ICRC audio memory soon to be available online
The ICRC’s audio archives are being digitized and will soon be available online. On the occasion of UNESCO’s World Day for Audiovisual Heritage (27 October), ICRC archivist Florence Zurcher answered some of our questions about this project.
What do the ICRC’s audio archives contain?
Mostly recordings of radio programmes, including those aired on Radio Inter-Croix-Rouge and later on RCBS, the Red Cross Broadcasting Service. This radio frequency was assigned to the ICRC right after the Second World War, enabling it to broadcast operational messages and other information. The archives also contain news stories, serials and programmes prepared for Red Cross and Red Crescent Day, which is celebrated on 8 May each year.
Other audio records concern events that are of historical importance to the ICRC or that reflect its unique heritage. These include recordings of international conferences, meetings of the Council of Delegates, expert meetings, press conferences, accounts of official visits, declarations by members of the ICRC, and testimonies given by delegates or victims.
What period do the archives cover?
The bulk of the archives run from the 1960s to the 1990s, although a few date further back. RCBS stopped broadcasting in 1996.
Unfortunately, many of the recordings made right after the Second World War have been lost. There is no trace, for instance, of Radio Inter-Croix-Rouge broadcasts during which the names of liberated prisoners were read out. However, research conducted in the ICRC’s paper archives has made it possible to reconstitute the history of the organization’s early broadcasting efforts.
How and why are these archives being preserved?
The ICRC realized that unless the archives were rapidly digitized, nothing would be left of its unique heritage. The original media used are rapidly deteriorating and will soon be illegible. Paradoxical as it may seem, the most recent forms of media are the most vulnerable.
Efforts to digitize the audio archives began in 2009 and are to be completed in 2013. Thanks to the support provided by Memoriav (an association for the preservation of Switzerland’s audiovisual memory) and the cooperation of the Swiss National Phonothèque, 2,500 hours of recordings have so far been digitized.
In 1999, the ICRC began taking measures to preserve its photographic and film archives, especially those dating back to the Second World War. The audio archives are perhaps the least known of all. Yet they shed a special light on the thinking, writings and images of the time, and can easily fire the imagination of researchers and other listeners alike. They are different and therefore complementary to paper archives.
Are these documents already available?
New software will soon facilitate public access to the archives and enable more people to consult the online catalogue. As of today, the ICRC’s archivists are ready to answer requests concerning documents that have already been digitized. The whole point of preserving the ICRC’s oral memory is to pass it on to future generations.