Sirje Karis was born on 9 August 1956 in Pärnu. She graduated from High School no. 2 (now Miina Härma Gymnasium) in Tartu in 1974 and from Tartu State University (now the University of Tartu) as an historian in 1981. She completed a Master’s degree in the organisation of culture at the latter between 2002 and 2010.

Sirje Karis worked as a librarian in the Philosophy Library of the University of Tartu from 1974-1981, then as a researcher, the collections manager, the head of the Restoration Department and a museologist at the university’s History Museum from 1981-2000. Thereafter, she took up the post of Director of Development at Tartu City Museum (2000-2001) before becoming the museum’s overall director (2002-2005).

Sirje Karis was the director of the Estonian History Museum from 2006-2018. During this time, the museum’s Great Guild building and Maarjamäe complex were renovated and new permanent exhibitions installed, while a new building was constructed to house the Film Museum, showcasing the art of movie-making and the history of Estonian cinema. In 2014, the Great Guild became the first building in Estonia to be awarded the European Heritage Label, which is designed to shine the spotlight on places that underscore the continent’s unity, development and shared values. The international jury of independent experts praised the professionalism of the Estonian History Museum’s team, as well as their clear vision for reaching a wider audience.

Sirje Karis has been the director of Tartu City Museum since 2018.

Sirje Karis is a member of the Estonian Museum Association and the Estonian National Committee of ICOM (the International Council of Museums). She has edited guidelines in the field (Assessing the Level of Maintenance of Collections, 2008 and Costume and Textile Maintenance Guidelines for Museums, 2007) and was a member of the working group for the drafting of 21st-century Estonian Museums: Developments from 2006-2015.

Sirje Karis is a member of the committee for the National Identity Award of the University of Tartu; a member of the supervisory boards of the Tartu Cultural Endowment foundation and Viljandi Museum; and a contributor to the work of the archive projects committee of the Compatriots Programme.

Sirje Karis has been a member of the working groups marking the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, the 100th anniversary of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church and the 100th anniversary of the Republic of Estonia; a member of the committees for the Museum Heritage Protector of the Year title and evaluation of museum staff; a member of the advisory board to the Estonian National Museum; a member of the supervisory boards of TalTech Museum, the Estonian Firefighting Museum, the History Institute of the University of Tartu, Tartu University Museums (including the university’s Museum of Art) and Oskar Luts Library in Tartu; and a member of the Museums Board operating as part of the Ministry of Culture.

Sirje and Alar Karis have three children.


2006 | Medal of the City of Tartu

2013 | Order of the White Star, 4th class


English and Russian