A new tool to create memes using medieval images, has been developed by KB, the national library of the Netherlands.
Their medieval meme generator, launched in November, has led to 15,000 medieval memes made in 129 countries, reaching an audience of around 2 million meme lovers worldwide.
On www.medievalmemes.org visitors can use images taken from the Dutch national library’s medieval collection and turn them into memes. When using the meme generator, people actively create new contexts for these historic images by adding current captions. The available images are accompanied by explanatory videos, providing viewers with background information and showing them that, much like today, people in the Middle Ages used images to comment on their surroundings and current affairs.
Because of their beautifully colourful embellishments, detailed handwriting and graphic depictions, images from the Middle Ages are incredibly suitable for creating memes. In medieval Europe the majority of people had poor literary skills, which is why pictures were a popular instrument for spreading political, religious or social messages. In our highly visual, digital culture today, things are not much different; we’ve replaced paints with pixels, but we rely on images to get our (meme) messages across.
The pictures in the meme generator − showing anything from devils, skeletons, dancing princesses and dragons to the most horrific scenes − come directly from ancient collections at the KB and ‘Huis van het boek’ (House of the Book), the oldest book museum in the world.
Every image on Medieval Memes includes a short video in which a specialist tells the story behind the picture. This teaches visitors about how people in the Middle Ages experienced the world, and shows them how subjects that were important in medieval times are still relevant today. New pictures from the extensive Dutch collections of medieval handwriting will appear regularly on the website.
In the same way that medieval images give us an idea of life in the Middle Ages, future historians will benefit greatly from the information current memes disclose about the visual and online culture in the 21st century. The KB therefore also actively stores elements of our internet culture today as a source of research in the future, including medieval memes.
Here are more examples of memes created by this tool: