Our Europe -- the People's Culture

By Jeff Taylor

Marek Kohn wrote in Eagle Street in December 1996 about culturally related multimedia projects presented in the Sign and Communication meetings at the Finnish Institute. As he said, the concerns that united the projects from the UK, Finland and Ireland were 'community and national identity'.

A collaborative Internet WWW project has now emerged after a further meeting hosted by the Finnish Institute, joining the partners' common interests. The project, 'Our Europe', attempts to address some of the needs of an emergent, more global Europe. These needs for local, regional and national self-identity and for cross-cultural understanding coincide with the emergence of digital multimedia technologies. Another major issue is to develop multimedia production skills at local level.

'Our Europe' aims to create a network of interlinked cultural sites providing audio-visual WWW windows, through which ordinary citizens can represent their own cultures and be informed about the cultures of other regions. This is where the untold histories of Europe can be recorded and read, where a dynamic anthropology of 'ourselves' can grow.

The project covers local projects in Lapland, Brighton, rural Ireland and North Karelia. The two projects in Lapland are 'Northern Identities and Mentalities' and 'My Lapland'. At the University of Sussex, Jack Latimer runs a course for continuing education students in which they learn to be "cultural reporters" and mount WWW audiovisual diaries. This is also linked with a similar community-based course run in Joensuu (Veikko Miettinen, Jari Kupiainen, Jyrki Kurki). 'Local Ireland' (Gerry McGovern) provides a model for training local community to record their cultures using new media and for internationalising 'Our Europe' beyond Europe.

Funding to integrate the various projects within 'Our Europe' is being sought through the EU, and individual projects either have or are seeking funding. In early 1999 'Our Europe' will be supported through a British Council Photographic Residency (Elizabeth Williams, University of Reading) at the University of Lapland. Concentrating on Saami notions and use of sign, language and communication in relation to land, the project will use Internet to create an international photographic dialogue with other cultures with nomadic roots worldwide. 'Our Europe' will aim to keep pace with sign and communication technologies, and the new Media Space Lab in Lapland will be the central R&D venue for integrating immersive virtual reality and teleconferencing into the project. As links grow outside Europe, the project may well have to change its name to reflect its constituency and content: long live "Peoples' Culture"!

Jeff Taylor is Professor of Media Studies at the University of Lapland.

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