The Asia-Pacific region is home to rich and diverse documentary heritage reflecting the cultures, histories, traditions and values of its nations. Taking various forms – from manuscripts and woodblocks to photographs, stone inscriptions, sound recordings and film – this heritage is crucial to understanding the past and the present of our societies. It is also a source of inspiration, creativity and learning for future generations.
Diverse heritage brings nations together and contributes to a culture of peace. That is most clearly seen in the joint nomination process, whereby countries recognize common heritage that transcends national borders. One example is the Kulliyyāt-i Sa’di, the compendium of works by the 13th-century poet and writer Abu Muhammad Muslih al-Din bin Abdallah Shirazi, known by the penname Sa’di, which is currently held at the National Library of Iran and inscribed on the Memory of the World Register. Given the shared heritage of the Persian-speaking communities in West Asia, the Kulliyyāt manuscript is now being considered for joint inscription with Afghanistan, with one version of the manuscript held in its National Archives.
Across the Asia-Pacific, common heritage and shared histories underscore decades if not centuries of cultural exchange. The Save Myanmar Film association has proposed as a possible joint nomination the 1935 film Japanese Maiden, directed by the “father of Myanmar film” U Nyi Pu and coproduced by a Japanese production company, with the original film saved in the National Archives of Japan. “The Atoll of Funafuti – Memory of a buried island” proposal involves documents held in both Tuvalu and Australia, recording the nearly forgotten culture of former in the late 19th century as well as a record of Charles Darwin’s theory about coral island formation. The documents are also significant for the involvement of the wife of the geologist in the 1897 scientific expedition and her story of the interactions with the people of Tuvalu.
These records are of common significance to many countries across the region and are the foundations for strengthening regional cooperation and solidarity. However, most of these archives remain unknown across the countries and are not sufficiently accessible to raise public awareness of the significance of common heritage across the region.
Launched in 1992, the UNESCO Memory of the World (MoW) programme increases awareness worldwide of the existence and significance of documentary heritage, to facilitate preservation by the most appropriate techniques and to promote universal access.
The need for national and international cooperation for safeguarding documentary heritage is one of the five categories of the UNESCO Recommendation Concerning the Preservation of, and Access to, Documentary Heritage Including in Digital Form.
“Tracing and making connections among countries and regions can be a result of joint nominations,” said Dr Roslyn Russell, Chair of UNESCO Australian Memory of the World Committee.
Within this context, a workshop onstrengthening regional cooperation and joint nominations was organized by UNESCO Bangkok on 20-21 June 2019 with the participation of 30 representatives from 14 countries across Asia-Pacific. The objectives of the workshop were to increase the participants’ knowledge of the MoW programme and the inscriptions on the International and Regional Registers; to build capacity for the identification of shared documentary heritage and the development of transnational joint nominations; and to promote regional cooperation through documentary heritage and the MoW programme.
To identify documentary heritage of transnational significance, some areas of commonalities were identified such as women’s suffrage, cultural interaction across borders, kingdoms of the region, records of colonialism, trade interaction in the region, and democracy and human rights. In addition to knowledge sharing among the participants and the MoW experts, the workshop also led to fruitful discussion about the development of potential joint nominations among participating countries.
“The joint identification and safeguarding of documentary heritage across international borders strengthens international cooperation and mutual understanding, contributing to building a culture of peace,” said Andrew Henderson, Secretary-General of the MoW Committee for Asia and the Pacific (MOWCAP). Cooperation can take many forms, including cross-institutional training and support for safeguarding heritage in danger, the development of shared databases and platforms, and the exchange of collections in physical or digital forms, among other efforts.
According to the MoW programme, documentary heritage belongs to all, and should be fully preserved and protected, and permanently accessible to all. It contains the collective memory of our societies, nations and regions as well as memory common to all humanity. This heritage carries values and knowledge that are essential to understand the present, shape a better future for all and build lasting peace
Images and text courtesy of the UNESCO Bangkok Office.