Documentary heritage: an overview

Find all our articles on Patreon

Documentary heritage is a category of cultural heritage with tangible and intangible, physical attributes of an item that constitute its distinction.

…A brief reminder

Tangible heritage describes physical objects or sites.

Intangible describes immaterial values transmitted through speech, song, traditions….

Documentary heritage can be both tangible and intangible under this category are items containing information about humanity. Where can we find such information? Books, stone tablets, papyrus, photographs, recordings, cd-DVD’s and more.

Documentary heritage initially stemmed from the need to preserve libraries and archives. On the one hand, we create libraries and archives to conserve knowledge and grow as a society. On the other hand, it is not unheard of to burn books, from Alexandria’s library to any extreme contemporary political movements. Heritage in conflict is a whole different chapter, but acknowledging that books and any form of documentation are heritage is imperative.

As with all heritage preservation and access to documentary collections is fundamental. Archives and Libraries were among the first to start digitising and making accessible online their collections. Digital archives give access and preserve the contents from destruction as their format is often fragile such as paper. Unfortunately, a large percentage of collections worldwide are still not digitised.

The digital divide in heritage is hard to address, as 2020 forced museums to go digital and at the same time cut cultural funds making digitisation impossible. The institutions able to cope and produce digital collections brought innovation, not just in technology, but the definition of documentary heritage. Digital documents or exhibitions are not copies but constitute virtual heritage.

Moreover, social media and internet platforms are a large part of our life and will be future heritage.

A personal reflection: countless researchers have spent thousands hours combing through personal diaries and letters of historical figures to piece the most intricate parts of their lives; in 100 years, you can Ctrl+F the digital footprint of anyone. So will Facebook and Instagram be heritage? Will you even be able to access this information from the nuralink in your head?

Technology is growing and so do the media we catalogue information on, Software Heritage addresses this issue. Software heritage preserves code that gives access to information, ensuring future generations’ access. As is the case with libraries, digital heritage and software heritage are subject to restricted access and copyright restrictions. Europeana encourages museums and institutions to free their content for everyone to access and share images and content, Europeana Public Domain Charter, and Europeana Publishing Framework. You can learn more about the benefits of open access for heritage with the Europeana article listed below. 

Heritage interpretations and values continually evolve, but documentary heritage expands and take entirely new physical and conceptual attributes.

I want to learn more:

Fundamental principles of digitisation of documentary heritage

UNESCO-Memory of the World, Guidelines for the preservation of digital heritage

Europeana- Open and reusable digital cultural heritage

To learn more and Support our page vist our Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!

Want to learn more?