Cultural heritage and the knowledge economy : the role and value of sound archives and sound archiving in developing countries

Watson, Elizabeth F. (Stellenbosch : Stellenbosch University, 2010)


Paper presented at the Stellenbosch University Library 2010 Symposium / IFLA Presidential Meeting. Knowing is not enough: Engaging in the knowledge economy, 18 to 19 February 2010. At first glance the concepts of cultural heritage and the knowledge economy may appear to be divorced from each other. Indeed, the contrary is the case. According to UNESCO, cultural heritage “encompasses living expressions and the traditions that countless groups and communities worldwide have inherited from their ancestors and transmit to their descendants, in most cases orally.” The “in most cases orally” caveat signifies that whereas during colonization the peoples of the Caribbean and Africa were considered to be culture-less our societies and communities were in fact very rich and vibrant culturally. This created heritages that could successfully rival any from any other part of the world. However, the vast repertoire of heritage of the peoples of these areas does not often factor in general considerations of heritage. The perception that colonized communities were culture-less was nourished on the notion that because many of our cultural expressions and practices were not codified in printed books, music scores and other European means of communication and preservation – therefore there was no culture according to those measures. The knowledge economy is often narrowly defined by many as being that which is associated with/driven by ICT technologies. In reality, the knowledge economy is that which is based on the intellectual capital of a nation, community or individual. This more pragmatic concept of the knowledge economy would therefore, of necessity, include cultural creativity and expressions as two important factors of this mode of production, driver of growth, creator of wealth and provider of employment. According to Nurse “in economic terms, the cultural industries sector is one of the fastest growing sectors of the world economy”. Thus, in economic terms, culture and cultural heritage must be viewed as critical aspects of the knowledge economy, given that they depend on knowledge that is culturally-based as their mainstay and an intellectual capital whose means of production, distribution and preservation are often intangible. Music and song were two of the critical means of communicating culture and transmitting heritage from generation-to-generation within Africa and the Caribbean. And yet, the music and song of these spaces is often hard to find, is poorly documented and not well preserved/conserved in libraries throughout these regions. This presentation will examine the role and value of sound archives and sound archiving for both cultural heritage and the development and furtherance of the knowledge economy of African and Caribbean societies.

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