UNESCO's Memory of the World Programme is an international initiative launched to safeguard the documentary heritage of humanity against collective amnesia, neglect, the ravages of time and climatic conditions, and willful and deliberate destruction. It calls for the preservation of valuable archival holdings, library collections, and private individual compendia all over the world for posterity, the reconstitution of dispersed or displaced documentary heritage, and increased accessibility to, and dissemination of, these items.
The Memory of the World Register is a compendium of documents, manuscripts, oral traditions, audio-visual materials, library, and archival holdings of universal value. Inscription on the Register leads to improved conservation of the documentary heritage by calling upon the program's networks of experts to exchange information and raise resources for the preservation, digitization, and dissemination of the material. The program also uses technology to provide wider accessibility and diffusion of the items inscribed on the Register.
Any organization or individual can nominate a documentary item for inscription on the Register. During its meetings, the IAC examines the full documentation of the item's description, origin, world significance, and contemporary state of conservation. In practice, however, it seems that only two proposals per country are considered in each cycle.
In 1992, the program began as a way to preserve and promote documentary heritage, which can be a single document, a collection, a holding or an archival fonds that is deemed to be of such significance as to transcend the boundaries of time and culture. This recorded memory reflects the diversity of languages, people, and cultures. UNESCO, the world agency responsible for the protection of the world's cultural and natural heritage, realized the need to protect such fragile yet important component of cultural heritage. The Memory of the World Programme was established to preserve and digitize humanity's documentary heritage.
People the world over are creating [memories] in forms that are less and less permanent--be it sound recordings, film, videotape, newsprint, photographs, or computer-based documents. It must be said that the output of the present century alone is probably greater than the total output of all previous centuries put together; and ironically and tragically, it is being lost faster than ever before. It is a tragedy indeed, for what is at stake is the recorded memory of mankind.-- Dato' Habibah Zon, Director-General of the National Archives of Malaysia, introduction from
UNESCO MEMORY OF THE WORLD PROGRAMME: The Asia-Pacific Strategy, 17 April 1999
The program is administered by the International Advisory Committee (IAC), whose 14 members are appointed by the UNESCO Director-General. The IAC is responsible for the formulation of major policies, including the technical, legal and financial framework for the program. Regular meetings were held by the IAC in its interim capacity beginning in 1993 to sustain the momentum gained by the program, culminating in the creation of the Memory of the World Register during its second meeting in 1995, with the inaugural batch of documents being inscribed on the Register in 1997, after the statutes that created the IAC as a standing committee took effect. The IAC also maintains several subsidiary bodies:
IAC's biennial meetings are used to discuss and inscribe items onto the Register. The meeting takes place every odd year:
|IAC Session||Year||Site||Date||IAC chairperson||Number of nominations evaluated||Number of inscriptions to the Register||References|
|1st||1993||Pu?tusk, Poland||September 12-14||Jean-Pierre Wallot (Canada)||none||none|||
|2nd||1995||Paris, France||May 3-5||Jean-Pierre Wallot (Canada)||none||none|||
|3rd||1997||Tashkent, Uzbekistan||September 29 - October 1||Jean-Pierre Wallot (Canada)||69||38|||
|Bureau Meeting||1998||London, United Kingdom||September 4-5||Jean-Pierre Wallot (Canada)||none||none|||
|4th||1999||Vienna, Austria||June 10-12||Bendik Rugaas (Norway)||20||9|||
|5th||2001||Cheongju, South Korea||June 27-29||Bendik Rugaas (Norway)||42||21|||
|6th||2003||Gda?sk, Poland||August 28-30||Ekaterina Genieva (Russian Federation)||41||23|||
|7th||2005||Lijiang, China||June 13-18||Deanna B. Marcum (USA)||53||29|||
|8th||2007||Pretoria, South Africa||June 11-15||Alissandra Cummins (Barbados)||53||38|||
|9th||2009||Bridgetown, Barbados||July 27-31||Roslyn Russell (Australia)||55||35|||
|10th||2011||Manchester, United Kingdom||May 22-25||Roslyn Russell (Australia)||84||45|||
|11th||2013||Gwangju, South Korea||June 18-21||Helena R Asamoah-Hassan (Ghana)||84||56|||
|12th||2015||Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates||October 4-6||Abdulla El Reyes (United Arab Emirates)||86||44|||
|13th||2017||Paris, France||October 24-27||Abdulla El Reyes (United Arab Emirates)||132||78|||
As of December 2018, 381 documentary heritages had been inscribed in the Register, with 274 of these from Europe and North America and 116 from Asia and the Pacific.
|Region||Number of inscriptions to the Register||Number of countries/organizations|
|Memory of the World Register - Africa||24|
|Memory of the World Register - Arab States||13|
|Memory of the World Register - Asia and the Pacific||116|
|Memory of the World Register - Europe and North America||274|
|Memory of the World Register - Latin America and the Caribbean||93|
|Memory of the World Register - Other||7|
|Total||429 main + 3 additional||523 main[Note 1] + 4 additional|
Following the successful establishment of the Register, UNESCO and the Memory of the World Programme have encouraged the creation of national and regional organizations, presumably in part to streamline applications and fund-raising, as well as national and regional registers, which are to focus on documentary heritage of great regional or national importance, but not necessarily of global importance. In the Asia-Pacific region, in 2014-2015, there were 18 member nations of MOWCAP (6 without national committees), while in 2016, there were 16 national MOW committees.
The program is not without controversy. During the 2015 cycle, for example, there was a significant degree of conflict within East Asia, as registry with the MOW Program was becoming viewed as an approval of particular views of contested history, specifically with respect to the Nanjing Massacre and the comfort women.
The Jikji Prize was established in 2004 in cooperation with the South Korean government to further promote the objectives of the Memory of the World Programme, and to commemorate the 2001 inscription of the country's Jikji on the Register. The award, which includes a cash prize of $30,000 from the Korean government, recognizes institutions that have contributed to the preservation and accessibility of documentary heritage.
The prize has been awarded biennially since 2005 during the meeting of the IAC.