Reflecting on the UNESCO Memory of the World Training Workshop


Reflecting on the UNESCO Memory of the World Training Workshop


What is Memory of the World (MoW)?


The MoW is a program established by UNESCO since 1992. The program is aimed at improving access and protecting documentary heritage world wide. The notion of this program regards the world’s documentary heritage as property for all. Thus, the main objectives of the MoW program are to preserve, promote access and raise global awareness of the significance of documentary heritage for all future generations around the world. The MoW is particularly concerned with unique documentary heritage, in a sense that it is regarded as rare and/or endangered. The MoW therefore, strives to ensure preservation and permanent access to documentary heritage for all.


The MoW program has an international register which has been used to expand global awareness on the existence and importance of documentary heritage. The register contains approximately 350 items from all over the world. Thus the register is a prestigious and outstanding form of recognising the global significance and value of documentary heritage.


A recent UNESCO MoW training workshop for the Africa Region organized by the South Korean National Commission for UNESCO, Cultural Heritage Administration of South Korea and Namibia National Commission for UNESCO, in collaboration with the UNESCO Regional office for Southern Africa in Windhoek yield many possibilities; by proving practical guidelines on the nomination processes. More documentary heritage nominations are expected to be recommended by Namibia. Being considered for the next Namibian nomination is the “Terrorism Trial” records and Robben Island prisoners 1967 – 1968/9.

Namibia managed to contribute a single item onto the International Register so far. The Letter Journals of Hendrick Witbooi were recommended for inclusion in the MoW Register in 2005, and subsequently approved and inscribed in 2005.


An insight on how the documentary heritage nomination process works


Documentary heritage has been described as the world’s peoples “recorded collective memory” considered to portray an evolution of thought, discovery and achievements of human society.


The MoW program has an outline or criteria equipped to guide on the most significant aspects anticipated to qualify documentary heritage onto the MoW International Register.   


The criterion is therefore categorized by primary and secondary importance. The primary selection criteria emphasises that the documentary heritage to be nominated for MoW should have characteristics of authenticity/uniqueness, irreplaceable and it should obverse world significance. In addition to that, primary importance should similarly consider time/place/people/subject-theme/form and style/social-spiritual aspects. Secondary importance on the other hand constitutes that rarity/integrity/threat and management plan should form part of the criteria to observe when nominating documentary heritage to be considered for MoW register.


The nominations are evaluated by national, regional and international committees. The selection criteria for national, regional and international registers is believed to be the same, with minor variations. A nomination to be approved for inclusion in the MoW register should vigorously express the World Significance. World significance denotes that the documentary heritage at hand should have created a great impact over time or within a particular cultural area of the world and it should have significantly influenced (positive or negative) on the course of history. World significance should thus be validated against: time, place, people, subject and theme, form and style as well as social or spiritual value of the documentary heritage. In the event where the world significance of a particular documentary heritage cannot be established, it advised to retain the national heritage status.


A few issues are worth noting: Firstly, emphasis is placed on the importance of the document itself which institutes documentary heritage, rather than on the historical events documented. Accordingly, documentary heritage should speak for itself in terms of rarity, uniqueness, indigence. Additionally, documents originating from one country, but are stored in another country can still be nominated by individual countries or through a joint nomination. A joint nomination is strongly recommended for countries whose part of the nominated documentary heritage is fully/partially stored elsewhere (such as in the coloniser’s country) to ensure its integrity and completeness as outlined in the selection criteria.


For more information, visit the Memory of the World website at:


By Sylvia Umana,

Senior Library Assistant: NUST Digital Collections