DPASSH 2017 panel recap “More than a library”: Exploring the public value of Europeana

12 July 2017 Comment

By Caroline Ardrey, Nanna Thylstrup, and Timothy Duguid

“Europeana is much more than a library, it is a veritable dynamo to inspire 21st century Europeans to emulate the creativity of innovative forbears like the drivers of the Renaissance.”

José Manuel Barroso, President of the EC
20 November 2008


June 14 and 15 2017 saw the second Digital Preservation for Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (DPASSH) conference, which took place at the University of Sussex. Hosted by the Sussex Humanities Lab and the Digital Repository of Ireland, the conference brought together a wide range of specialists in Digital Preservation, Archives and Digital Humanities from across the globe. The event was attended by the three Europeana Research Grants Winners — Dr Nanna Bonde Thylstrup, Dr Timothy Duguid, and Dr Caroline Ardrey — who presented on their Europeana-funded projects, as part of an expert panel on the second day of the conference, named “More than a library”: Exploring the public value of Europeana.

DPASSH 2017 began with welcomes from Dr Sharon Webb, from the University of Sussex, chair of the organising committee and from Dr Natalie Harrower, director of the Digital Repository of Ireland and founder of the DPASSH international conference series. Professor Adam Tickell, Vice Chancellor of the University of Sussex, offered opening remarks and a warm welcome to Brighton, before the conference officially got underway.

The presentations began with a keynote speech, given by Professor Lizzy Jongma, Senior ICT Project Leader at the NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies and a Europeana Members Council representative. In this far-reaching talk, Jongma addressed some of the challenges facing specialists in digital preservation and scholars working with digital archives. Highlighting the benefits and importance of open access, this excellent keynote also touched on the impact of copyright and individual privacy rights on preservation of and access to archival documents from the not-so-distant past. The keynote was both fascinating and very relevant, pertaining to some of the topics which had influenced and affected the work carried out by the Europeana Research Grants winners.

On day two, the three Europeana Research Grants holders came together for the expert panel “More than just a library: exploring the impact of Europeana”. The session was chaired by keynote speaker Lizzy Jongma, with an introductory paper by digital policy and diplomacy specialist and Europeana Network Association member, Dr Natalia Grincheva, from the University of Melbourne.

Natalia’s paper outlined the place of Europeana in the cultural and political landscape of digitization. Natalia discussed the implications of digital data aggregation, cultural reproduction, and digital reconstruction of the historic past for creating new cultural and social capital, as far as digital heritage is concerned. She offered an overview of the diverse ways in which users can interact with the Europeana platform, and with the vast range of resources held by Europeana partner institutions. Natalia concluded by underscoring Europeana’s innovative approach to making the platform accessible and enriching for end-users, by connecting researchers and a general-public audience with their cultural heritage.

Then Timothy Duguid, from the University of Glasgow, took over, discussing the MuSO project. His presentation outlined the history of the project and its connection to the Advanced Research Consortium. Other presentations at DPASSH and earlier discussions had highlighted the need for a method of preserving born-digital content rather than simply digitised content, and his presentation built on this perceived need by showing MuSO to be a discovery platform for born-digital content alongside digitized content. His presentation discussed how the MuSO project has used the Europeana Music Collection to build an RDF schema that will allow for the aggregation of both types of digital content while also working across disciplinary boundaries.

Thirdly, Caroline Ardrey, based at the University of Birmingham, presented her project, Visualising Voice, which showcases visual representations of spoken-word performances of poetry. Caroline emphasised the wealth of spoken-word audio resources held by Europeana collections, and highlighted the cultural and educational importance of encouraging users to engage with these resources in innovative ways. She also noted the gap in the research market for studies which consider poetry as a performative medium, linking to newly-developed studies in word-and-music relations, such as the Baudelaire Song Project, of which Caroline is currently Research Associate. She highlighted the challenges presented by copyright laws when working with digital audio material, and explored ways of managing these. Caroline ended her talk with a call to consider the pedagogical aspect of working with digital audio materials, making annotation practices and research findings accessible beyond the scope of the academic community.

Finally, Nanna Thylstrup from the University of Copenhagen rounded off the panel with a presentation of her project, Mapping a Colony, which is dedicated to exploring, mapping, and connecting stories about the Danish colonial regime in the US Virgin Islands (USVI) from a combined Danish and USVI perspective, via an interactive map. Nanna’s talk centered on questions of how to reuse and mobilize Europeana’s archival objects and infrastructures in digital humanities projects in an ethical and meaningful way. Showcasing the work of Mapping a Colony, Nanna in particular highlighted the need to further discuss and explore suitable models of how to decolonize archival work in European digital infrastructures such as Europeana.

While the winning projects are different in nature, the panelists also shared common experiences working with Europeana, and the panel provided a good forum for discussing the potentials and limitations of working with the Europeana platform. Key topics raised by the panel, and addressed by the grants-holders’ papers and subsequent discussions included issues surrounding data visualisation, interoperability, cross-institutional work, indexing systems, and the limitations imposed on research by copyright.

DPASSH 2017 offered a fantastic opportunity for the three Europeana Research Grants winners to come together to share and discuss their research. The conference opened up important questions surrounding the challenges and the value of working with Europeana for academic research - both for the grants holders and for the wider scholarly community. In particular, the panel and dialogue with other delegates allowed for a fruitful exploration of ways to work with Europeana in a sustainable, ethical and pragmatic fashion, while also utilizing and further developing its great potential for supporting and driving digital archival research.