Survival of Cultural Heritage


As societies grow and develop, individuals have sought to preserve knowledge and heritage, from cave drawings, stone tablets, and parchment paper to modern digital preservation techniques. Such actions ensure the survival of information, data, and knowledge for subsequent generations. Historians working to simply “fight the acidity of paper, the copper corrosion of miniatures, the chemical burning of leather, the shrinkage of overheated parchment, the disintegration of red silk or the yellowed varnish of paintings…can only stop these destructive processes temporarily as, in the end, nature will overcome all of our tangible heritage: all is lost that is delayed” (Teijgeler, 2006, paragraph 1). There does not exist, however, a standard guideline on what to preserver, and better yet, how to preserve it. Indeed, each culture values different artifacts and indigenous knowledge. This sometimes prevents other cultures from fully understanding the value placed on the item or the beliefs behind that value. This is often evidenced in times of war or conflict. In such moments, cultural artifacts have the potential to be destroyed due religious, social, or ethnic preferences and policies. Historic examples abound: Torah burnings during the Holocaust, the destruction of the Library of Alexandria, and the censorship of literature.

For these (and other reasons) it seems imperative that cultural groups take preventative measures to avoid the complete destruction of important heritage artifacts. Indeed, “disasters need to be managed in order to control them, or at least to mitigate the effects” (Teijgeler, 2006, paragraph 7). A disaster management cycle may help to mitigate destruction. As Teijgeler discusses, “a Disaster Management Cycle should address issues relevant to all phases of the disaster cycle: preparedness, response, recovery, rebuilding, prevention and mitigation. Yet, it should be realized that each collection, each building and each situation is unique and that every institution has to prepare for disasters with its own unique plan” (Teijgeler, 2006, paragraph 8). Unfortunately, most institutions, individuals, and cultural groups do not consider such measures until objects and artifacts are in jeopardy. Proper preservation helps to ensure the survival of important, valuable cultural artifacts and information.

There are a plethora of methods for preserving material, including digital archival processes. The WDL not only facilitates such processes, it also provides safe storage of digital material. Partner institutions in various UNESCO countries are currently taking advantage of the initiatives offered by the WDL. In so doing, such countries have the opportunity to strengthen relationships with organizations and institutions that can provide assistance (digitization, for instance) in protecting heritage artifacts.

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