• India
  • May 15

Explainer - UNESCO’s Memory of the World (MoW) Programme

• Illustrated manuscripts of ancient Ramacharitamanas, the manuscript of the Sahrdayaloka-Locana, and the 15th century manuscript of the Panchatantra fables are among the 20 items from the Asia-Pacific which have been inscribed in UNESCO’s ‘Memory of the World Regional Register’ for the 2024 cycle.

• The decision was taken at the 10th General Meeting of the Memory of the World Committee for Asia and the Pacific (MOWCAP), which was convened in Mongolia capital Ulaanbaatar.

• This year, the MOWCAP Regional Register celebrates human research, innovation and imagination.

20 inscribed items to the MOWCAP Regional Register for Asia-Pacific

i) Australia and Tuvalu – Funafuti: The Edgeworth David 1897 Expedition Documents

ii) Bangladesh – ‘Sultana’s Dream’ by Rokeya S. Hossain

iii) China – Archives Relating to the Chengdu Traditional Teahouses

iv) China – Huizhou Genealogy Archives

v) China – Printing Blocks Housed at the Derge Printing House

vi) India – The Illustrated Manuscripts of Ramcharitmanas of Tulasidas

vii) India – The Manuscript of the Sahṛdayāloka-Locana: Seminal Text of Indian Poetics

viii) India – The 15th Century Manuscript of the Panchatantra Fables

ix) Indonesia – Indarung I, The First Cement Plant in Southeast Asia (1910-1972)

x) Indonesia – Indonesian Sugar Research Institute’s Archives 1887-1986: The Role of ISRI’s Research Activities to the World Sugar Industry

xi) Indonesia – The Tambo Tuanku Imam Bonjol Manuscript

xii) Malaysia – Al-Tarikh Salasilah Negeri Kedah: Genealogical History of Kedah State

xiii) Malaysia – The Royal Correspondence of Baginda Omar (Surat Persendirian Baginda Omar)

xiv) Mongolia – Family Chart of Hereditary Lords of the Khalkha Mongols, the House of Genghis Khan

xv) Mongolia – Mongolia’s First Postage Stamps ‘Eldev Ochir’

xvi) Philippines – Doctrina Christiana en Lengua Espanola y Tagala (Christian Doctrine in Spanish and Tagalog), Manila, 1593

xvii) Philippines – Hinilawod Epic Chant Recordings

xviii) Uzbekistan – Images of Khorezm Oasis by Khudaibergan Devanov (1879-1937)

xix) Uzbekistan – “Turkestan Album” 1871-1872

xx) Vietnam – Bas-reliefs on the Nine Bronze Urns in Hue Imperial Palace

• Genealogical records were especially notable among 2024 inscriptions, with Mongolia’s Family Chart of Hereditary Lords of the Khalkha Mongols, the House of Genghis Khan; as well as the communities of Huizhou in China, and Kedah State in Malaysia, as testaments to the importance of collating regional family histories.

• The 2024 cycle also celebrated science and literature, recognising Bangladesh’s sci-fi feminist author Rokeya S. Hossain, who imagined both helicopters and solar panels before they had been invented in her 1905 utopian narrative, ‘Sultana’s Dream’.

• Also inscribed in 2024 was Australia and Tuvalu’s joint documentation on the findings of scientific expeditions investigating the formation of coral reefs.

• Documents recording significant innovations in business and industrial technology were also recognised, such as tea-drinking business entrepreneurship in China, as well as globally applied sugar research and regional cement production in Indonesia.

• Regional literary traditions were celebrated through the recognition of Philippines’ Indigenous Hinilawod chants, the East Asian legend of the Nine Tripods found on the bronze bas-reliefs in Vietnam’s Nine Dynastic Urns and the globally re-adapted Panchatantra Fables of India.

Memory of the World (MoW) Programme

• UNESCO launched the Memory of the World (MoW) Programme in 1992 to guard against the collective amnesia, calling upon the preservation of the valuable archive holdings and library collections all over the world and ensuring their wide dissemination. 

• Documentary heritage is a legacy of humankind, through which we can look back into the past, enrich our present lives, and look into the future with the boldness forged by enduring memories. 

• Documentary heritage is an important ingredient of Sustainable Development, linking all the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to the cultural fabrics that hold societies together.  

• The documentary heritage of many peoples has become dispersed because of accidental or deliberate displacement of holdings and collections, “spoils of war” or other historical circumstance. Sometimes, practical or political barriers hinder access, while in other cases deterioration or destruction are the threats. 

• The Programme’s vision is that the world’s documentary heritage belongs to all, should be fully preserved and protected for all and, with due recognition of cultural mores and practicalities, should be permanently accessible to all without hindrance.  

• It recognises documentary heritage of international, regional and national significance and maintains registers of it. It facilitates preservation, and access without discrimination. 

• It campaigns to raise awareness of the documentary heritage, to alert governments, the general public, business and commerce to preservation needs, and to raise funds.

The Programme’s objectives are thus to: 

i) Facilitate preservation of the world’s documentary heritage. 

ii) Catalyse universal access to documentary heritage.

iii) Enhance public awareness worldwide of the significance of documentary heritage.

• The international register is composed of documentary heritage that meets the criteria set out in the general guidelines, among which world significance is the primary criterion. 

• Documentary heritage can include materials from a variety of fields and forms, including visual, audio, paper and digital, among others.

• The Memory of the World (MoW) Programme is implemented by UNESCO through a system of committees and support mechanisms operating at international, regional and national levels that conforms to the general guidelines to safeguard documentary heritage.

• The International Advisory Committee (IAC) is the main body responsible for advising UNESCO on the planning and implementation of the Programme as a whole. 

• It comprises 14 members serving in a personal capacity, appointed by the Director-General of UNESCO, and chosen for their authority in the field of documentary heritage.

• Regional and national MoW committees are autonomous entities made up of documentary heritage professionals on the ground. 

• They are a crucial part of the Programme and implement its strategy on national and regional levels. 

• The success of the MoW Programme relies heavily on the drive, initiative and enthusiasm of regional and national committees. To facilitate exchange among the committees, the Programme organises inter-regional conferences on pressing topics.

Benefits of inscribing in Memory of the World International Register

i) Strategic opportunities arising from the right to use the UNESCO Memory of the World logo.

ii) Prestige conferred on organisations and collections as a result of UNESCO’s recognition.

iii) Opportunities for increased public awareness.

iv) Strengthening arguments for sponsorship, grants, and funding for preservation.

v) Being part of the global effort to enhance awareness and support for the preservation of documentary heritage.

• Any person or organisation, with the prior written consent of the owners or custodians, may submit nominations  through the National Commission for UNESCO or, in the absence of a National Commission, the relevant government body in charge of relations with UNESCO.

Other Indian nominations inscribed on the Register

• The I.A.S. Tamil Medical Manuscript Collection (1997)

• Archives of the Dutch East India Company (2003)

• Saiva Manuscript in Pondicherry (2005)

• Rigveda (2007)

• Laghu Kalacakra Tantra Jatika (Vimalaprabha) (2011)

• Tarikh-e-Khandan-e-Timuriyah (2011)

• Shantinatha Charitra (2013)

• Gilgit Manuscript (2017)

• Maitreyayvarakarana (2017)

• Abhinavagupta (940-1015 CE): Collection of Manuscripts of his works (2023)

• First Summit Meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement Archives (2023).

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