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Spotlight on Memory of the World Heritage: Reading is food for the soul

The cover and the last page of Baegun hwasang chorok buljo jikji simche yojeol (vol.II)

UNESCO’s Memory of the World register includes the world’s oldest known book printed using movable metal type, the Gutenberg 42-line Bible and numerous collections relating to the work of noted writers such as Hans Christian Andersen, Astrid Lindgren, Christopher Okigbo and Derek Walcott among others.

Try doing an Internet search on phrases about books and reading. The list is endless, with quotes by hundreds of famous and not so famous book enthusiasts. 

This will come as no surprise to the millions who love reading.  For ever since people began to write, an ever increasing number of us have wanted to read. But books would not be so readily available were it not for the invention of the movable type printing press which made their production easier, faster and less expensive.

Baegun hwasang chorok buljo jikji simche yojeol (vol.II), the second volume of "Anthology of Great Buddhist Priests' Zen Teachings"

Restored Metal Type of Jikji

Quick facts:

  • Year of submission: 2001
  • Year of inscription: 2001
  • Country: Republic of Korea
  • Heritage item: Link

A little known fact is that in July 1377, some 70 years before Germany’s Johannes Gutenberg produced his 42-line Bible using movable metal type, a group of Buddhist priests in Korea produced two volumes using this method.
Today, the Buljo jikji simche yojeo or "Jikji", as the sole surviving document is known, is regarded as the world’s oldest known book made using movable metal type. The volumes were compiled to transmit the essentials of Zen Buddhism, and were printed at a temple in Cheongju City. 

The location of the first volume is unknown, but the second was bought by a French diplomat in the late nineteenth century, and finally made its way to the National Library of France, its current home.

The Derek Walcott Collection

Quick facts:

  • Year of submission: 1997
  • Year of inscription: 1997
  • Country: Trinidad and Tobago
  • Heritage item: Link

A number of authors are listed on the Memory of the World Register, including Derek Walcott, 1992 Nobel Literature Prize laureate and winner of the 2011 T.S. Eliot Prize for Poetry. Walcott self-published his first poems at the age of 18, but it was his 1962 collection “In a Green Night” that earned him an international reputation.

Deeply rooted in the mixture of African, Asian and European influences in the Caribbean, his poetry is widely regarded as having a universal message and appeal.  Walcott has also written many plays and continues to write and work as an academic.

The Derek Walcott Collection includes his diaries, manuscripts and correspondence.

Christopher Okigbo Collection

© Christopher Okigbo Foundation (COF)

Quick facts:

  • Year of submission: 2007
  • Year of inscription: 2007
  • Region: Africa
  • Heritage item: Link

One of his contemporaries, Christopher Okigbo, who is seen by many as the greatest African poet of the twentieth century, experienced very contrasting fortunes. Born in 1932 in eastern Nigeria which was still under British colonial rule, Okigbo, like Walcott, made his breakthrough in 1962 when his works appeared in a literary magazine. 

But Nigeria, which gained independence in 1963, was going through troubled times, and Okigbo’s poetry evolved from personal to more political themes.  In July 1967, he joined the secessionist Biafran army fighting for independence from Nigeria but was killed in action in August in one of the first battles of the civil war. 

The Okigbo collection includes his manuscripts and unpublished poems. While he is heralded as an Anglophone poet, the collection also includes experimental poems written in his mother tongue, Igbo, that are seen as a model for the development of poetry in that language.

Memory of the World Register

Listing of items such as these on the Memory of the World Register is intended to generate interest and help with the conservation of documentary heritage which helps us to understand our society in all its complexities.

However war, social upheaval, looting, illegal trading, destruction, inadequate conservation and lack of funding have all had a disastrous effect on the conservation of our documentary heritage.

A growing awareness of this, together with UNESCO’s belief that the world's documentary heritage belongs to all and should be preserved and protected, led to the establishment of its Memory of the World programme in 1992.

The programme works to identify and facilitate the preservation of valuable archive holdings and library collections worldwide, and assists with their dissemination. Inscription of a collection in the Memory of the World register, created in 1995, is part of the process.

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