Connected Earth – Virtual museum of communications history

General information

Domain: Industrial Heritage (communication technology)
Title: Connected Earth
Launch: 2002
Country: United Kingdom

Project focus

Connected Earth is a multimedia web portal that allows exploring the history of telecommunications in the UK and from the UK to overseas. The database of digitized objects and the web portal were conceived when British Telecom (BT) in 1997 decided to close down their archive of historical objects and offer the items to museums across the country. In order to keep the items and historic context together, a virtual museum and network of content providers has been developed. The portal ties together rich content about artefacts of the history of communications, many of which are displayed in museums and galleries of Connected Earth network partners.



The Connected Earth cooperation is a unique attempt to tell the history of communication technology and its importance for modern life through a virtual collection of objects that are physically distributed and exhibited in several museums. The project has been coordinated by British Telecom staff who also implemented the virtual museum portal together with the museum network partners. Several partners such as Amberley Museum and Heritage Centre, Avoncroft Museum, Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester and the National Museum of Scotland implemented dedicated Connected Earth galleries whilst others incorporated artefacts into their existing exhibitions. Since 2002 the project constantly enlarged its digital collections and services.

Financing / funding

The reason for launching the virtual museum was that the British Telecom Archives had to close down in 1997, however, owning more than 40,000 historic artefacts and additional documents. It took until 2002 until the Connected Earth project could be firmly established and become operative, bringing together digital content of British Telecom and museum partners who agreed to contribute to the project with their collections. The project has been mainly financed by British Telecom (in the range of several million euros), including digitization of material, building the web portal, and part funding of the establishment or extension of dedicated Connected Earth museum galleries. Furthermore at some of the museums curatorial and research posts for telecommunication history have been endowed by BT.

Content & IPR / licensing

Connected Earth presents four main sections, Journeys (technological and social history of telecommunications), The Collection (the catalogue of artefacts, audio and video material, the BT archive of documents, books, images, etc.), People & Pioneers (personal stories, oral history interviews, and documentation of the lives and work of telecommunication pioneers), and Learning Resources. All content is in English.

The learning resources are designed for teachers and parents with children and young people aged 7-16 years. Some of the modules and material can be used for primary and secondary stages of UK educational curricula. For example, “Make a museum” provides teachers with lesson support material and allows students to create and interpret an own gallery of documents, photographs, films, etc.

The content is made available freely for educational purposes. Concerning the documentary history of BT and its predecessors, records created before BT’s privatisation in 1984 are classed as public records and the BT Archives has a statutory responsibility to preserve and make these records available to everyone. Connected Earth users can also contribute relevant own content, retaining the copyright while granting BT the right in perpetuity to publish and use it in publicity material.

Technologies used / innovative features

Connected Earth deploys state-of-the-art Web portal technology to provide interactive access to a wide range of information and learning resources. The portal has been designed so that the visitor is in charge and can switch between different information sections and channels, which provide access to image collections, oral and written stories of people who worked in the telecommunications industry, film clips, and explanations of how things work.

Target users

Connected Earth has been designed and provides a rich stock of information for anybody interested in the technological and social history of telecommunications, especially in the UK and from the UK to overseas. A particular focus is on educational use (parents, students, teachers), and fun & games for leisure activities. The virtual museum also complements the exhibitions and online content of the Connected Earth network partners.

Lessons learned

Cooperation: The project is a unique example of an organisation giving a major collection of industrial artefacts to heritage institutions while integrating and extending it as a virtual museum.

Content: Connected Earth provides access to a multitude of content of different types (educational material, oral history, technical information, etc.) in different formats (e.g. photographs, audio, video). The engaging material developed for students, teachers and parents merit to be highlighted. Furthermore that anybody can contribute relevant own content under clear terms.

Technologies used / innovative features: Although the scope and depth of the portal content is enormous it is rather easy to navigate the different sections and access pieces of interest.

Sources and links