Digital cultural heritage: a resource for research in the humanities – and beyond?

A sunny summer day and a magnificent view from the Edinburgh Castle

You may have heard about Europeana, one of the largest endeavours around the world (as is the Digital Public Library of America) to make the rich and diverse cultural heritage of European countries available online. Working for more than 6 years with this goal (from the times of the European Digital Library Network project), the Europeana Foundation (hosted by the National Library of the Netherlands at the Hague) has managed to work with a very large network of museums, libraries and archives around Europe to make almost 40 million digital cultural artifacts discoverable and accessible through the portal. A remarkable achievement through a huge European Commission investment, that span across various funding Framework Programmes – such as the CIP ICT PSP one.

What is more remarkable though, is the vision that the team of Europeana (and it’s network) has for this shared European resource: to evolve it from a large aggregator of digital cultural collections into a e-infrastructure for advancing culture, business and research. In this context, the Europeana Cloud project in which our team participates (as the responsible member of the ARIADNE Foundation) is the Best Practice Network trying to shape and specify how this cloud infrastructure will look like, what its shared services can be, how it may help thematic and national cultural aggregators share (and therefore save) financial resources, and build an online set of services for supporting researchers through its Europeana Research portal.

EUROPEANA CLOUD from Europeana on Vimeo.

I hear you wondering already: how does such a digital infrastructure for researchers in the humanities, social sciences and the cultural sector may be of any interest or relevance to the work of Agro-Know? Well, there are some points of common interest on which we will focus during the next few months, so that we highlight the value of our participation in the Europeana Cloud project:

a) Using valuable and rare archives that are becoming discoverable through Europeana in order to support agricultural researchers investigating societal or cultural topics, who are using social science methods and tools. My favourite example is the case of our good colleague Dr. Constantine Iliopoulos who is directing the Agriculture Economics and Policy Research Institute (AGRERI). Costas and his team are researching the economic, cultural and societal factors that may affect the success of agricultural cooperatives in different countries. Would digitised resources like the parliament discussion proceedings and newspaper archives dating back to middle ages help people like Costas answer some of the research questions at hand?

b) Identifying and making available interesting data sets from the vast amount of resources available through Europeana to researchers working on completely different disciplines, like agriculture and food. I would particularly like to establish a collaboration between Europeana and agINFRA, in order to make relevant collections discoverable through the CIARD RING registry by both humans and software services. Would it be easy to automate such a dissemination mechanism by federating the Europeana and RING registries? And how can we measure use of such data sets by the agINFRA users?

c) Demonstrating how a commercial application developed by a European company to serve research teams and institutions can be powered by and benefit from such a common digital infrastructure like Europeana. I would particularly like to investigate how we can use the APIs and support of the Europeana Research portal in order to offer access to Europeana collections through our AKstem product. Will this be relevant to our targeted users? Will they be interested in discovering, accessing and using digitised collections from libraries and archives around Europe? Can this make our value proposition stronger?

These are the questions that we would like to investigate during the last year of Europeana Cloud, taking advantage of the fact that we are bringing a rare and valuable perspective over what the project is trying to deliver.

Everyone at the 3rd Europeana Cloud plenary trying to understand and reflect on the future governance model, at the David Hume tower of the University of Edinburgh

Everyone at the 3rd Europeana Cloud plenary trying to understand and reflect on the future governance model, at the David Hume tower of the University of Edinburgh

I also believe that we have some valuable experience to bring into the discussion of how you make such a shared digital infrastructure (that is building on top of existing national and thematic aggregators) viable and sustainable. We bring the experience of how the educational repositories and aggregators tried to do this through networks like the ARIADNE Foundation, the Global Learning Objects Brokering Exchange (GLOBE) Alliance, the Learning Resource Exchange (LRE), the Educational Repositories Network (EdReNe), and Open Discovery Space. We also bring the experience of how an international aggregator like FAO’s AGRIS has evolved and changed in order to position itself better in the global ecosystem but also to find a sustainable operational and business model. And of course, we bring the experience of agINFRA, which aims to serve as a model thematic node in the larger research e-infrastructure of OpenAIRE.

This is one of the reasons why I particularly enjoyed attending the recent Europeana Cloud plenary meeting in Edinburgh. Plus, the great people that I had the opportunity to meet and spend some time with – talking about work, life with twins, and the beauties of Crete. And of course, the joy of simply being at Edinburgh; the magical “Athens of the north“.

A sunny summer day and a magnificent view from the Edinburgh Castle

A sunny summer day and a magnificent view from the Edinburgh Castle


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