New Zealand Memories Of The World

…. building peace in the minds of men and women. UNESCO mandate

Part of a world-wide mission

By Roger Childs

The Taliban: destroyers of ancient heritage

Maintaining the world heritage is no easy task. Buildings, statues and libraries may survive for centuries and then be destroyed in the so-called modern world. Warsaw lost 95% of its documents in World War II.

More recently Serbian shelling and NATO bombing destroyed libraries in the 1990s Balkan War, and the Taliban and ISIS have obliterated priceless structures in Afghanistan and Syria.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Memories of the World mission is designed to preserve the planet’s documentary heritage and New Zealand has enthusiastically joined the project.

Dianne McCaskill convenes our country’s involvement and last Sunday spoke at a Kapiti Friends of the Library gathering about how it all works.

The aims of preserving documentary heritage


The Memories of the World (MOW) programme began in 1992 with several worthy goals:

  • preserve the identity of every nation
  • facilitate the preservation of significant documents
  • assist with providing universal access to these treasures
  • increase the awareness of documentary heritage world-wide.

The MOW, which has its headquarters in Paris, works at three levels: international, regional (New Zealand is in Asia/Pacific), and national.

To be officially registered things have to stand out as being significant.

Te Tiriti o Waitangi

Items can be individual like a treaty, or a collection such as materials related to a group migrating to an area.

Categories can include

~ text items: books, maps, diaries, magazines

~ non-text items: drawings, prints, paintings, maps, cartoons

~ audio-visual items: films, tapes, microfilm, photographs, CDs

The organisation within New Zealand

Dianne McCaskill

New Zealand became officially involved in 2011.

A charitable trust manages the NZ operation and funding is provided by the local UNESCO Commission. Archives New Zealand and The National Library are also key stakeholders.

A committee, headed by Dianne, does the ground work which mainly involves assessing applications for Memory of the World status.

The New Zealand organisation is entrusted with

~ identifying documentary heritage items

 ~ oversight of this heritage

 ~ raising awareness of its importance

 ~ encouraging people and organisations to preserve our heritage.

Operating according to international guidelines, the committee follows particular criteria when evaluating the worth of recommendations.  Are items:

  • authentic
  • unique and irreplaceable
  • significant, either positively or negatively, in our history.

Significance will relate to elements such as time, place, people, subject, theme, form and style.

Essentially items just need to meet the criteria.

Examples of registered Memories 


Magna Carta

The UNESCO Director-General has the final say for world recommendations. 

  • Magna Carta
  • 18 May 1980 democratic uprising in South Korea
  • Tuol Sleng genocide archive in Phom Penh
  • Discovery of insulin at Toronto University

There were 88 applications for world status in 2015 and 47 were approved.

In New Zealand

~ Tiriti o Waitangi (Treaty of Waitangi)

~ Thomas Kendall’s Maori-New Zealand Dictionary, published in 1815

~ The film Patu

 ~ The women’s suffrage petition

~ God Defend New Zealand – original lyrics and score

~ Waipu Scottish Migration Collection: diaries, letters, photos, maps, shipping records, drawings

~ Edmund Hillary Archive

About 5-6 applications come through each year.

The on-going world-wide mission

195 countries are involved and they all support regional and international cooperation.

There is general acceptance that documentary heritage is an invaluable asset and a determination to see the principles of preservation applied to national policy – legislation, development policies and agendas.

(To find out more go to