2 minutes to read Posted on Tuesday December 18, 2012

Updated on Tuesday October 24, 2017

New Virtual Exhibition - Leaving Europe: A new life in America

main image
Emigrants, une arrivée [le pont d'un navire arrivant à Ellis Island remplis d'émigrants]
Agence Rol. Agence photographique
Bibliothèque nationale de France

Today, a brand-new exhibition goes live on Europeana. Leaving Europe: A new life in America tells the story of European emigration to the United States during the 19th and 20th centuries.

Migration boat

It’s the result of an exciting collaboration with the Digital Public Library of America and uses more than 100 photographs, manuscripts, newspapers, paintings, letters, audio and government documents to chart peoples’ journeys across the European continent and their settlement in the United States. The exhibits are from U.S. and European libraries, museums and archives and the accompanying narrative has been commissioned specially for the exhibition from U.S. and European experts. Many of these images have rarely been made available before.

‘By combining forces to show how Europeans began new lives in the New World, Europeana and the DPLA have demonstrated a principle that goes far beyond the immediate subject of their exhibition: to build a successful digital future, we must collaborate on an international scale,’ said Robert Darnton, DPLA Steering Committee member and Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor and Director of the Harvard University Library. ‘The exhibition inaugurates an alliance that will multiply the benefits of the Internet for generation after generation, everywhere in the world.’

Migration children

The DPLA and Europeana—guided by a common mission to make the riches of libraries, museums and archives openly available to everyone in the world—collaborated regularly with curators, content partners, project staff and others to design and build the exhibition cooperatively. Leaving Europe: A new life in America represents the starting point of a significant long-term relationship between the two digital libraries.

‘I am delighted at this first joint initiative between the DPLA and Europeana, one on an eminently trans-Atlantic subject,’ said Bruno Racine, Chair of the Europeana Executive Committee. ‘We share common goals—the free circulation of ideas and knowledge, dedication to the public good—and we believe that the digital revolution opens up unprecedented possibilities for exchanges like this one. I am very proud that Europeana can in this way express its support for the DPLA and for the values it defends.’

Over 30 million Europeans, from as far north as Scandinavia and as far south as Sicily, set sail to America in the 19th century and the first quarter of the 20th century. The virtual exhibition, organised across seven major themes, describes the very human experiences and the historical context that different groups of hopeful immigrants from across Europe faced. The exhibition allows the virtual visitor to accompany them on their journey from their native country and region, across the Atlantic and into the ports, cities, and local communities of the United States.

One example of a life story from the exhibition is demonstrated by the man on the left of this photograph, Peder (Peter) Martinson Eyes, who was born on 25 January 1886 in Island Hjellan, Norway. On 18 April 1906, aged 20, he emigrated from Kristiansund via Liverpool on the 'RMS Baltic', arriving at Ellis Island on 5 May. He then moved to North Manitou, Michigan, in the Upper Midwest of the USA. In 1910, almost 80 percent of the one million or more Norwegian Americans—the immigrants and their children—lived in that part of the United States. Peter married Eleanor Anderson Nerland (from Kristiansund) on 30 May 1921 in Traverse City, Michigan. They had three children. He died in Traverse City on 27 May 1973.

Europeana’s contributing partners to the exhibition include the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the National Gallery of Ireland, the Jewish Museum of London, the Royal Library of the Netherlands, the Saxon State Library, and the Norwegian Photo Archives. The DPLA’s contributors include the New York Public Library, Harvard University, The (U.S.) National Archives and Records Administration, and the University of Minnesota Immigration History Research Center.

Explore Leaving Europe: A new life in America in English or French


Emigrants, une arrivée [le pont d'un navire arrivant à Ellis Island remplis d'émigrants] Bibliothèque nationale de France, public domain
Emigrants [sur Ellis Island], deux gosses d'Italie, Bibliothèque nationale de France, public domain
Peder (Peter) Martinson Øyen, FylkesFOTOarkivet i Møre og Romsdal, Norway, free access