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Designing Personalised Itineraries for Europes Cultural Routes

Eurydice S. Georganteli1, Ioanna N. Koukouni1


College of Arts & Law, University of Birmingham

Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 2TS, UK
Abstract. Throughout history it has been necessary for mankind to travel: for a better life, for pilgrimage, for
religious or political freedom, for trade, for communication between nations or for conquest. Each nation as it
developed found in coinage the most powerful means to facilitate and control economic activities within and
outside its territories. And as peoples from different nations travelled and mixed with others, so did their coins.
Byzantine, Islamic, and western medieval European coins circulated and changed hands along routes of
migration, trade, war, pilgrimage and diplomacy; the routes set out from Constantinople/Istanbul to the Adriatic
in the western Balkans; from the Black Sea to the eastern and western Mediterranean; from Britain, Scandinavia
to Russia. The Barber Institute of Fine Arts at the University of Birmingham houses one of the finest collections
of medieval Christian and Islamic coins worldwide. This paper presents select case studies based on the
numismatic resources of the Barber Institute, to show the role of coins as a means to track and discuss intercultural dialogue that took place along Europes cultural routes. The combination of storylines based on coins,
related artefacts and sites, and the implementation of modern technologies can further social engagement and
alert existing and new audiences of the potential of cultural heritage as a major connecting thread of Europes
diverse cultural communities.
Keywords: cultural routes, coins, lifelong learning, Byzantium, middle ages, Europe, cross-cultural encounters,
global audience, museum, exhibition, cultural heritage

Background: the Collection and its Audience

Founded in 1967, the Barber Institute Coin Collection became since 2000 and following the creation of its New
Coin Gallery, research facilities, and the digitization of its 15,000 numismatic holdings, the focus of academic
teaching, research and public enjoyment. Award-winning exhibitions, accompanying publications, activity
leaflets for younger visitors, public lectures, gallery tours, seminar series and conferences have been exploring
themes of cross-cultural encounters in Europe and beyond, from 5th-century BC Athens to 19th-century Britain.
Visitors are both local and international travellers, and there are rising numbers of children on school visits and
family days thanks to a close collaboration between the Coin Collection and the Barber Institutes educational
department. Since the opening of the Coin Study Room, research visits by students in Higher Education to the
Coin Collection have exceeded 200 per year.


Aims and Scope of the University of Birmingham as one of TAG CLOUDs Pilot

Through its contribution to the TAG CLOUD project the Barber Institute of Fine Arts at the University of
Birmingham wishes to converse more effectively with its existing and very diverse audience, offering visitors a
personalized and more fulfilling educational experience, based on their cultural background, preferences and
educational needs. A recurrent observation, not limited to the Barber Institute, is the under-representation of
audiences of the age groups 18-25 (typically in full education and young professionals) and 40-55 (mid career).
Other groups, such as school children and people over 60 are better represented. Visitor surveys conducted in
the course of the last Barber Institute numismatic exhibition CITYSCAPES: PANORAMIC VIEWS ON
EUROPEAN COINS AND MEDALS (April 2012-October 2013) showed that people enjoy themed exhibitions,
even though many of them know little of the Barber Institute Coin Collection; during their visit they prefer to
enhance their knowledge through workshops, public lectures, gallery talks and handling sessions. Visitors
commented on the clear and attractive layout of the New Coin Gallery with visitor friendly graphs, maps and
selected enlarged images of coins complementing the numismatic display and interpretation texts developed for

