3 Ways Of Finding Public Domain Items For Your Classroom!

How many times haven’t we found a nice picture or piece of music that we would like to include in our individual or school projects, presentations and articles, to illustrate our point and impress our audience?

Public Domain means public property

We all know that intellectual property is protected under copyright laws and the legal rights of creators should be respected by users. Open access is allowed only when copyrighted works are brought into the public domain, according to “the life of the author +70 years rule”, which practically means that artefacts can be used without permission.

Every January, on Public Domain Day, we celebrate the release of digital items by various institutions, as presented on Europeana Pro, and which are marked as PD for Public Domain, meaning that they are free of known restrictions under copyright law.

How to access Public Domain resources on Europeana Portal

There is more than one way to find the over 10M Public Domain resources available on Europeana Collections. The easiest one is to browse the ‘Free to Use’ images accessible from the Europeana portal homepage. The filter “Free to Re-use” under the “Can I use it?” category in the Collections and Explore sections can yield Public Domain digital items, ready to download, copy and share. If you choose one of the Exhibitions, you will find out that many of the featured images are under Public Domain and other CC licenses, which most of them allow re-use. The same applies for Blog posts, where PD and CC licenses resources are included.

To help you take the first step toward using Europeana’s public domain resources in your classroom, we selected for you 1 exhibition, 1 gallery and 1 thematic collection where you can find free to use resources!

The Rise of Literacy in Europe

“Biblio” is the Greek word for book, deriving from the word for Egyptian papyrus “Byblos” and the Phoenician port where this material was traded. The Bible originates from the same root, and it was the first book to be printed by Gutenberg.

This Europeana exhibition explores the origins of books. It explains how they were interlinked with religion and society, how they evolved and how they were embedded in the teaching and learning process.

Most of the featured visual materials are under Public Domain Mark and could be employed for a variety of activities, such as creating an annotated map, as exemplified in the Historianna blog, aiming at the considerations above.

Explore the Europeana ‘Bestsellers’ chapter

Which are the most popular books over the centuries? The ‘Bestsellers‘ chapter included in the Rise of Literacy exhibition gathers a collection of public domain paintings, book covers and gravures, which could motivate students to conduct research and, for example, create timelines, reflecting on the reasons of the popularity of a book, the era, the context and, probably, connect it to the present and their own experiences.

The ‘Learning ABCs chapter‘ might also stimulate inquiry-based learning through public domain materials, across space and time, since it is a popular and experiential topic which can be used to discuss how national and religious stereotypes are promoted, the values put forward by each educational system, or the aesthetics of the pictures on the book pages.

The colour blue gallery

“Colour was not given to us in order that we should imitate Nature. It was given to us so that we can express our emotions” – Henri Matisse

The colour blue “enters your soul”, according to the same artist, Henri Matisse, and our emotions may be expressed through cross-curricular connections among various subjects, allowing myriad associations. A single colour with infinite potentials, as inspiration for inquiry-based learning.

In the field of history, students could explore the era and country where the colours blue originated from and its evolution and use, throughout the centuries.

In science, the pigment and its substances might be researched. Major artists who were inspired by this mystical colour, for instance, Picasso during his blue period and Henri Matisse, at the beginning of the 20th century. Iconic paintings (eg The girl with a pearl earring) and Japanese art which is projected in this gallery, can be further investigated in art lessons. Fashion designers adored this nostalgic and poetic colour, producing clothes, accessories, denim creations which can trigger further research.

As for language, numerous idioms and expressions are associated with all colours and blue, in particular. Last but not least, in the field of music, lyrics reflect the deep emotional meaning the colour assumes in many cultures and artists, from the Rolling Stones and “I got the blues” to Elvis Priestley and “the Blue Suede Shoes”.

Project-based learning can thus be promoted with Public Domain exhibits of the ‘Blue’ gallery in Europeana, as well as playful learning, which can also be fostered with quizzes and fun facts.

The Europeana Music Collection

Not only images but also sounds can be used and freely reused, under Public Domain licenses, of the Europeana ‘Music’ collection. Why not explore the history and culture of various countries, dances, music genres and composers, while listening to and enjoying original recordings of tango, Passo Doble, polka, waltz, foxtrot and mazurka?

To go further, you can combine this music with information about musical instruments. You can visit collaborating institutions which contribute to the collection by sharing their content. Another way to explore the collection is to combine and mix various eras, find original sheet music, even by world-famous composers like Mozart (in CC license) and Chopin, with his exquisite Nocturnes, which can easily be accessed in Public Domain. Free to re-use recordings of sonatas, concertos and symphonies of Ludwig van Beethoven, recorded by the Berliner Philharmoniker, Orchestre Philharmonique de Vienne and more, are also available to study and appreciate. They could also inspire a school celebration or a pupils’ concert, to be relished by the entire school community.


Curious to find more ideas for your lesson?

The featured image used to illustrate this article is available on Europeana Collections and belongs to the public domain.

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