From the Fourteenth Century to the Antarctic – UK archives awarded United Nations Recognition

On Wednesday 19 September 2018, the Minister and Ambassador of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to UNESCO, Matthew Lodge, will mark the addition of six significant archives to the wealth of national material on UNESCO’s prestigious UK Memory of the World Register. He will also congratulate the seven inscriptions joining the International Memory of the World Register, the documentary heritage equivalent of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) established the Memory of the World (MoW) Programme in 1992 to preserve significant documentary heritage from across the globe for future generations to learn from and enjoy. The Programme’s vision is that the world’s documentary heritage belongs to all, should be fully preserved and protected for all and permanently accessible to all without hindrance. The UK Register recognises documentary heritage deemed by a panel of UK archival experts on behalf of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to be of outstanding significance to the UK.

Ambassador Matthew Lodge, UK Ambassador and Permanent Delegate to UNESCO:

“On behalf of the UK Permanent Delegation to UNESCO, I am delighted that these rich and varied examples of the United Kingdom’s documentary heritage will be inscribed onto UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register. As a founding member state of UNESCO and a country with a long and proud history, the inscription of these documents is an important moment, and a positive step in our collective efforts to preserve and share material that tells the story of modern humanity’s journey. The remarkable range of the documents inscribed today reminds us of our shared heritage – from medieval manuscripts to a Tudor choir book to modern photographs of the Antarctic. These documents will now be more accessible than ever before. We look forward to continuing our support for this important programme over the coming years.”

Commenting on the six new inscriptions to the UK Memory of the World Register, Michael Ellis MP, Heritage Minister at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said:

“British history is truly brought to life by the personal stories, documents and images of our past. Inscribing these stunning examples onto UNESCO’s UK Memory of the World Register recognises their national and global importance. This will protect them for future generations.”

The ceremony will be hosted at Imperial College and is sponsored by Max Communications.

Six new inscriptions will join the 57 already listed on the UK Memory of the World Register. Included in the UK Register awards for 2018 is a wide variety of remarkable historical documents from across the UK:

  • The Commonwealth War Graves Commission Casualty Archive An archive consisting of over 300,000 documents which record the details and commemoration location of each casualty the Commission is responsible for commemorating; some 1.7 million individuals in total from both world wars.
  • The Sir Robert Cotton’s Collection of Manuscripts The first library to pass into national ownership in 1702 in Britain, the Cotton Collection is the original ‘public library’, containing some of the most famous literary treasures in the country including Magna Carta, the Lindisfarne Gospels and the papers of several British monarchs.
  • Eton Choirbook A volume of manuscript music created between 1500 and 1504 still used in religious services at Eton College Chapel, the Eton Choirbook is one of only three Tudor Choir Books to survive the destruction of the Reformation and is the earliest and most complete, providing unique insight into a fertile period of English church music.
  • The Base and Field Reports, and related Photographic material of the British Antarctic Survey and its Predecessors A record of UK scientific endeavour illustrating the UK’s leading role in the modern era of Antarctic exploration. Data underpinning globally significant discoveries, such as the hole in the ozone layer is included, plus personal accounts of those living and working in this extreme environment.
  • The Chronicle of Elis Gruffudd, ‘Soldier of Calais’ A Welsh soldier’s bid to write a history of the world from the Creation to 1152. It provides a first-hand account life and contemporary events while he was serving in the English garrison in Calais in the 1550s, e.g. eyewitnesses testimony of the meeting between Henry VIII and Francis I of France at the Field of the Cloth of Gold in June 1520. It is the most ambitious narrative chronicle ever to have been written in the Welsh language.
  • Early Gaelic Manuscripts of the Scottish Advocates Library A group of 14th-17th-century Gaelic manuscripts covering Gaelic traditional medicine, theology, tales and poetry plus linguistics, history and genealogy. These highly unusual manuscripts provide critical insight into Scottish culture and inform our understanding of the history and identity of Britain as a whole.

UK Archives awarded United Nations recognition
The reception also celebrates six UK inscriptions to the International Memory of the World Register in 2018, which identifies documentary heritage of outstanding international significance. The most recent UK entries onto the International Register were also recognised and are just as remarkable. They include:

  • The Gertrude Bell Collection – Gertrude Bell had worked in the British administration of Iraq. This collection captures her perspective on the transitional period, from the countries in Europe and in the Ottoman Empire before World War I until 1926. The archives include numerous photographs.
  • The Philosophical Nachlass of Wittgenstein captures Wittgenstein’s philosophical development from 1914 to the Tractatus and his continuous philosophical work from 1929 until his death in 1951.
  • An African Song or Chant from Barbados which is the only known manuscript of an African work song that was chanted in the sugar fields of Barbados.
  • The ‘Gospels of Tsar Ivan Alexander’ – contains the text of four Gospels in Slavonic and is famous for its rich illumination and royal portraits and give a rare window on the Byzantine world.
  • The Orwell Papers’ collection contains the personal archive of George Orwell political thinker, essayist, novelist, journalist and broadcaster although he kept very few personal papers. They include the first jottings of some of the most well-known words and phrases from the Orwell canon, such as “Two Minutes Hate”, “Newspeak.”
  • The ‘Shakespeare Documents’ are the key archival sources for understanding William Shakespeare’s life providing glimpses into his personal life, birth, death, family affairs, property and business dealings as well as the context for his life.
  • The Scientific and Mathematical Papers of Sir Isaac Newton’ which document the development of Sir Isaac Newton’s thought on universal gravitation, calculus, and optics, and includes his notebooks and correspondence.
  • The UK’s rich documentary heritage is filled with stories about people, places and events – they are the documented memory of humankind. Much of it is publicly available in archives, libraries and museums.

United Nations recognition for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Casualty Archive

Elizabeth Oxborrow-Cowan, Chair of the UNESCO Memory of the World UK Committee:

“Archives are the lifeblood of our memory. These awards demonstrate the richness and beauty of the UK archival inheritance, much of which is freely available to the public through archives, museums and libraries. I encourage people to discover this inheritance for themselves.”

James Bridge, Secretary-General of the UK National Commission for UNESCO:

“The UK has some of the world’s best archives and the UNESCO Memory of the World inscription is a great way to provide global recognition. Each new inscription onto the register provides a fascinating insight into the rich variety of our documentary heritage.”