Centre for Urban History and the Time Machine Project

The Time Machine Project builds a Large Scale Simulator mapping 2000 years of European History, transforming kilometres of archives and large collections from museums into a digital information system. These Big Data of the Past are common resources for the future that will have a huge cultural, economical and societal impact. Researchers from all over the world are now joining forces to bring the past back in one of the most ambitious projects ever on European culture and identity.

The Centre for Urban History is part of this consortium of 45 European institutions, coming from 18 countries and supported by 11 international programmes, which is launching a FET Flagship appeal for the creation of an ambitious European cultural project. The FET Flagships are major European programmes eligible for funding up to a billion euros.

The CSG acts as the only Belgian partner in the Flagship appeal which is coordinated Frédéric Kaplan (École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne). Frédéric is looking for other Belgian partners from for instance key museums and cultural heritage institutions, who can contact him by email.

The crucial decision to fund the Time Machine project affects us all. We believe Time Machine and the projects it will generate represent a unique opportunity to take Europe’s cultural heritage to the future, enhanced as a shared patrimony and a common history, for the next generations...

Project Outline

Mapping 2000 years of European History

The Time Machine FET Flagship aims at building a Large Scale Historical Simulator mapping 2000 years of European History. Extending on the proposal submitted to the attention of the European Commission in April 2016, Time Machine is a program that brings together research teams from all over Europe and the participation of about 200 institutions. The goal of this consortium is to develop new technologies for the scanning, analyzing, accessing, preserving and communicating of cultural heritage at a massive scale. Data extracted from this digital patrimony are the basis for the reconstruction of the historical evolution of most European cities and the economical, cultural and migration networks between these urban nodes.

Writing a common history of Europe

This is something of complexity and scale unseen to date. To obtain the necessary data for such a reconstruction, Time Machine has to develop new technologies for a scanning infrastructure able to digitize massive amounts of fragile documents from the European heritage that would be the basis of the largest database ever created for European archival documents. Meanwhile, high performance computing clusters are used to process this mass of documents using increasingly accurate machine vision algorithms, segmenting, indexing and transcribing their content, ultimately making them searchable like any other documents we search on the web. The information networks extracted from the documents constitute a massive semantic graph of linked data – probably the largest ever built about the past - unfolding in space and time as part of an historical geographical information system.

Big Data of the Past

These Big Data of the Past are expected to lead to data-driven historical simulations, making the past de facto as easily accessible as the present. New families of historical search engines, as well as immersive and augmented reality interfaces and other tools, will generate what one could describe as time capsules to seamlessly navigate 2000 years of European history. Thousands of time travellers are already ready to engage in the project, for curating the data, design algorithms and ultimately, to a certain extent, writing a common history of Europe. That approach in turn could apply to other cities, communities and regions of the world.

A shared patrimony

All technological development of the Time Machine FET Flagship are open source, in line with the notion of a shared patrimony and cost effectiveness for other institutions in following the same methodologies and encouraging the creation of start-up and services based on similar approaches and standards. That can lead to local initiatives for fostering tourism, cultural entertainment services and new approaches to urban planning.

Europe’s cultural heritage to the future

We believe Time Machine and the projects it will generate represent a unique opportunity to take Europe’s cultural heritage to the future, enhanced as a shared patrimony and a common history, for the next generations.


Articles, interviews and videos


Centre for Urban History Prinsstraat 13
2000 Antwerp