Roughing up the smooth space of European heritage: Inventing Europe

Alexander Badenoch, The Netherlands

The age of digital heritage offers new opportunities – as well as new challenges – for attempting to cross these boundaries and rethink both European history as well as museum collections. The large push to create a smooth space European space of digital heritage – itself a project of technological harmonization – makes connecting objects and collections supposedly easier than ever, but also seems to elide the work of adaptation and interpretation involved in such projects. As ‘objects’ are increasingly what comes into circulation, the status of ‘collections’ becomes more embattled. How can national, local, or ‘universal’ collections tell European stories? These challenges lie at the heart of Inventing Europe (, an online virtual exhibition developed connection with the forthcoming six-part book series Making Europe: Technology and Transformations 1850-2000. Inventing Europe works in partnership with a consortium of cultural heritage institutions throughout Europe, especially science and technology museums, but also media archives, and local and national history museums. The images, sounds and videos borrowed from the collection, plus a large and growing number of linked items allow users to make new connections between the stories here and the rich and growing online collections of museums, archives and libraries, including the European digital library Europeana. The exhibition is conceived of as a flexible platform that allows each set of stakeholders (researchers, heritage partners and educators) to inscribe their own forms of knowledge within it and structure their interactions with the other groups. In so doing, the project is also designed to place collection objects in the centre of new forms of public dialogue. This paper will focus on the role of the (online) curator as mediator of collection knowledge. It will explore the communicative processes surrounding objects, as well as the tensions between objects and narratives that emerge. It will then explore the potential communicative power of collections (and the work of curation). It will look at a series of ‘guest curated’ elements, where curators from participating institutions were asked to interpret a series of objects from their own collection in terms of the transnational remit of the exhibit.