The Eruption of Vesuvius, 1794 , Unknown, Austrian National Library, Public Domain Mark

Throughout history cultural heritage sites have been threatened with destruction by human conflict, natural disasters and unforeseen accidents. Digitisation of cultural heritage can be a crucial tool in today’s efforts towards the conservation, renovation, study and promotion of European cultural resources.

At the European Union level, new actions are being taken in this area: just a few days before the Notre-Dame fire, the European Commission’s Declaration of cooperation on heritage digitisation saw 25 European countries commit to take action in several areas, including a pan-European initiative for 3D digitisation of cultural heritage artefacts, monuments and sites.

UNESCO currently has 54 properties on its List of World Heritage in Danger:

To identify such vulnerable sites, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee relies on information from participating countries and advisory bodies (such as ICOMOS for cultural heritage).

Communities of conservators and heritage experts are dedicated to preserving and documenting these endangered sites, and digital resources play an important part in their work. Collections held by museums, archives and libraries contain invaluable, often unique, records of heritage sites throughout their history.

Baths of Diocletian, Rome, Robert von Spalart, Wellcome Collection, CC BY
Baths of Diocletian, Rome, Robert von Spalart, Wellcome Collection, CC BY

In recent decades, many of these objects have been digitised and published online.

From architectural drawings to photographs, paintings and written descriptions, this material tells us what places looked like, how they were used and who visited them in the past. Today, exciting technologies like 3D scanning and modelling, virtual and augmented reality, promise new ways to preserve and showcase cultural heritage.

In this exhibition, we’ll take a long view of heritage destruction, past and present, through common causes such as armed conflict, natural disasters and human impact. We’ll take a close look at Notre Dame and discover the materials and technologies being used to plan its restoration.

We begin by examining how war and conflict have scarred Europe’s landscapes, history and heritage throughout the centuries.