The Galapagoan documentary heritage

The traces of the islands' memory

The Galapagoan documentary heritage



Documentary heritage, as its name suggests, is made up of documents: any material that encodes information of some kind. Among the most classic and universal documents are books. But this category includes formats as disparate as photos, fabrics, graffiti, maps, and pots, among many others.

As a whole, it is part of a much broader unit, intangible cultural heritage, which, together with its tangible counterpart, makes up a network of spaces, constructions, voices, and memories that define the culture, the past and the identity of a community ― and of a territory.

In 2015, UNESCO established the Recommendation Concerning the Preservation of, and Access to, Documentary Heritage, noting that "documentary heritage in archives, libraries and museums constitutes a major part of the memory of the peoples of the world and reflects the diversity of peoples, languages and cultures".

The Galapagos are no exception. Unfortunately, the islands' documentary heritage has been poorly preserved in the archipelago, being located abroad, mainly in American institutions. The CDF Library, Archive & Museum is one of the few local spaces dedicated to recovering that intangible memory, both physically and digitally. All its activities and projects —including Galapagueana itself— are framed within the guidelines on protection of heritage, knowledge and memory established by UNESCO and other similar international organizations.

Probably one of the most important components of documentary heritage is bibliographic heritage: books, magazines, articles, reprints, theses, reports and other similar materials, printed, typed or handwritten, relating to the Galapagos. Among them are the elements that make up the "historical bibliography" gradually built as a section in Galapagueana. But also the entire corpus of scientific literature produced on the archipelago, the novels written by islands' authors or about the islands, the chronicles and travel diaries (including the logbooks of pirates, whalers and other sailors), the notebooks of travelers and explorers, the management manuals of protected areas, all the existing electronic information, and much more.

Another voluminous component of this patrimonial body is the audiovisual heritage, which includes fixed and moving images, audio pieces, or a combination of both. Included in this diverse field are photographs, slides, negatives, films, videos and audio recordings. That includes the first images taken in the Galapagos, the early films, the first recordings, VHS tapes with Galapagos television programs, audio tapes with local radio broadcasts, combinations of slides and cassettes in educational packages, videos of scientific talks and family events, official photos from municipalities and governments, journalistic archives, and the terrible avalanche of digital images and videos distributed through social networks during the last two decades. In this area, the variety of formats is greater, since audiovisual documents are produced in a more "democratic" way (i.e. by anyone) and are subject to a certain "planned obsolescence".

Maps, architectural plans, diagrams, and other cartographic information also fall under the umbrella of the documentary heritage. The same happens with signs and posters (including scientific ones), and with their more official versions (bronze and marble plaques) and more popular ones (murals and graffiti). Among the latter are some of the earliest graphic expressions of the Galapagos — the inscriptions left by whalers, the oldest of which dates back to 1804 (left by Cameron Hathawson, of the Halard, on Santiago Island).

In addition to the elements mentioned so far —a terribly basic approach to an otherwise complex and diverse universe— there is a whole series of other materials that could also be cataloged within this category of heritage. This includes (but is not limited to) drawings, paintings, and other artistic works; museum artifacts, both archaeological and historical; memorabilia, souvenirs, and other small and fragmentary materials.

Documentary heritage includes both the elements produced by the hegemonic system (government, academia, "authorized" voices) and those produced from the "margins". In this sense, it is necessary to carry out an exercise of "memory weaving" that includes all the voices and all the perspectives reflected in the different documents.

That is the only way to build a plural and complete history of the Galapagos Islands from its cultural heritage.

[The photograph that illustrates this text corresponds to an inventory notebook kept in the CDF Archive].


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Publication date: 1 October 2022
Last update: 1 October 2022