In the age of the Internet, the digitization of historical materials has proven to play a crucial role in the preservation and proliferation of cultural heritage. In addition to major museums and large-scale libraries, archives around the world have adopted this practice. This phenomenon has been made particularly apparent by Europeana Collections, an online platform that has digitized over 53 million “artworks, artifacts, books, videos and sounds from across Europe.” For its most recent project, Europeana Photography, the website has reproduced photographs from the first 100 years of photography and shared them with the public—all for free.
Europeana Photography features over 2.2 million historical photographs with origins that span 50 European institutions sprawled across 34 different countries. As they were taken over the course of 100 years, the photographs that compose the collection present a wide range in style, quality, and subject matter (though, much like contemporary photography, landscapes, portraits, and still-life depictions seem to dominate). In addition to presenting photography's evolving sensibilities, Europeana Photography also showcases the work of prolific photographers, including “important pioneers like Julia Margaret Cameron, Eadweard Muybridge and Louis Daguerre” through curated galleries and museum-inspired online exhibitions.
Created in collaboration with the non-profit PHOTOCONSORTIUM, Europeana Photography is a project with its eye on many goals. Ultimately, however, the predominant aim of the new digital archive is to cultivate a culturally-united continent. Both Europeana Collections and PHOTOCONSORTIUM believe this can be achieved by inviting users to “connect with their past, with fellow European citizens, explore remote eras and locations, and better appreciate the value of their continental, national and local cultural heritage.”
You can find the digital archive here.