The impact of COVID-19 on the Digital Treasures exhibitions

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.

Heritage of a Nation – Landmarks of Hungarian History exhibition opening in August 2020, Budapest, Hungary. Credits: Zsuzsanna Lantos, National Archives of Hungary

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

The merchandise products: “the Father Bartolomeu de Gusmão’s aerostatic machine”

To respond to one of the challenges launched by the European Digital Treasures project, the Directorate-General for Books, Archives and Libraries of Portugal hired the IPCA (Polytechnic Institute of Cávado e Ave) to create some merchandising products inspired by documents of the National Archives Torre do Tombo and that belongs to one of the  Exhibitions, ” EUROPEAN DISCOVERIES: FROM THE NEW WORLD TO NEW TECNOLOGIES”, from the EDT. These products should please a very wide-ranging and diverse audience, contribute to increase the visibility of archives and their documentary heritage, diversify the ways in which they are approached, attract new audiences and increase the revenues of archives.

IPCA accepted the challenge and developed a set of products of which we now present “the Father Bartolomeu de Gusmão’s aerostatic machine”.

Historical background:

In August 1709 Father Bartolomeu de Gusmão presented to D. João V, king of Portugal, and his court, a balloon that rises 4 to 5 meters from the ground. In order to prevent the possibility of the plans being copied and to ensure his recognition as the inventor of the concept, Bartolomeu de Gusmão created the design of the Passarola, a bird-shaped machine that, in no way, corresponded to the original device, but served mainly to divert attention.

This picture can be found in the manuscript “Letters, consultations and other works by Alexandre de Gusmão: Father Bartolomeu de Guerreiro’s Aerostatic Machine” with reference code: PT / TT / MSLIV / 1011

More than three centuries later, the Passarola is still a source of inspiration. This episode was used by José Saramago in one of his most popular novels, “Baltasar and Blimunda”.

Here you can see a video on the IPCA process of creating a mobile from the National Archive of Portugal/Torre do Tombo document: https://youtu.be/vb83RNmppYg

General Directorate of Books, Archives and Libaries, Portugal

Bohemia’s Protestant Exiles: Carl of Liechtenstein’s summons of 1621

This Document is one of the many exhibits of the roaming exhibitions of the Digital Treasures Project. It is part of the collection of the National Archive of the Czech Republic and is dealing about one of the important turning points at the beginning of the Thirty Years´ War. The document was published on 17th February 1621, but the battle at the White Mountain (Bílá hora, near Prague), was fought on the 8th of November 1620.

And here is the background of the document. It marks the culmination of a period of intense confrontation between the Protestant princes and nobles of the Holy Roman Empire and Central Europe on one hand headed by Frederick V, ruler of the Palatinate region in Germany, and the Catholic establishment of the Empire led by Emperor Ferdinand II. of Habsburg on the other hand.

In 1618 the Second Defenestration of Prague triggered the Thirty Years´ War. The two sides gathered armies, thus leading to the inevitable confrontation at White Mountain. Ferdinand’s Catholic army decisively defeated Frederick’s forces, and went on to capture Prague, thus effectively putting down the rebellion. Frederick and many of the Protestant leaders went into exile abroad.

The document was published in the name of Carl of Liechtenstein, one of Ferdinand II’s top officials at that time. In the text, it is announced that the emperor has ordered the trial. A list follows, naming the most notable of the rebels. In effect, though, the summons is designed to apply to all Bohemians who had actively supported the Protestant cause.

27 of those who did come up for trial were executed in Prague in June 1621, and those who remained at large had their land and titles confiscated and transferred to nobles and gentlemen (all Catholics) who had been loyal to Ferdinand. Protestantism was forbidden, and in 1627 centralised authoritarian government was introduced.

For the people living on the lands of the Bohemian Crown, the consequences were devastating. The expelled people originated from all social classes. Places of exile had been the protestant German lands or the different parts of the Crown of St. Stephen´s in the kingdom of Hungary.

At a wider European level, the repercussions of the Bohemian Revolt were wide-ranging. The conflict effectively kicked off a series of interlocking wars which devastated much of Central Europe. Only with the treaty at Westphalia in 1648 did Europe enter a state of (sadly temporary) peace once again.