You’ve got to give some credit to the EU’s cultural commissars. Hampered by a minuscule budget and the fact that cultural policy is left almost entirely to the member states, with the Commission acting primarily as a grant-giving agency, they are doing what they can to instill a sense of common European values and cultural heritage. Their most impressive project to date is Europeana, the archive of images, texts, and multimedia content uploaded to a common platform by cultural institutions across the bloc. Europeana suffered from some pretty amusing growing pains at the outset but has improved quite a lot, though the logo still reads “beta” despite the promise to become fully operational by autumn 2010.

If you search for “cubism” now, you get a few hundred reproductions of paintings and four videos in French. For students and the general public, this is still not very useful, but better than the list of a dozen obscure artworks a search back in 2009 dredged up. The Western European imbalance of the site remains obvious. Nothing on the significant phenomenon of Czech cubism, nor Czech surrealism, for instance. Well, that’s not really a surprise considering the Czechs’ lame performance in general at publicizing their rich cultural heritage.

Europeana’s still very much a work in progress, with plans to merge a whole range of digital research tools into the main site, including something called APEnet – not, as you might think, devoted to Gibraltar’s famous non-human primates, rather a European national archives portal

What little press Europeana has gathered since its launch a couple of years ago, TOL’s 2009 commentary included, has tended to see it as a competitor to Google Books. This isn’t particularly helpful since Europeana is intended as a study guide rather than provider of complete cultural works. Where the comparison does hold water is that both projects are part of the burgeoning debate over who should control the rights to use digitized content.

Europeana has come down firmly on the side of those who insist that artifacts that enter the public domain – out-of-copyright books, reproductions of Old Master paintings, old newspapers – must remain there, free for anyone to use, copy, and cite, after being digitized. Recently Europeana became an early adopter of the Creative Commons “public domain mark” – sort of like a WikiLeaks for cultural heritage.

Photo by Clare Wilkinson under Creative Commons license

Ky Krauthamer

Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor at Transitions Online. Email:

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