The challenge of preserving heritage is a defining factor in every country’s management of its history and culture. The world has experienced too many disasters where the heritage of a nation is lost due to war, fire, natural disasters, or negligence.
With this knowledge the region has taken upon itself to start preserving some of its oldest and most valued legacies, as well as ensuring that any new treasures are stored to ensure their continuance for generations to come. The question of the preservation of heritage in Qatar was posed to a panel of experts in the field, at the QITCOM 2012 conference last week.
Tammi Moe, Head of Digital Collections and Archives at VCU, pointed out just how quickly Qatar has changed from a Bedouin society into a metropolis of glass buildings and advanced technology. In 1949 there was no electricity except for a few generators, the center of activity was the old market place, Souq Waqif, the main link between two communities, one of the desert and one of the sea. Trading consisted of animal fats, camel hair textiles and firewood, which were exchanged for provisions and utensils.
The coast of Qatar hosted a few sleepy port towns, where life was focused on survival, looking at the coastline now the transformation that has occurred in the past 15 to 20 years is astounding. However, with this transformation comes the impending threat of losing the memory of the people that survived in some of the harshest and most hostile conditions in the world. The Qatar Foundation with VCU have, therefore, taken it upon themselves to preserve this colourful past, while Qatar builds its future, with the Qatar Unified Imaging Project (QUIP).
“QUIP will initially produce a digital catalogue utilizing incoming archival, descriptive document type definitions and a consistent standards based, sharable metadata, describing significant materials within Qatar, the UK, India and Denmark. Primary sources will be original documents, oral history, autobiographies, diaries, emails, interviews, letters, minutes, news film footage, official records, photography, raw research data, speeches, creative works, art, drama, films, music, novels, poetry, relics or artefacts, buildings, clothing, DNA, furniture, jewellery and pottery,” said Tammy Moe.
Dr. Rita Awad, the Director of Cultural Department, ALECSO in Tunisia explained the proposed project of the Digitization of World Arab Heritage Sites for the region. “These are places of outstanding universal value from the point of view of art, history, science or natural beauty, inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List,” she said. The list is established within the framework of UNESCO’s 1972 Convention concerning the protection of cultural and natural heritage sites. The framework provides international co-operation in protecting and preserving these treasures throughout the world.
In November 2011, 188 states, including the Arab States, had acceded to this convention, which consists of 21 elected committee members, including four Arab countries namely Algeria, Qatar, Iraq and the UAE. To date 936 properties are listed. The Arab states have contributed to this world heritage with their creation of civilizations, the birthplace of one of the three monotheistic religions and the alphabet. Since 1979, 70 natural and cultural properties in 16 Arab countries have been inscribed on the world Heritage List. Three more contributions from Qatar, Morocco and Bahrain will be considered this year. A total of 127 properties in 14 Arab countries are currently on UNESCO’s tentative list. The Arab Region has sites that are transcribed with great historical, spiritual and symbolic significance for the Arab people and all humanity.
Dr. Awad stated that, “It is through understanding the intertwining of our common pasts, that we can envision a peaceful and sustainable future for humanity. The proposed project of digitizing world heritage sites in the Arab region for the purpose of creating a website to promote them will be a major contribution to the Arabic Cultural Content for Internet access.”
The website will showcase high resolution digital photographs of the main features, architectural structures, and monuments of the UNESCO sites with informative captions in addition to interactive maps, footage and other digital documentary material pertaining to each site.
Future content and heritage preservation was demonstrated by the Qatar News Agency who showcased the digitization of media content on their website in Arabic and English, ensuring that all future news content is preserved: QNA Website
They have also created the first ever news website for kids, getting children of today involved in the creation of Arabic content and preservation of future heritage: QNA Kids
The digitization of heritage and media is in essence of vital importance in keeping the Arab language, culture and traditions alive for generations to come. Digitized historical archives will ensure that history is preserved, with new media being stored automatically and immediately via websites.