Journal article

All and each: a socio-technical review of the Europeana project

Digital media Museums Cultural heritage Europeana Europe

Digital technologies offer opportunities for engagement with cultural heritage resources through the development of online platforms and databases. However, questions have been raised about whether this type of engagement is structurally open or bounded by pre-existing institutional frameworks. Michel Foucault’s later work on “governmentality” speaks to this concern and identifies in modes of government the mutually reinforcing relation of all and each, “to develop those elements constitutive of individuals’ lives in such a way that their development also fosters that of the strength of the state”  [Foucault [1979] 2000a]. This article takes Foucault’s insight as a point of departure for thinking about how digital technologies are mediating and structuring the relationships between individuals and organizations, using the European Commission-funded Europeana project as a case study. Europeana is the embodiment of all and each as a technique of government: it functions by fostering the contributions of individuals and national audiences in a way that celebrates their diversity, while also engaging in a project to systematically standardize and unify. Examination of the technical elements of Europeana reveals the political imperatives implicit in its technical operations, and how the parameters for audience participation are subsequently defined. In this article, we examine the audiences explicitly and implicitly delimited by Europeana, and then analyze them in relation to the project’s development of the European Data Model (EDM) for the interchange of metadata about cultural heritage objects. The article concludes that a lack of explicit definitions about audiences, what Europeana is, and how its various parts work in concert constitute adefinitional void. This void is a technique of government in that it absorbs difference and is deliberately vague. It involves power relations that are hard to center and render visible, and it is thus difficult to detect which actors are occupying a space of privilege. We suggest some tentative strategies for addressing this problem by attending to the sites of awkward engagement and difference that are currently masked in the technical framing of Europeana.


Europeana and its Audiences

How does Europeana work and what is its emphasis? This question is not trivial, and it is telling that at a 2016 heritage studies conference, the authors encountered far more people who had never heard of Europeana than people who could describe the project and its aims. Answering the question requires an understanding of what the name ‘Europeana’ encompasses. For example, Antoine Isaac et al speak about the multiple priorities and user groups of Europeana, which belies the fact that it is not a single entity, nor does it have a single, sweepingly agreed-upon identity for its users and creators [Isaac, Clayphan, and Haslhofer 2012, 38]. Europeana is a complicated socio-technical network comprising many components that change over time. Here, we recognize a few of them, including the public-facing web portal; the API and the developers behind this; and macro-level policy makers who act as intermediaries between the various manifestations of the Europeana project and the EC.

The public-facing part of the project is represented by a web platform which offers access to digitized items from national museum, library and archive collections across Europe.

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