"Europeana Collections 1914-1918: Remembering the First World War" had the goal of digitising over 400,000 source items from thirteen institutions. The focus was to be on "special collections" - manuscripts, artwork, rare books, maps, music, etc. - with the goal that most material provided would be rare or unique. The project also aimed to enrich the collection with sources from personal collections, for which the project hosted road shows and an online contribution tool.
Description of project:
As a relatively recent period in the history of Europe, the First World War is a topic citizens can still recount from first or second hand experience. As Europeana wanted to enrich the public collection of ‘Great War’ artefacts to commemorate the war’s centennial anniversary in 2014, they organized road show events in different EU countries, asking citizens to contribute their artefacts and stories. The resulting Europeana 1914-1918 website is a great example of large-scale community building, and of using crowdsourcing to enrich a collection.
To collect objects from European citizens the project website offered the opportunity to upload pictures and descriptions. The objects that were submitted were reviewed by the project team, including a team of historians, and then made available through Europeana.
In collaboration with the University of Oxford, Facts & Files and many other partners across Europe, Europeana 1914-1918 is organising Road shows to collect the public's previously unpublished letters, photographs and keepsakes from the war to be digitised and shared online. By mid 2015, 24 countries have taken part, resulting in more than 15,000 personal stories and over 200,000 digitized items.
What have they learned?
Project coordinator for Europeana 1914-1918 Ad Pollé, was involved in organising the large series of road shows. Pollé points out that physical road shows were a very good way to reach mainly elderly people. The organizers noticed that attending the road shows and contributing their collections to Europeana was a way for people to share stories and find social contact.
It was also a way to honour grandparents, to make sure their legacy was remembered. The historians that were involved noticed that in some families a sort of myth- building had been going on. A grandfather’s heroic acts in the Great War would have been exaggerated a bit, some memorabilia might not actually be ‘straight from the battlefield’. Pollé explains that it was not the purpose of the project to ‘set the record straight’ in these family histories. The object or story would just be added to the Europeana collection with as much objective information as was available.
Pollé also notes that the Europeana team was surprised by the commitment that contributors showed to the collection. Many people feel like part of a community now that they’ve added their personal family history, and some wish to be kept updated on further activities. To maintain a good relationship with contributors and users Europeana aims to set up an editorial team with representatives from various European countries that will take care of the projects’ communication.
Europeana 1914-1918 will continue to run until 2018 or even beyond. Challenges for the future of this project will be to maintain the gathered user generated content in high resolution quality, because storage capacities is quite expensive and these files need be stored in secure (non-commercial) facilities.
Even though the project has sometimes demonstrated how much the past is still alive in the present, Pollé also emphasizes one of the greatest outcomes of the project: it brings people together across borders. Connecting one grandfather’s experiences in France to another’s in Germany, soon shows people how much both are alike. Sharing personal histories and learning about other people’s experiences can foster mutual understanding, even when dealing with a subject that is already a hundred years old!
Why is it a best practice:
Europeana 1914-1918 is inspiring as a best practice in co-creation, because:
It connects an online platform (which is natural to Europeana) to offline events (where they could find new audiences, mainly elderly people) in a format that is very familiar to the target group, from e.g. the Antiques Road show.
Unique content is added to the existing collection of WW1 objects. Next to objects, personal stories are also treated as part of the “official history”, and as a collection in its own right, registered and uploaded to Europeana.
The project team has learned that they actually built up a community of contributors, and they acknowledge that this needs to be taken seriously and fostered.
Description of organization:
Europeana is a partnership of European heritage institutions and an internet portal that acts as an interface to millions of books, paintings, films, museum objects and archival records that have been digitized throughout Europe. More than 3,000 institutions across Europe have contributed to Europeana. These range from major international names like the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the British Library and the Louvre to regional archives and local museums from every member of the European Union. Together, their assembled collections let users explore Europe's cultural and scientific heritage from prehistory to the modern day.