Kim H. Veltman

European Networks of Excellence and Japanese/UNESCO Silk Roads

Published in: Proceedings of the Tokyo Symposium for Digital Silk Roads, UNESCO, National Institute of Informatics, National Center of Sciences, Tokyo, 13 December, 2001, Tokyo: NII, 2002, pp. 135-145.
Variant given at the Hitachi Laboratory, Yokohama, 14 December 2001.


A European Network of Centres of Excellence in Digital Cultural Heritage is being formed. It is proposed that this could be linked with NII’s broadband network in Japan and with UNESCO’s proposed digital silk roads project. Following a survey of key developments in technology and virtual museums some of the reasons for these new networks are outlined: namely, the possibilities of augmented culture; the need for new links between local, regional, national and global knowledge; the need for a new world view with respect to culture and more methodological reflection about the implications of digital culture.


Networks, augmented culture、digital content, cultural grid

1. Introduction
2. Technological Developments
3. Virtual and Imaginary Museums
4. Virtual Sites, Cities, Landscapes
5. Augmented Digital Culture
6. Local, Regional, National, Global
7. A New World View of Culture
8. Networks of Excellence, Digital Silk Roads and a Cultural Grid
9. Conclusions

1 Introduction

Since the founding of the Canadian Heritage Information Network (CHIN) there have been visions of linking memory institutions (museums, libraries and archives) in networks (cf. Marburg Archive). Experiments at a European scale began in the early 1990s and such efforts at networked memory insititutions continue. The G7 Conference and Exhibition on the information Society (Brussels, February 1995) introduced the idea of eleven pilot projects of which number five was devoted to Multimedia Access to World Cultural Heritage. At the G7 Information Society And Developing Countries (ISAD) Conference (Midrand, June 1996) four projects were highlighted under the themes, capture (National Research Council of Canada laser camera, Ottawa); archive (the multimedia system of the Istituto e Museo di storia della scienza entailing links between scientific manuscripts, physical and virtual reconstructions, Florence); display (the reconstruction of the tomb of Nefertari by Infobyte, Rome) and navigate (System for Universal Media Searching (SUMS), Toronto).

The G7 initiative was one of the factors, which led to the European Commission’s Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for Multimedia Access to Europe’s Cultural Heritage, which was initiated in December 1995 and signed in June 1996. This MOU established that hundreds of European Cultural Institutions were interested in working together. The MOU led to the MEDICI Framework (inaugurated, Vienna, October 1998), which introduced the idea of a network of centres of excellence to study the methodological problems posed by these emerging networks, to establish criteria for quality in this field and to develop new European Masters and Doctoral programmes in digital culture. This idea of a European Masters with links to other continents was recently restated by Commissioner Reding (Brussels, 29, 11, 2001).

The past three years have seen four major developments. First, there have been dramatic technological developments with respect to broadband and nano-technology. Second, there has been an enormous rise in online museums (over 3000 in Italy alone) and other cultural institutions. Third, there has been an amazing growth in virtual sites, which now extend beyond individual buildings to include whole sections of cities and even entire provinces.

Fourth, techniques of augmented reality now allow one to superimpose virtual reconstructions on cultural objects in the physical world. This introduces many new possibilities for augmented digital culture. Following a survey of these developments, it is suggested that the idea of grids for scientific collaboration needs to be extended to create a cultural grid. This cultural grid can contribute to a European Research Area (ERA) and can subsequently be integrated with other international initiatives such as Japan’s Digital Silk Roads and UNESCO’s world portal for culture and e-learning.

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