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5.000 years of media history online

The first virtual exhibition of the German Museum of Books and Writing of the German National Library is now online.

Press release:  16.5.2014

The first virtual exhibition of the German Museum of Books and Writing of the German National Library provides more than 1,800 insights large and small into the history of media. It went online on 18 May 2014 to coincide with International Museum Day. Designed to arouse curiosity about 5,000 years of human history, it also makes a contribution to the Science Year 2014 theme of "Die digitale Gesellschaft" (The Digital Society). Tally sticks, the deciphering of Egyptian hieroglyphs, tattoos, letters, rolling book barrels, censor lists of the Catholic church, sub-Atlantic cables, Mr Bean's trip to a medieval manuscript reading room, the toilet as a place of reading or the utopia of the universal language: offering this and much more besides, the Internet-based exhibition is both entertaining and instructive.

Visitors explore the virtual exhibition (also translated into English) as though moving through a web of knowledge, delving into the aspects of media history which appeal to them. At the heart of the multimedia application are eleven theme modules in which selected protagonists of media history serve as tour guides on a virtual journey through time. Trenchant histories of objects, pictures, films and sound recordings can be linked together to form unique theme worlds for each individual visitor. Besides this thematic approach to the history of media, the virtual exhibition also offers a second access point in the form of the timeline: event icons featuring concise explanations allow the individual histories to be located within the overall media history. As the next phase, a quiz is currently being prepared to round off the exhibition and is scheduled to go online in summer 2014. This will reinforce the interactive character of the virtual exhibition and is designed to appeal in particular to (the) children (in all of us).

The virtual exhibition also includes a glossary which offers Twitter-length explanations of terms. In the face of the broad scope of the topics covered by the exhibition, this provides a degree of orientation and also helps to take visitors' varying levels of knowledge into account in achieving the goal of providing a mobile application which is suitable for use by everyone. Finally, a digital visitors' book and various special features in the website help visitors to enter into a dialogue with those responsible for the exhibition and to become actively involved in its ongoing development.

Based on the same thematic presentation of the permanent exhibition of the German Museum of Books and Writing of the German National Library in Leipzig which opened in 2012, the virtual exhibition enriches the material remembrance culture with multimedia content. The use of modern technologies allows the themes covered by the museum - the past, present and future of media - to be fed into the digital networks.

The virtual exhibition, which was created in collaboration with the Berlin-based companies ]init[ und Iglhaut+von Grote, deploys an attractive user interface and a simple user guidance system to give visitors a different take on history - one which is copiously illustrated and written in a journalistic and frequently tongue-in-cheek style. Through its simple content management system, the knowledge network invites all interested institutions or student groups to collaborate on further exciting exhibition modules. What is remarkable about the network is that it has no beginning and no end - and that it thrives on interactive participation.


Books and writing have shaped our culture and civilisation like no other medium. For centuries our knowledge about the world and its peoples has been stored in books. The task of the German Book and Writing Museum of the German National Library is to collect, exhibit and process evidence of book and media history. Founded in 1884 as the Deutsches Buchgewerbemuseum (German Book Trade Museum), it is the oldest museum in the world in the field of book culture, and also one of the most important with regard to the scope and quality of its stocks.

The main focus is on the book and its myriad aspects: as an ingenious invention and as the product of economic and technical processes, as a social icon and the most important vehicle of culture, as a work of art and as a censored and burned repository of ideas.

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