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About MOW

Loss of Memories is"...ignorance of each other’s ways and lives... through which their differences have all too often broken into war.” 

Preamble of UNESCO’s constitution.

“The accumulation, preservation and transmission of collective memory are a defining attribute of human kind. The Memory of the World program is dedicated to fighting global amnesia and advancing the world’s documentary heritage: it aims to facilitate preservation, assist universal access and increase awareness of its existence and significance. It has a structure of expert international, regional and national committees, and a corresponding system of registers which celebrate outstanding heritage and bring it to public attention. It produces publications on preservation and access standards, organizes workshops, and builds networks among Memory institutions." 

Ray Edmondson, Chairman of MOWCAP


UNESCO established the Memory of the World Programme in 1992. Impetus came originally from a growing awareness of the parlous state of preservation of, and access to, documentary heritage in various parts of the world. War and social upheaval, as well as severe lack of resources, have worsened problems which have existed for centuries. Significant collections worldwide have suffered a variety of fates. Looting and dispersal, illegal trading, destruction, inadequate housing and funding have all played a part. Much as vanished forever; much is endangered. Happily, missing documentary heritage is sometimes rediscovered. 

An International Advisory Committee (IAC) first met in Pultusk, Poland, in 1993. It produced an action plan which affirmed UNESCO's role as coordinator and catalyst to sensitize governments, international organizations and foundations, and foster partnerships for the implementation of projects. Through its National Commissions, UNESCO prepared a list of endangered library and archive holdings and a world list of national cinematic heritage. 

Meanwhile, a range of pilot projects employing contemporary technology to reproduce original documentary heritage on other media was commenced, which enhanced access to this documentary heritage and contributed to its preservation. 

IAC meetings have since been held every two years. Several Memory National Committees have been established around the world. 

The Memory of the World Register - in some ways the most publicly visible aspect of the Programme - was founded on the 1995 General Guidelines and has grown through accessions approved by successive IAC meetings.