A Place to Share and Explore Europe’s Cultural Heritage: Europeana

They could not resist to put “economic growth” in the end of this video. As if economic growth was the excuse we needed to create writing, images, sounds. As if painters, photographers, architects, poets, filmmakers, musicians and designers of all kind ever thought “Let’s do it! It will create economic growth!” As if we would not have started to guess already in the 70ies, that there must be something like  The Limits of Growth, as if we would not have realized and often felt in our very own lives, our very own families, that economic growth does not guarantee prosperity and personal progress. And: do we need progress at all?

Progress reminds me Tino Sehgal and his installation in the MoMa, where me and my beyond 80 and below 40 friend walked up the rotunda being engaged in an intense discourse about progress. The people guiding and debating with us were folks from age 6 to 90. Seghal had placed them carefully, so you did not know what was waiting for you. In the end, up at the top, we, as well as our senses and minds, were immersed in progress of all sorts, shapes, forms and philosophies. We looked back with wide open eyes at all the wanderers, walkers and chatters making their way up towards us. The talks formed a loud whisper and we lost track of who is part of the  installation and who is a visiting guest, just like us.

This is the amazing thing Europeana can do for all  of us:

Just like I did at the top of the MoMa, we can stand in a living, lively swirl of culture. History can rise, we can dive in to virtually anything that ever has been created in Europe. We can not only see, hear and access it, we can also tie knots between things and find links we did not even know existed. Most exciting about digitized cultural heritage is not the sheer facts however, most exciting are the stories behind each and everything it holds.

An endless picture book telling eventually the stories of the people behind the culture. People like you, like me, like all of us. A memory that can be explored like a gigantic attic, full of adventures and things to discover and learn. This is what makes Europeana strong, unique and a place to be.

It’s a logical step to reach out and collect things which did not make their way in to Europe’s museums and archives yet. People in the shadow of history, men and women on the street, long before street photography has been invented. Europeana 1914-1918 asked individuals and families to come and share their stories, show their memories and memorabilia from 1914-1918. A “World War One Family History Roadshow” to collect the voice and memory from the people on the street is travelling all across Europe.

Being German, I am tormented for good reasons with WWII history from kindergarten on. We know all about it, we’re all deeply sorry, we’re all at least vaguely interested. You’re German? – WWII history it is, you can not get out of it, you want a German passport? You got to learn about it in a course. So I’m sort fo a WWII expert by birth. – And I got still a profoundly different impression, when I travelled to find the owners of some old toy-set of china porcelain, which my family acquired in 1936 from a Jewish family leaving Mannheim. I spoke to a lot of women. Women mainly far beyond their 80th birthday. Many stories made me cry, some gave me hope, some made me belief in humanity. It was my very first own direct and personal encounter with the Holocaust, the pogrom night in Germany in 1938 and the people who used to live just down the road, 70 years back.

I admire Europeana’s will, effort and urge to digitize for Europeana 1914-1918 European family memory of World War One and shed light in to the shadows of history. Here, you can read some of the stories they collected so far.

My grandparents, the ones I knew, born in 1902 and 1916, both died of cancer when I was a teenager. The other two died when I was a toddler. I remember an image of my grandmother holding my father as a young baby. She must have been around 30-something. She looked very young and very much from today. This image felt very close to me and my life. I wish I could have a conversation with her over a cup of tea and listen to her stories.

As a cinematographer, I work often with people who are in need for original materials, archival footage or old images. Europeana is a search engine which makes it easy to access the cultural heritage of Europe. Europeana lists and links Europe’s archives, museums and collections. Europeana is available in all European languages, even Maltese and Catalan. A very powerful and efficient search form allows you to do a very specific research, for example search only materials under a creative commons licence. This is an incredible useful tool for documentary film makers as well as for researches for screen writing. You can find there

  • Images – paintings, drawings, maps, photos and pictures of museum objects
  • Texts – books, newspapers, letters, diaries and archival papers
  • Sounds – music and spoken word from cylinders, tapes, discs and radio broadcasts
  • Videos – films, newsreels and TV broadcasts
  • 3D models of architecture and historic sites

They are also running a lovely Blog, with stories from within all these collections. Hope you enjoy.

2 thoughts on “A Place to Share and Explore Europe’s Cultural Heritage: Europeana

  1. hey, so begegnen einem bestimmte themen immer wieder. schöner artikel zum projekt Europeana !
    ich habe seit anfang des jahres ein abgeschlossenes studium der bibliothekswissenschaft hinter mir und vor einiger zeit habe ich mich sehr intensiv mit Europeana und den “Vorgängerprojekten” wie der European Digital Library (EDL) auseinandergesetzt. ich finde die ansätze sehr spannend (habe mich damals durch etliche EU-positionspapiere und strategiepläne etc. gewühlt…) und hoffe, dass das projekt weiter so gut wächst.

    jedoch sollte auch parallel dafür gesorgt werden, dass noch viel mehr menschen auf der welt zugang zum internet bekommen. denn sonst nützen die digitalisate diesen menschen auch nichts. ich freue mich auf jeden fall sehr darüber, dass du dir die zeit genommen hast über dieses tolle projekt zu schreiben!


    • Hey apu,
      bis zu Deinem Kommentar wußte ich nicht einmal, dass es Bibliothekswissenschaften gibt. Für uns hier alltägliche Dinge, die wir ständig nutzen, fallen uns in ihrer Funktionsweise ja leider oft erst auf, wenn mal was hakt. Bei mir war das als die örtliche Bibliothek umzog und plötzlich nichts mehr zu finden war, weil auf einmal sämtliche Bestände nach Genres wie “Triller” und “Krimi” – ja, zwei verschiedene Regale – sortiert worden waren.
      Die Bibliothek zo in ein Viertel mit geringem Bevölkerungsanteil aus dem, was wir gerne Bildungsbürgertum nennen. Jetzt quasi mitten in einem Einkaufszentrum, zieht sie nun viele Menschen an, die nicht oder nur peripher mit Literatur oder gar Bibliothekswesen aufgewachsen sind, die oft nicht studiert haben und denen Katalogisierung eher von Versandhäusern als aus der Staatsbibliothek bekannt ist.
      So machte es Sinn, den Zugang über Genres zu ermöglichen für Menschen, die nicht nach Autor oder Drama/Sachbuch/Roman/Novelle suchen würden.
      Ähnlich wie man hier dafür gesorgt hat, dass nun mehr Menschen Zugang zu dem für Kinder und Jugendliche kostenlosen Bibliotheksangebot bekommen, stimme ich Dir natürlich voll und ganz zu:
      Es müssen mehr Menschen weltweit Zugang zum Internet haben.
      Aber ich bin mir ganz sicher, das wird kommen.
      Alleine die Werbe- und Online-Gaming-Industrien schon werden es sich nicht nehmen lassen, auch mit einer Milliarde Indern Geschäfte zu machen.

      Toll einen anderen Europeana Fan zu treffen 🙂
      Man kann in der Tat nur hoffen, dass wie Du schreibst das Projekt weiter so gut wächst.

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