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Europeana Thesis Conclusions

The last few weeks, I have been working non-stop on my final thesis. At some points, it has been pretty hard to come to a good conclusion. A lot of expectations I had in advance appeared not to be correct.
In the end, I believe I have made a good analysis of Europeana in relation with a European identity and the cultural policy of the European Union.

In short: here are a few of my conclusions.

1. The European Union must not try to become a ‘United States of Europe’. The cultural strategies the EU uses to construct a European identity are similar to the strategies that national states use. For example the introduction of a European anthem and a standardized passport. In terms of cultural heritage: it is easy to claim that all of the German and French history is also a part of European history. This assumption however will not lead to an idea of a European idea of a shared history. The European identity consists out of the variety of all the different states in it and is constantly changing. The EU must try to show its ‘unity in diversity’ and the Europeana project is more than suitable for this since it combines all of Europe’s heritage.

2. The current interface of Europeana is not able to show the cultural objects in a European context. A search query leads to thousands of results presented in a 4×3 grid in no particular order. When an object is clicked, it is shown individually on the website of the contributing institution. This way, the European context is not present. In fact, all context has disappeared. Europeana should strive to show this context. This can be done in two ways. The first is to let experts like historians and archivists create a new European story. By combining primary and secondary sources from different countries and institutions, new relations and contexts can be shown. The second option is to create spaces where users can combine, view and discuss their own objects. The recently released Europeana API proves to be an excellent tool for this.

3. Fix the metadata. At the moment, tests with the Europeana API show that a lot of the objects do not have standardized metadata. This makes it hard for programmers and users to use and combine different cultural objects. For example, one institutions uses ‘1867’as a date mark, while an other uses ’19th century’. This makes it impossible to combine these objects in for example a timeline. Luckily Europeana has also noticed this problem and recently released the ‘aggregators handbook’ and a dummy space where aggregators can test if all fields are filled in correctly

4. The current trend is that the idea of feeling European is decreasing. In fact, it is now lower than at the start of the cultural program in 1992. However, it appears that this idea is very much related to economical and political factors. At the moment, during the economic crisis, less people have the idea that their country benefits from the European Union. At the same time, more people tend to feel less European.

5. The Europeana project fits perfectly in the cultural goals of the European Union. Because of its role as an aggregator of aggregators, it can also very easily adopt new institutions, aggregators and even new members countries. This allows Europeana to show the diversity and commonalities of the European culture, as well as new stories and insights in the history of the world. This way Europeana can become the representation of the diversity that unites Europe.

Right now, an English peer reviewer is taking a look at my thesis. After it is enhanced, I will put the entire thing on my blog.

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