the exhibition. Searching the Barber Institutes online resources, including numismatic ones, has been less
popular either because people dont know about these resources, or because they are reluctant to navigate the
University of Birminghams museum database ( The largest percentage of the interviewees came mainly from continental Europe (50%
European, 40% British, 10% other), a finding that hints at the regular associations the Barber Institutes visitors
make between coins (old) and art (ancient Greek, Roman, medieval).
Reaching out to new audiences remains an equally important part of the Barber Institutes vision. Links
between major themes, discussed in temporary exhibitions and permanent displays in the Barber Galleries, and
Europes cultural routes could provide precisely an excellent new platform for audience engagement. As the
strongest points of the Barber Coin Collection are Byzantine and medieval Islamic coins, the personalised
itineraries the TAG CLOUD project proposes allow visitors to use coins as their personal compasses for their
navigation along routes of faith, culture and trade in Europe and beyond. Byzantine, western medieval and
medieval Islamic coins from the Barber Institute collections are linked to major European and little illustrated
cultural routes (the Via Egnatia; the route connecting Constantinople/Istanbul to Scandinavia through the story
of fur trade and the Varangians; the sea route connecting Western to Eastern Mediterranean, the Black Sea and
Trebizond/Trabzon as the western terminus of the Silk Route; the route connecting Britain with Byzantium)
through select data on architectural remains, art and topography, geo data on medieval sites available on the
public domain (see, for instance, the Harvard University-hosted DARMC Atlas of Roman and Medieval
Communications). Appropriate coin data available on the web sites of partner museums and societies
(American Numismatic Society; British Museum; Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge; Dumbarton Oaks Research
Library and Collection, Trustees for Harvard University) supplements data provided by the University of
Birmingham collections online.
The third goal behind the Barber Institutes participation in TAG CLOUD is the attractive challenge artefacts
and cultural sites from TAG CLOUDs two other pilot sites in Spain (the Patronato de la Alhambra y Generalife
in Spain) and Norway (the County of Sr Trndelag) present for meaningful links with the Byzantine and
Islamic coins from the Barber collections in the context of European cultural routes. This is particularly timely,
as Birmingham and Europe are increasingly becoming meeting places of faith and culture. Coins as both agents
of cultural definition and facilitators of fluidity of ethnic and cultural identities can be used to engage diverse
communities in a constructive dialogue. The use, for instance, of Christian imagery on medieval Islamic coins
and of Arabic script on Crusader coins from the Holy Land 1 can be discussed in conjunction with the
architectural splendour of al-Andalus, best illustrated in Alhambras cityscape.

Cultural Routes: Storytelling

Cultural routes are an important part of our heritage, both tangible (monuments, cities, artefacts) and intangible
(contacts, influences, values, ideas, traditions, etc).2 ICOM defines the cultural route as a land, water, mixed
or other type of route, which is physically determined and characterised by having its own specific and historic
dynamics and functionality; showing interactive movements of people as well as multi-dimensional, continuous
and reciprocal exchanges of goods, ideas, knowledge and values within or between countries and regions over
significant periods of time; and thereby generating a cross-fertilization of the cultures in space and time, which
is reflected both in its tangible and intangible heritage. 3 In acknowledgement of the importance of cultural
routes the Council of Europe established in 1987 the cultural, educational, heritage and tourism co-operation
project Cultural Routes, which is been managed by the European Institute of Cultural Routes in Luxemburg. 4
Among some twenty-four historical cultural routes currently recorded by CoECR (Council of Europe/Cultural

See for instance, Georganteli, E., Cook, B. 2006; Georganteli, E. 2012.

Martorell Carreno, A. 2003.
4;; The aim of the CR programme is to demonstrate, by
means of a journey through space and time, how the heritage of the different countries and cultures of Europe contributes to
a shared cultural heritage. An Enlarged Partial Agreement on Cultural Routes (EPA) was stipulated to enable closer cooperation between states particularly interested on the development of Cultural Routes


The combination of storylines and implementation of modern technologies can further social engagement and
alert existing and new audiences of the potential of cultural heritage (medieval Christian and Islamic coins
housed by the University of Birmingham) as a major connecting thread of Europes diverse cultural
communities. This kind of public engagement is undoubtedly far more effective than physical museum displays.
The endless possibilities for audiences to respond to the proposed scenarios by creating their own digital
storytelling [micro-blogs (e.g. twitter), social networks (e.g FaceBook, GoodReads), social sharing (e.g.
YouTube, Flickr)], can contribute to the much-anticipated open access scholarship, a desideratum for Higher
Education and Cultural Institutions.
Acknowledgements. This work has been partially funded by the EC FP7 project TAG CLOUD (Technologies
lead to Adaptability & lifelong enGagement with culture throughout the CLOUD);, Grant Agreement No. 600924.

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