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European Cultural Heritage Online (ECHO)
an Open Access Infrastructure to bring Essential Cultural Heritage Online

There is a growing understanding that in order to exploit the opportunities of the emerging European Research Area (ERA), social sciences and humanites need advanced structures and an improved infrastructure able to cope with the challenges of the ongoing Internet Revolution. This goal can be achieved by creating a growing and at the same time evolving multidisciplinary and integrative network of research institutes, archives, libraries, museums and other institutions on the one side as well as their research and corpora of knowledge on the other.
ECHO, an 18-month co-operative project in its first phase, is the first major project funded by the EU Commission to directly brigde the gap between social sciences and humanites and new information technologies respectively. In its initial phase, 16 partner institutions from 9 European countries including candidate countries are set to integrate content and technology in a pan-European infrastructure adequte to the Internet age.
The work is divided into six work packages, such as content provision or network formation, each providing crucial elements of a new IT-based cooperative infrastructure for of future use in the broad field of humanities and the cultural heritage in Europe. Five case studies in paradigmatic content areas such as the history of arts, the history of science, language studies and social and cultural anthropology, are being performed in order to demonstrate the innovative potential for research offered by this infrastructure.
The ECHO consortium has given itself a charter to ensure its basic values, goals and restrictions. These general propositions include the free availability of tools and content on the Internet, the support of open standards, measures on long term archiving and the provision of a common portal.
The charter serves as a guideline for an extension of ECHO into its second phase. ECHO 2, as proposed in an Expression of Interest to the 6th Framework Program of the European Commission, shall bring a major contribution to the preservation of Europe's cultural heritage as well as improved and extended access to this heritage for both scholars and the general public alike. This transformation of the Internet into a semantic web allowing the exchange and processing of information in the language of human culture within an emerging Open Library will serve as a framework for cooperative work on the sources and for the presentation of its results. It will also show socio-economic effects such as becoming a central resource of technology for storing and distributing information for institutions who lack such means, or for creating a basis for virtual tourism into the digitised realm of our rich cultural heritage in Europe.
ECHO is largely being funded by the European Commission as as a research, technological development and demonstration (RTD) activity within the Fifth Framework Program of the EU.
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