After a shaky start, Europeana, the EU’s archive of digitized books, art, and audiovisual materials, is starting to show promise – even though it still works more like a virtual exhibition space than research tool, certainly if the area of interest is Central and Eastern Europe.

Just now there’s a fascinating audio-visual exhibition on wedding traditions in four countries from the CEE region. Very few texts on the topic are available, however (that goes for Western Europe as well).

The results of my highly unscientific exploration of the site show that it remains heavily tilted toward Western Europe, although less so than when it launched several years ago. The site now contains some 20 million items, as of October. Sixteen percent were uploaded by French institutions, and about the same by German ones. Britain lags behind, at less than 5 percent; the top contributor from this region is Poland (3 percent).

Europeana has now spun off a site that holds promise to become one of its most useful and fun products. EUscreen is a collection of TV shows and other audiovisual material provided by public broadcasters and archives from 20 countries. Our region is represented by Poland, Romania, Czech(oslovakia), Hungary, and Slovenia. The site officially launched in October and still bears a “beta” sticker (as Europeana still does). You can find gems like a Romanian TV interview with François Mitterrand from 1979, a Czech clothes ad from 1968, or a contest for the cleanest apartment house on housing estate ADM-27 somewhere in Poland, also 1968. The photo on this page is a still from the Slovenian entertainment/quiz show Korajža velja from 1957.

So far it’s mostly news and factual material, with very little drama or entertainment, and exactly six TV ads. Unfortunately this imbalance will probably continue because the plan is to focus most of the content on 14 selected topics in 20th-century European history. The topics include the history of European television, war and conflict, disasters, health, and (sigh) “being European.”

But it’s early days yet and so far only a few thousand clips are available on the site. This resource has enormous potential for students and researchers. What better way to quickly take in the turbulence of November 1989 than to skim through news reports on the dramatic, and mundane, happenings in Berlin and Prague – from the canonization of St. Agnes of Bohemia, supposedly foreshadowing great things for the Czech lands, to the invasion of West Berlin by East Germans frantic to buy, buy, buy all those things the Wall had kept them from?

A reminder that the 2011 Transitions Online photo competition is underway. Photos can be submitted until 15 December. More here.

Ky Krauthamer

Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor at Transitions Online. Email: ky.krauthamer@tol.org

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