Caught up in the Internet – New Ways of Accessing Cultural Heritage

A conference organized by the Internet & Society Co:llaboratory, the Deutsche Kinemathek, the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation and Wikimedia Germany, November 17-18 in Berlin.

The conference deals with the consequences and implications of the information age for libraries, archives, and museums. After a theoretical reflection on the present-day conditions regulating access to knowledge, projects and strategies of presenting our cultural heritage via the internet will be introduced from a variety of different perspectives. In this context, libraries, archives and museums represent traditional memory organizations that brokers and producers of digital knowledge – e.g. Google and Wikipedia – have equipped with novel innovative powers.

The conference focuses on the tasks and challenges linked to these innovations, as well as on the advantages and disadvantages of respective approaches. It will close by providing an outlook of how a new type of Internet can be created – one that is initiated at different venues, independently, yet equipped with a common vision, and one that offers particularly promising opportunities for preserving and sharing cultural heritage.
The conference will start with a brief analysis of the processes that have shaped the past 30 years. While the Internet’s democratic potential created corresponding demands and stirred great enthusiasm, memory organizations were slow in engaging in digitization. Why was this the case? Understanding these historical developments is crucial for understanding both the multitude of current initiatives like the Europeana, and the emergence of new actors.

The Internet, originally a hybrid product of science and military strategy, developed dynamics that soon infiltrated the realms of economy and culture. As globalization became manifest in the Internet, and was at the same time shaped by it, the concept of a knowledge-based society developed in parallel. The Internet’s promise of bringing the radical opening and distribution of culture within reach was created with enthusiasm by this emerging knowledge-based society. However, due to unresolved legal controversies over rights, insufficient financial resources, a lack of technological expertise and inflexible mindsets, the practical realization of making cultural heritage accessible through digitalized representations turned out to be more difficult than expected.

During a period of intermediate consolidation, the cards were reshuffled and a new structure quickly emerged that will be the focus of this conference: Memory organizations have by now developed their own strategies of presenting and interconnecting cultural heritage. In part, these strategies can be understood as reactions to the activities of commercial enterprises. At the same time, new collaborative and civil society-based projects emerged that developed dynamics that remain unparalleled by commercial actors.

In today’s world, the Internet’s relevance for our shared cultural heritage and other realms depends on its open structure and is shaped by civil society, by companies that pursue commercial aims, and by public institutions. Examples of these three types of actors are Wikipedia, Google and the Europeana – in the future also the Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek (German Digital Library).

Our goal is to develop a vision of the digital future of our cultural heritage, and to identify new perspectives on how to proceed.


Head of the conference: Dr. Paul Klimpel

Coordination: Marc Thümmler