Feature Stories – Digitising our cultural heritage

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Through R&D projects and working with experts from the Member States, the European Commission has been exploring the best ways to preserve, enrich and open up our cultural heritage for the benefit of today’s citizens and future generations. And for more than a decade, ICT has been recognised as a key technological solution.

You only have to listen to the ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhhs’ of tourists to know that Europe has something special when it comes to cultural heritage. Of course we have age on our side – Roman villas, Greek temples and medieval monuments are not hard to find – but age alone is not what makes our heritage so remarkable.

From the far flung Stone Age dwellings of Skara Brae in the Scottish Orkneys to the windmills of Mykonos in Greece; from small wayside shrines in rural France to the language of the Sami language of Lapland, the historical range, the geographic spread and the vast diversity on offer is awe inspiring.

But time is not on our side. Buildings fall into disrepair, books fade, memories are lost with each generation. Is there any way to preserve, share and extend the benefits of this rich resource?

As early as 2000 the Commission was highlighting (in its eEurope policy) the importance of digitising our cultural heritage. The Digital Library became one of the flagship initiatives of the i2010 information society policy framework.

This work continues today under the Digital Agenda. Several of the planned actions under this policy framework support the application of ICT to preserve and share our cultural heritage. Specific actions are looking at ways to promote European cinema and establish the sustainable funding of the central European digital library, ‘Europeana’. Europeana is one of Europe’s most ambitious cultural projects, and a successful one. It is a trusted source for our collective memory and a representation of European cultural heritage online. To date it contains more than 23 million records from more than 2,200 institutions. But a lot of the work behind the scenes came from projects funded through the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) which developed the tools, technologies and methodologies for digitising our cultural assets and making them accessible online.  Here to read more.

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