Digital Public Library of America and Europeana launch joint migration exhibition

Digital Public Library of America and Europeana launch joint migration exhibition

Posted by Kenny Whitebloom on December 18, 2012 in DPLA Updates, Featured.
Leaving Europe: A new life in America

Cambridge, MA, USA / The Hague, Netherlands

To mark the beginning of a unique digital collaboration the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) and Europeana are pleased to announce the launch of Leaving Europe: A new life in America. The all-new virtual exhibition tells the story of European emigration to the United States during the 19th and 20th centuries. Jointly curated by the two digital libraries, the exhibition uses photographs, manuscripts, broadsheets, paintings, letters, audio, government documents and other unique materials to chart people’s journeys across the European continent and their settlement in the United States. The digital items displayed are from U.S. and European libraries, museums and archives and the accompanying narrative has been commissioned specially for the exhibition from U.S. and European experts.

‘By combining forces to show how Europeans began new lives in the New World, Europeana and the DPLA have demonstrated a principle that goes far beyond the immediate subject of their exhibition: to build a successful digital future, we must collaborate on an international scale,’ said Robert Darnton, DPLA Steering Committee member and Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor and Director of the Harvard University Library. ‘The exhibition inaugurates an alliance that will multiply the benefits of the Internet for generation after generation, everywhere in the world.’

The DPLA and Europeana—guided by a common mission to make the riches of libraries, museums, and archives openly available to everyone in the world—collaborated regularly with curators, content partners, project staff, and others to design and build the exhibition cooperatively. Leaving Europe: A new life in America represents the starting point of a significant long-term relationship between the two digital libraries.

‘I am delighted at this first joint initiative between the DPLA and Europeana, one on an eminently trans-Atlantic subject,’ said Bruno Racine, Chair of the Europeana Executive Committee. ‘We share common goals—the free circulation of ideas and knowledge, dedication to the public good—and we believe that the digital revolution opens up unprecedented possibilities for exchanges like this one.  I am very proud that Europeana can in this way express its support for the DPLA and for the values it defends.’

Over 30 million Europeans, from as far north as Scandinavia and as far south as Sicily, set sail to America in the 19th century and the first quarter of the 20th century. The exhibition, organized across seven major themes, describes the experiences that different groups of hopeful immigrants from across Europe faced. The exhibition allows the virtual visitor to accompany them on their often difficult journey from their native region and country, across the Atlantic and into the ports, cities and local communities of the United States.

Leaving Europe: A new life in America is presented in French and English and features over 100 rare digitized items, many of which have not been made available before. Europeana’s contributing partners to the exhibition include the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the National Gallery of Ireland, the Jewish Museum of London, the Royal Library of the Netherlands, the Saxon State Library and the Norwegian Photo Archives. The DPLA’s contributors include the New York Public Library, Harvard University, The (U.S.) National Archives and Records Administration, and the University of Minnesota Immigration History Research Center.

View the exhibition

English version:
French version:


Notes for Editors

Europeana launched in 2008 and the DPLA will officially launch a prototype on April 18, 2013. They have made commitments to make their systems and data interoperable to the greatest possible extent; to promote open access through joint existing and new policies concerning content, data, and metadata; and to collaborate regularly on developing specific aspects of their systems, beginning with an interoperable data model, a shared source code, and cooperative collection building. The two digital libraries announced their collaboration in October 2011.

About the Digital Public Library of America

The DPLA is taking the first concrete steps toward the realization of a large-scale digital public library that will make the cultural and scientific record available to all. This impact-oriented research effort unites leaders from all types of libraries, museums, and archives with educators, industry, and government to define the vision for a digital library in service of the American public. More information can be found at

About Europeana

Europeana brings together the digitized content of Europe’s galleries, libraries, museums, archives and audiovisual collections. Currently Europeana gives integrated access to over 22 million books, films, paintings, museum objects and archival documents from some 2200 content providers. The content is drawn from every European member state and the interface is in 29 European languages. Europeana receives its main funding from the European Commission. More information can be found at



Kenny Whitebloom
Project Coordinator
Berkman Center for Internet & Society
dpla at

Jonathan Purday
Head of Communications
jonathan.purday at


Stories from Leaving Europe: A new life in America

Please credit these images. They may only be used for illustration in connection with the exhibition.


The Homeland of Migrating Groups

The 19th century marked a turning point in the concept of European migration to America. Prior to that time, transatlantic migration was a minor affair, mostly involving merchants, civil servants and soldiers. Within a few decades, it all changed rapidly. Europe was on the brink of a new era, with migration to the U.S. more extensive than ever before and ever to come. From every corner of the European continent, all kinds of people decided to leave their homelands and headed for the young and promising nation on the other side of the Atlantic. In less than a century, over 30 million Europeans, from as far north as Scandinavia and as far south as Sicily, set sail to America.

Image: Climbing into America, Ellis Island, 1905 (1905)
Credit: T
he Photography Collection, The New York Public Library.
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Image: Emigrants at Ellis Island – two Italian children
 Credit: French National Library – Bibliothèque Nationale de France
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Departure and Crossing: Ports of Departure and Shipping Companies

Rotterdam, Antwerp, Hamburg, Bremen, Goteborg, Naples, Le Havre, Cork, Belfast and Liverpool were the most important ports of departure. In the 1840s, steamships began transporting wealthy passengers while poor immigrants still made the voyage to America by sailing vessel. In the 1860s and 1870s, the size of steamships increased, and companies transported poor families in steerage at low cost. Transporting immigrants became big business. The major European passenger companies had extensive networks of ticket agencies, and worked diligently to attract business. They published literature describing the merits of America, and did nothing to dispel the notion that American streets were paved with gold. Steamship companies had to be selective, however, in whom they accepted as passengers because the companies had to pay the return passage of any immigrant who was turned away from America. To this end, they examined prospective passengers to make sure they met the health and financial requirements for acceptance into America.

Image: Russian Jews being examined by a doctor before emigration from Liverpool (1891)
Credit: The Wellcome Library, London

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Life in America: Work

Immigrants who didn’t farm worked for wages in mines and mills where they were paid more than they would be in comparable positions in their homelands. Unskilled immigrants also found employment extending the growing transport systems of canals and later railways, paving streets, digging sewers and building residential, commercial, or public buildings. Women served as domestics or washerwomen, and some immigrant women worked at home sewing clothing or assembling artificial flowers, for example, so they wouldn’t have to leave their children alone. Skilled immigrants worked as craftsmen. By the 1880s, as a result of industrialisation, most immigrants worked in cities, manufacturing clothing or operating small businesses such as barbershops, restaurants, and shoeshine parlours. To help make ends meet, children also worked – shining shoes, selling newspapers, or working in factories. Working conditions were severe, with long hours, low wages, and often unclean or unsafe work environments.

Image: Mrs. Larocca making willow plumes in an unlicenced tenement.
 Credit: NARA
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The man on the left of this photograph, Peder (Peter) Martinson Eyes, was born on 25 January 1886 in Island Hjellan, Norway. On 18 April 1906, aged 20, he emigrated from Kristiansund via Liverpool on the ‘RMS Baltic’, arriving at Ellis Island on 5 May. He then moved to North Manitou, Michigan, in the Upper Midwest of the USA. In 1910, almost 80 percent of the one million or more Norwegian Americans—the immigrants and their children—lived in that part of the United States. Peter married Eleanor Anderson Nerland (from Kristiansund) on 30 May 1921 in Traverse City, Michigan. They had three children. He died in Traverse City on 27 May 1973.

Image: Peder (Peter) Martinson Øyen
FylkesFOTOarkivet i Møre og Romsdal, Norway
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