9 June, 2018

A collection of reports and photos from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), documenting the UK’s leading role in the modern era of Antarctic exploration, is being inscribed onto UNESCO’s UK Memory of the World Register. The move recognises the collection as a significant part of the UK’s memory.

The series of base and field reports and photographs forms the backbone of the archive collections of BAS and its predecessors, the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey (1945-62) and the Second World War expedition Operation Tabarin (1943-45). It is a unique and comprehensive account of these organisations’ activities, from the establishment of the first UK Antarctic stations in 1944 to the end of the 20th Century.

Photo from the archive: Scene taken during a lunch time halt on sledge journey, showing base of Wall range, Fief Mountains and Peltier Channel, Antarctica in 1944

The material contains ten thousand reports and approximately nineteen thousand photographs, covering all twenty of the UK’s Antarctic stations past and present. Data underpinning globally significant discoveries, such as the hole in the ozone layer, is included. So too are accounts of the challenges of living and working in an extreme environment, and of prolonged journeys into the field to research and map the unknown.

Created by and documenting the experiences of little-known individuals, from leading scientists to the mechanics who provided light and warmth in this hostile environment, it constitutes a rich and irreplaceable record of UK scientific endeavour of fundamental and continuing global importance.

Ieuan Hopkins, Archives Manager at BAS, said: “The recognition by UNESCO of the significance of the material held by the BAS Archives is tremendous. It’s testament to the work undertaken to collect and preserve this material, and to the continuing international significance of BAS’ activities.

“But most importantly it pays tribute to the thousands of individuals who, over the past 75 years, have been conducting and supporting the UK’s scientific research in Antarctica.”

The extensive BAS archive of field reports giong back to 1944

Being inscribed onto the Memory of the World Register is a statement by UNESCO of the national significance of the documentary heritage (written or audio/visual) and its contribution to the collective memory of humankind.

Inscription highlights the critical importance of the document’s survival and accessibility, and of UNESCO’s interest in its proper management and commitment to its preservation. Being inscribed also ensures that records are visible, which therefore enables people to be aware of the UK’s documentary heritage. This increased profile, in turn, helps to provide the long-term care and accessibility of that heritage.

The UNESCO Memory of the World (MoW) Programme was established in 1992 in response to the destruction of documentary heritage globally through conflict, lack of funding, and/or neglect. The Programme’s vision is that the world’s documentary heritage belongs to all, should be fully preserved and protected and be permanently accessible to all without hindrance.

The UK Memory of the World Register honours the documentary heritage of national significance to the UK. Nominations for the UNESCO UK Memory of the World register are considered by an independent committee of UK archival experts against a range of criteria, including authenticity, rarity, integrity, threat and social, spiritual and community significance.