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Future element
Odra Noel
Wellcome Collection

‘The future is already here - it's just not very evenly distributed,’ science fiction writer William Gibson famously declared. But this is even more true about the past.

The world we live in, the very shape of our present, is the profound result of our history and culture in all of its variety, the good as well as the bad. Yet very few of us have had access to the full array of human expression across time and space.

Cultural artifacts that are the incarnations of this past, the repository of our feelings and ideas, have thankfully been preserved in individual museums, libraries, and archives. But they are indeed unevenly distributed, out of the reach of most of humanity.

Europeana changed all of this. It brought thousands of collections together and provided them freely to all. This potent original idea, made real, became an inspiration to all of us, and helped to launch similar initiatives around the world, such as the Digital Public Library of America.

Access at scale was only the start, however. It is in the daily, less visible interactions with digital cultural heritage that the impact has been, and will continue to be, deeply felt.

A walking tour of a town enhanced by augmented reality images and sounds from the past.  A young artist finding inspiration from museum pieces suggested by artificial intelligence silently scanning Europeana’s vast collection. A researcher discovering how cities develop over time through the digital synthesis of hundreds of maps.

The tally of these impressions and insights will always be greater than any quantitative measures of Europeana. It is nothing less than new culture being born.

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