The Belgian B-magic project ties in with a broader international trend. For some years now, the magic lantern has been recognised as an important aspect of European heritage. The historical value of the slides is often underestimated and when it comes to large collections, people are often unsure what to do with them or how to store them. That is one of the reasons that European universities are now working closely with collectors and museums to digitise and preserve this vulnerable medium.
In Belgium, too, many collections have been found. During a preliminary investigation, Dr Sabine Lenk and Dr Nele Wynants – researchers at the universities of Antwerp and Brussels – found around 100,000 glass slides in Belgian museums, libraries and universities. There are probably many more. The subjects are very diverse and vary from geography, anatomy and microscopy to astronomy. Politicians, the clergy and freemasons also projected images of the lives of saints, distant journeys, colonies and symbols in order to help spread their ideas. “These collections offer unique insights into how Belgian visual culture has developed since the country’s inception. They are an important and necessary addition to more widely known written sources”, say the researchers.