European national histories are often taught as isolated narratives that emphasise conflict rather than cooperation. But recently, EU-funded researchers used historical exhibitions and digital technologies to remind Europeans just how much history and culture they share. A custom-designed Android app, for example, now helps visitors explore London's National Gallery.
Researchers in the EU-funded CROSSCULT project created software applications that allow visitors to better appreciate Europe’s shared history at famous exhibitions and archaeological sites across the European Union.
According to project communications coordinator Luc Vandenabeele of the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology, CROSSCULT had two main goals. The first was to digitally improve visitor experiences during tours of EU historical exhibitions, such as the Montegrotto Terme archaeological site near Padua, Italy. The second was to create events that would promote both a better understanding of European history and improve how visitors experience the events. “We aimed to increase historical awareness by connecting different venues and viewpoints, and by showing the connections between historical phenomena in different eras,” he says.
Sharing by connecting
CROSSCULT’s first action was to develop an online platform for building Android applications specific to exhibitions and their pilot projects. The app for the National Gallery in London, for example, offers museum maps, allows visitors to “like” certain museum works, and suggests other works that the user might like based upon prior input. These mobile applications, available through Google Play, allow guests to tailor their digital experiences to their own tastes.
Another CrossCult-developed Android app, “Cultural Connections”, draws parallels between ancient and modern times. For example, the app informs users that regions of Spain, Italy, Portugal and Greece were united for over 400 years during the Roman Empire, and points out that under the European Union, they have only been united since 1986. The app then asks the user to react by sharing his or her thoughts.
When constructing the pilot projects associated with the apps, researchers began with the core principle that history has no absolute truths, but rather various interpretations and contrasting viewpoints that encourage personal reflection. The first pilot project was an art exhibition at London’s National Gallery held on 25-29 June 2018. The pilot’s app helps visitors navigate the Gallery’s works and poses questions meant to encourage the contemplation of their cultural and historical significance.
The second project developed another app that explored the therapeutic use of water in antiquity. The app allowed users to digitally explore ancient spas near Lugo, in Spain; Chaves, in Portugal; Montegrotto, in Italy; and the Epidaurus archaeological site in Greece.
A smaller venue was the focus of the third pilot: the Tripolis Archaeological Museum in Greece. “Visitors went beyond the typical level of historical presentation, such as the type of a statue or its construction date,” Vandenabeele says. “Instead, they went into deeper levels of reflection, such as over the social aspects of life in antiquity.”
The fourth and final pilot allowed users to investigate the cultural heritage of the cities of Valetta in Malta and Luxembourg City and Belval in Luxembourg. The app for this pilot, entitled “CrossCult: Cities”, used online maps to lead visitors on walking tours and pointed out sites of cultural and historical significance.
Better historical appreciation
The final results from CROSSCULT, which ended in late February 2019, include economic benefits for participating municipalities. Researchers developed software and apps that educators, tourist operators, and local governments can use to improve their services. In addition, the software platform remains available as a toolkit that cultural heritage professionals can use to develop their own customised applications.
“CROSSCULT was an amazing journey,” Vandenabeele says. “It enabled the humanities and technology to join forces to support reflections on history and an understanding of our common European past.”