World Day for Audiovisual Heritage 2021

October 29, 2021


Archives are humanity’s collective memory bank, according to the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisations (UNESCO). They represent priceless heritage, affirm our collective memory, and are a valuable source of knowledge reflecting the global communities' cultural, social, and linguistic diversity.  UNESCO World Day for Audiovisual Heritage is marked annually on 27 October and provides an opportunity to highlight a medium that is too often unsung, despite its ubiquity in our lives.

Sound recording and moving images provide a unique opportunity for archives to create rather than merely acquire material, and for more than twenty years, the Australian Academy of Science has documented the remarkable stories of Australian Science through the Conversations with Australian Scientists oral history program.

There are many reasons to use oral testimony to document the role science plays in present-day culture. Scientists may have an audible voice in society, and the product of their work is often presented to the public in journals and books, but the real value of oral history is that it records the memories, feelings and beliefs that fill the gaps in a frequently depersonalised and compressed published record.

First-person recollections shed light on how scientists undertake their work and provide information about their relationships to institutions, one another and the larger research community. Interviews illuminate the social, academic and political contexts that make science possible and influence its content, method and direction. Oral history can help us learn more about the why, how and under what conditions a life in science is assumed than is typically revealed in written documentation, but sometimes the format simply makes for good stories.

Professor Roger Short’s 2010 interview covers everything from his efforts in the fight against HIV transmission to King Canute’s Forest Laws and the aquatic origins of elephants – the trunk was once a snorkel. A 2011 interview with Dame Bridget Ogilvie charts the course of the ‘girl from the bush’ who became Director of the Wellcome Trust, while a conversation with Professor Frank Fenner highlights his role in the multidecade World Health Organization initiative that culminated in the eradication of smallpox.

The Academy is committed to reinvigorating the oral history project in audio (podcast) form.  

“It’s investing in our future,” said Academy Fellow Professor Robyn Williams, ABC science journalist and broadcaster. “When you hear these stories about how things can be transformed, you are both inspired and excited.”

Conversations with Australian Scientists goes beyond the soundbite to delve deep into the extraordinary lives and achievements of our best and brightest. “All of these stories show how marvellously human and broad are our scientists.”

Make history with us

Join us to support this project in recording stories that will enrich and inspire the next generation of exceptional scientists and provides a unique and personal insight into the challenges and progress of science.

Make history with us

© 2021 Australian Academy of Science