While most doctoral students in the humanities dream of finalising their research in a scholarly volume, EUI alumna Anastasia Remes had an additional aspiration: creating an exhibition accessible to the general public.
The idea was born both from her long-standing conviction about the value of public history, but also from an exchange experience at New York University (NYU) where she learned to put digital humanities techniques into practice. “I wanted to share the outcomes of my research with a wider public than the academic community,” she said.
The result, entitled EXPO58, is an interactive and immersive virtual reality exhibit that takes participants through the European Coal and Steel Community’s (ECSC) pavilion at the 1958 World Expo in Brussels. The exhibit may be viewed online, or through virtual reality headsets at the Jean Monnet House in France. So far, it has had more than 11,000 visitors.
A new kind of story-telling
Anastasia’s doctoral thesis Europe at the Expo : the pavilions of the European Community in universal expositions dealt with the ECSC’s pursuit of public legitimacy, which made the 1958 World Exposition in Brussels especially interesting to study. EXPO58 was the first universal exposition after the Second World War, and the first opportunity for the ECSC to present itself and its mission to the general public, on a world stage. At the time, ECSC officials called it their “largest propaganda endeavour to date.”
Through archival research, Anastasia discovered that a great deal of interesting materials from the ECSC’s exhibit had been conserved. Blueprints, photographs, interviews and other primary sources furnished effective audiovisual elements for her dissertation. In fact, their richness spurred her to pursue an alternative medium that, in her words, would ‘do them more justice’ than a printed volume.
Having already developed a prototype for the exhibit as a project for a Digital Humanities seminar at NYU, she approached Dieter Schlenker, the Director of the Historical Archives of the European Union, to see if they would back her project. “Since I retrieved most of the sources on the ECSC participation in Expo 58 there, and since the HAEU has have been working specifically on valorising its audiovisual deposits, I thought they might be interested,” she explained. The HAEU accepted her proposal, and helped her to contact the House of European History, which also joined the project as partner.
“The process of developing the exhibition took about six months, since most of the preliminary research was complete. Most of the work consisted of translating the findings of my PhD thesis to another medium and another audience.”
The 3D modelling of the project was carried out by the Florence-based digital agency MONOGRID, which also developed the website.
Now available in English, French and German, it will be translated into all official EU languages and integrated into the permanent exhibition of the House of European History in Brussels, with the inauguration planned for early 2024. The Historical Archives of the European Union and the House of European History supported the project.