Europe as a Digital Network: EGO European History Online

paper, specified "long paper"
  1. 1. Thomas Burch

    Trier Center for Digital Humanities (Kompetenzzentrum für elektronische Erschließungs- und Publikationsverfahren in den Geisteswissenschaften) - Universität Trier

  2. 2. Joachim Berger

    Leibniz-Institut für Europäische Geschichte (IEG) (Leibniz Institute of European History)

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The proposed paper reports on the development of a new digital resource: EGO | European History Online(EGO) is a transcultural history of early modern and modern Europeconcentrating on processes of communication, interaction and interdependency ( It is being published by the Leibniz Institute of European History (IEG) in Mainz in cooperation with the University of Trier’s Centre for Digital Humanities. At its heart are transfer processes that extended across individual, familial and local realms and had a long-term impact. EGO traces these transfer processes in and between, amongst others, the realms of religion, law, politics, art, music, literature, economics, technology and the military, science and medicine. One can speak of a "transfer" when people, objects and ideas move between different cultures (interpretative systems) and as a result undergo transformation.

European History Online is the first history of Europe that links the medium's relevance to the subject matter. The format of an online system of publication is the ideal medium for representing the complexity and dynamics of European communicative and transfer processes. The more than 200 articles are organised into ten thematic threads. These threads group the separate articles into a modular structure arranged thematically and methodologically. These threads are transdisciplinary and multi-thematic; they bring together the perspectives of different historical disciplines and their international authors. At the same time, they are organised diachronically, i.e. they deal with phenomena that – with specific periods of development and significance – are primarily evident throughout modern European history.

This organisation offers flexible means of accessing the contributions: in contrast to a printed book, European History Online does not have a beginning and an end. EGO accommodates the dynamics of intensifying communication and the continuously shifting intersections in European history by assigning many articles to more than one section. Within these multiple classifications, one can see how the topics interconnect. The different forms of presentation – surveys, basic elements and focus elements – and their organisation into a modular structure enable nuanced contextualisation.

In addition to this multi-layered structure, EGO articles are directly connected via hyperlinks. The aim of these connections is to expose the so far unknown concentrations of communication in European history, inspire new transcultural research in the various disciplines and thereby promote a more dynamic understanding of European history. The versatile search function allows users to put together their own "history of Europe" which corresponds to their individual interests.

Moreover, EGO pursues a multilingual approachthat acknowledges the need for a workable meta-language / lingua franca in the Humanities but at the same time does justice to the linguistic variety of national academic cultures in Europe: EGO-articles are accepted in English and German. All major contributions are translated by native speakers and published in both languages. In addition, authors may publish their article in their native language. Users are invited to consult both the original and the translation in order to trace differing argumentative patterns and conceptual peculiarities of the respective languages.

From the technical point of view EGO is based on a sophisticated infrastructure which on the on hand supports the editorial board (backend of the system), and on the other hand is used to build the frontend of the system for the publication of the EGO articles in the internet. For these purposes the open source enterprise content management system Plone is used, which is a very powerful environment developed for professional use in organisations and companies. Especially its sophisticated and safe user access management as well as its workflow driven content management makes it one of the outstanding web management systems.

In Plone it is possible to handle very different content types as for example texts, images, PDF-files, audio and video data. For EGO all these project specific media types are modelled by a corresponding Plone article type, such that they can be configured by the editor himself within the Plone configuration layer. Here the editors can specify all relevant visual and layout attributes for each object according to the underlying web design of EGO and thereby prepare the article for the final publication. This step is integrated in the whole publication workflow which is modelled within the content management system. The participating roles are the authors, the editors, the copy editors and the publishers. Every member of this team has its own role and permissions to work with the documents, which run through different stages from ‘private’ (i.e. newly provided by the author) over ‘review/revision’ (redacted by at least one editor and/or copy editor) and ‘internal preview’ until it is ‘externally published’ on the EGO platform (c.f. figure 1).

Fig. 1: EGO article ‘Mental Maps: The Cognitive Mapping of the Continent as an Object of research of European History’

All information about the documents, the media types, the interlinking between documents and external resources and especially about the people involved is managed in an object database, which serves as storage for the backend as well as for the frontend. This guarantees that all changes to a document are logged in one consistent pool of data. Moreover, on this database the search engine for EGO is installed. In addition to a conventional full text retrieval the engine supports the query for specific categories of EGO articles as for example authors, time ranges, themes/threads, geographical regions of Europe and for media types (image, audio, video etc.).

To address aspects of long term availability of the project results the EGO documents are encoded according to international standards (XML/TEI, METS/MODS). The implementation of an open access interface to our Plone system allows a standardized export of the data, which is on the one hand used for long term storage in form of a dark archive. On the other hand it provides possibilities for the reuse of the EGO documents (e.g. linguistic analysis, visualization of the semantic network, compilation of bibliographic information, etc.).

The consequent use of a technical research and publication infrastructure leads to a highly dynamical publication process, to a very dense network of information and thereby to a very flexible presentation with additional benefits compared to traditional printed editions.

This change in media undertaken by European History Online challenges the concept of multi-volume published surveys, which, as a rule, must wait 20 to 50 years for a new edition. This dynamic form of publication corresponds to the dynamic understanding of Europe: the articles can be updated regularly, and the system can be extended by new articles in order to keep up with new developments in the research. Older versions of an article will remain accessible.

European History Online primarily uses linear, textual presentations of narrative and analysis in order to portray transfer processes in European history. However, EGO enhances spatial perspectives as well. All place names in the articles are georeferenced. They are retrievable in an alphabetical index and being visualized on a dynamic map (via Open Street Map). Thus authors are encouraged reflect their coverage of geographic areas in their resesarch, whereas users, via the general index (and map) of place names, may discern spatial clusters with regard to their topic of interest. EGO thus strives to enhances a spatially-oriented approach in transnational and transcultural history.

In addition, European History Onlinecombines different types of media in a – new – interpretative context. Images and audio and visual clips illustrate not only the topic being described, but also narrate their own histories of transfer and enable new interconnections. EGO's transdisciplinary approach is also to a large degree a product of the images, graphics, maps, tables, film clips and audio samples linked to the different textual contributions. This network exists, on the one hand, via internal links to elements published within EGO and, on the other, via links to external images, textual sources and biographical data digitalised or published elsewhere, as well as – in the notes – scholarly literature and other academic resources online. While these external resources represent all national traditions relevant to the history of Europe, EGO makes them accessible to a transnational academic community via a bilingual user interface. The dynamic EGO system thereby brings together and groups thematically the range of international online resources on European history.

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Conference Info


ADHO - 2014
"Digital Cultural Empowerment"

Hosted at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Université de Lausanne

Lausanne, Switzerland

July 7, 2014 - July 12, 2014

377 works by 898 authors indexed

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Conference website:

Attendance: 750 delegates according to Nyhan 2016

Series: ADHO (9)

Organizers: ADHO