Strategy paper on the digitization of the German-language cultural heritage from Eastern Europe

The following scheme is proposing a series of general guidelines on the process of digitizing German-language cultural heritage in East and Southeast Europe and explicitly requesting a critical feedback or review; please comment on it or write a reply post in order to initiate a continued discussion on the topic.

Basic considerations

German-language population groups of ethnic German and Jewish origin settled on the territory of almost all of today’s nation states in Eastern and Southeastern Europe, where they have been present until World War Two. Despite their social position as ethnical and often religious minorities they earned important roles in the economical, administrative and educational domains of their respective societies as well as in politics and culture. Their importance manifested itself in a rich publishing landscape: beside numerous monographic publications, the historical press of these groups comprehends more than 6.500 periodicals which served due to their quality also for non-German populations as basic media for information and communcation.

The German genocidal mass crimes of World War Two destroyed the existence of most of these communities: the bigger part of the few German-language Jews who survived the Shoah fled or later emigrated, while many ethnic Germans outside of the Soviet Union who were mostly affiliated to National Socialist Germany moved to German-speaking countries or to the Americas. However in the former settlement areas remained much of their material cultural heritage – whose digitization represents now an important desideratum of cultural policy. Because of the geographical dispersion of these cultural materials in the different states as well as because of the numerous stock losses, its consolidation can only be achieved in international collaboration. Moreover an especially well directed and coordinated effort is imperative because of the competition of the majority heritage digitization which naturally absorbs by far the largest part of the available public funding.

The success of the process depends – as is the case with every ethnical minority heritage – beside these financial and administrative issues strongly on the modality of the presentation of the digitized heritage: due to the competitive situation this heritage needs to be presented in a particularly appealing and receptible way, being portrayed as an iconic part of European culture. If a qualitative digitization is not achieved and only a quantitative one realised, then a lack of attention and cultural relevance will be the consequence; a considerable part of the digitizaton effort will be turned inefficient with the digitized materials mostly remaining unobserved. The undertaking of transferring this heritage into the digital world represents therefore a demanding challenge – one however which is of general interest because it provides the possibility to push forward the progress on methods and technologies in the field of digital cultural presentation. The hypothesis is justified that the digital cultural motorics, i.e. the dynamics of disseminating cultural content through the internet, are especially noticeable and analyzable at the digitization of minority heritage, making it a highly interesting research topic for the digital humanities.

Devising a viable digitization strategy

The following steps are depicting a very basic perspective, the framework of a digitization strategy being highly exposed to changes due to new technical developments in the landscape of digital libraries and the numerous implicated institutions. The process however is also decisively dependent on the attained degree of collaboration, especially with regard to the geographical dispersion of the heritage. The scheme below represents therefore more of a proposition for future discussions:

  1. Documentation
  1. Selection
  1. Communication
  1. Network
  1. Presentation
  1. Funding


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