that process? How did the ENE editorial board communicate with the future reader and what are the dialogue models emerging?

The compilation of ENE was a process revealing the ways of knowledge pre­sentation characteristic of Khrushchev’s Thaw and the construction of the reader as the recipient of the knowledge presented to them. The succinctness and factuality of the encyclopedia articles together with the wide range of authors and large readership managed to create a certain form of democracy to contrast the totalitarian model of knowledge. The remarkable number of subscribers to ENE can hardly have been achieved without communication with readers and due consideration for their views. Also, it can be demonstrated that dialogue, either direct or indirect, had an important role on more than one level, including communication with the authorities as well as with the expatriate community.

The article is mainly based on the relevant materials in the National Archives of Estonia and in the contemporary press. Comparative observations are made on all-Union works of reference as well as on those issued in other Soviet republics.


Virve Sarapik (b. 1961), PhD, Estonian Academy of Arts Institute of Art History and Visual Culture, Professor (Põhja pst 7, 10412 Tallinn), virve.sarapik@artun.ee