Over the last 500 years, three quarters of the oral cultures of the world have disappeared. By the end of this century, the remaining oral cultures may be lost. These knowledge systems, passed down from parent to child, are at risk of vanishing without record. With sufficient funding we can use digital technology to enable worldwide distribution of the recordings of oral cultures and return these recordings to the communities of origin. Many communities are becoming increasingly active with regard to their cultural preservation, but remain marginalised by low visibility and limited funding. We can leverage the energy and commitment of such groups to collect and protect the voices of these vanishing worlds.
At the same time, much of the ethnographic data that has been collected over the last 100 years is at risk of being lost. Films, audio recordings, photographs and field notes remain uncatalogued and are deteriorating in storage. These traces of humanity’s diverse cultural expressions just before its transition to modernity are in urgent need of cataloguing, preservation and dissemination. In 10 years, we aim to have recorded the world’s most endangered cultures and to have made a comprehensive inventory of existing undocumented collections.