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2 minutes to read Posted on Tuesday January 22, 2019

Updated on Monday November 6, 2023

portrait of Emily D’Alterio

Emily D’Alterio

Former Editorial & PR Officer , Europeana Foundation

More than a buzzword: Why Transcribathon exemplifies the need for digital transformation (and just what that means!)

There has been a lot of buzz around digital transformation - but that doesn’t mean it’s a buzzword per se. Instead of offering to define the meaning of the word time and time again, we're committed to showing it in action. The Transcribathon Finale in Brussels showed this process of digitising once-analogue content - and more than that - offered a powerful way to connect past and present. We speak to competitors aged 16 to 86 about the significance of their contributions to remembering and preserving the past.

Europeana Transcribathon Campus Berlin 2017, Sebastiaan ter Burg, CC BY 2.0

Digital transformation is best described in action, and no more was it prevalent than at the Europeana Transcribathon Finale event in Brussels. For those uninitiated, a Transcribathon event is a competition held where competitors use the digital transcribathon tool to decipher written cultural heritage works - diaries, letters, newspapers - and type up, or transcribe, their content.

As a process of digitisation, this is really useful. In practical terms, the deciphering and typing up these often difficult-to-read, monolingual, analogue items, allow them to be uploaded in our digital archive (on the transcribathon platform), where they can be translated and accessed globally.

So practical, yes. But it is everything that goes around this process that makes transcribathon a true example of digital transformation.

More than digitisation

In late 2018, teams from across Europe came together in Brussels to compete in the Transcribathon Finale event (held at the Centenary Tour Finale event, which ran concurrently at the House of European History).

Competitors ranged in age from 16 to 86. While their ages varied, in speaking to competitors Krzysztof Pluciennik (16 years) and Peter Kirmsse (86 years), both offered a unique perspective on the experience.

(L-R) Peter Kirmsse, Commissioner Mariya Gabriel, Krzysztof Pluciennik, WWI Centenary Event Brussels, Europeana 2018, CC BY-SA
(L-R) Peter Kirmsse, Commissioner Mariya Gabriel, Krzysztof Pluciennik, WWI Centenary Event Brussels, Europeana 2018, CC BY-SA

Krzysztof said, ‘The transcribathon made me learn some things. I do feel more connected to history.’

Peter said, ‘I love the transcribathon because it connected me to the information I had from both of my parents. My father came here with the first army in August 1914. He was also an artist, a painter, and he gave a very vivid description of Brussels. And when I arrived here, I shed some tears when I was in the park, as I remembered those times with my parents.’

Through the actions of digitising content, participants saw their connection to the past changed. Whether it be through seeing new-found humanity in people from past generations, or similarities between themselves and the people they were often so intimately reading about - every participant interviewed commented on their transformed view of historical events and people.

Competition finalist Anastasija Smirnova said, ‘I feel really grateful that I had this opportunity to come here and participate here. Also, I think Europeana gives people a chance to look inside everyday life because before that we were looking just on political stuff, political levels, whereas now we know we are going inside common ordinary people’s lives.’

Transform culture, transform people, transform the world

At Europeana, we aim to do more than provide access to cultural heritage - we also aim to connect to the humanity that lies within these cultural heritage objects.

As Europeana Foundation Executive Director Harry Verwayen stated, 'When we talk about digital transformation, we must also ask: transforming into what? And how?'

See, the difference between digitisation and digital transformation is that which is being transformed. We digitise things: books, paintings, letters, even processes, mathematics and music. But digital transformation, it is us - people and society - that is the ‘thing’. We are the ones being transformed, it is the disruption to our mechanisms and behaviour that is important.

Transform the world with culture. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Do you have an opinion on digital transformation? An example of it in action? Do you still see it as a buzzword? Get in touch! Contact Europeana Pro Editor-in-Chief Emily D'Alterio, submit an opinion piece or editorial, and add to the conversation around digital transformation in culture.