The archival treasures, documents and records kept by the archives around the world lie in their peaceful places in their cases, boxes or folders in those never-ending mysterious storage rooms. Our exhibitions mean that the history itself is brought to life. When an exhibition is set up, the archival records are being carefully digitised or taken out and are prepared by professional restorers to be displayed to the public. In presenting these records for cultural, educational purposes – some of them being many hundred years old – the exhibitions play a particularly important role.
When we think about the recently erupted epidemic, it is hard to miss its impact on the cultural sector. Last year new exhibitions were planned and opened just to be closed right after opening and it has been a new experience for all of us to cope with the challenges that have been triggered by COVID-19. The pandemic has disrupted traditional working practices in the sector, making the digital transformation of cultural heritage institutions more important than ever. However, these challenges resulted in many positive changes that might have been delayed if the pressure of digitisation had not come in waves. The digital strategies have drastically changed and we had to keep focus on what is important.
The main aim of the exhibitions is to make the archival material available to the citizens of the world, families, students, travellers, art enthusiasts, pensioners and so on, to help them get closer to their roots, their history and cultural heritage. These records are the base of every nation’s history involved and should be made available for everyone who is curious enough to observe and understand them. Though our physical exhibitions remained closed, the digital world has opened new windows in exhibition planning. Some of the main challenges were preparing teams for working with digital technologies, a budget, preparing factors for choosing a direction for further activities and through it all, most importantly keeping good health in the focus. Virtual exhibitions have emerged, the digitisation of archival records has accelerated, archival educational material was prepared for the online classes. Social media became the main event space for openings, virtual book launch events and workshops. Our digital content has grown rapidly and as a result, our institutions became more transparent and accessible to the public.
In the framework of the European Digital Treasures project, three exhibitions are being prepared. The archival digitisation processes in the partner countries have worked effectively, but COVID-19 has caused some serious impacts on the exhibition’s physical openings in some countries. The crisis has directly implied the delay in the opening of the exhibitions; the first exhibition of the project is ‘The Construction of Europe’, it will finally open in late June, 2021 at the Archives of the Crown of Aragon, Spain and will be the first exhibition to start the series of exhibitions of the European Digital Treasures project.
All measures considered, the archives have adapted their facilities to guarantee the protection of both workers and citizens who access them. All institutes are currently working on a plan that will allow the safest way of engaging in exhibitions after reopening.
Author: Anna Palcsó, Public Education Officer, National Archives of Hungary