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UNESCO adds Heidi to its Memory of the World archive

  • By The Swiss Times
  • 22 May 2023
Swiss novel Heidi has been added to UNESCO’s International Memory of the World Register. The novel is one of the most famous in the world – having been translated into more than 50 languages and adapted into 25 film versions.
UNESCO adds Heidi to its Memory of the World archive
Heidi and her goat herding friend Peter in the Swiss mountains (Credit: Switzerland Tourism).

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recently added Switzerland’s most iconic pieces of literature, Heidi, to its International Memory of the World Register.

More on the importance of Heidi

Heidi is not only one of Switzerland’s most well-known stories, but one of the first novels in modern history to describe homesickness as a medical condition and suggest that the Swiss mountains possess the cure.

Johanna Spyri’s novel Heidi – about a homesick child determined to return to the Swiss mountains – has captivated audiences for generations. But underneath a simple plot about home lies Swiss folklore about the healing powers of nature and the perils of leaving Switzerland.

In 1688, Swiss doctor Johanne Hofer observed concerning symptoms that primarily affected the Swiss, particularly Swiss mercenaries fighting in foreign countries. Hofer noted that symptoms included high fever, depression and irregular heartbeat.

Hofer identified this psychological illness as ‘nostalgia;’ and, believed this sickness was triggered by being forced to remain in a foreign environment. The emotions that underpin nostalgia and homesickness are universally felt and this could be one of the reasons that the story of Heidi still resonates with so many.

While it was published more than 140 years ago, the heartwarming story “written for children and for those who love children” has universal appeal that powerfully connects with audiences the world over.

UNESCO adds Heidi to its Memory of the World archive
The story of Heidi promotes the healing powers of nature, especially the Swiss mountains(Credit: Heididorf).
More on the honor

The UNESCO Memory of the World honor was established in 1992 to preserve documents of cultural significance and promote them to the public.

The honor includes the Heidi Heritage Project (Heidiseum), which the University of Zurich is responsible for, and the Johanna Spyri Archive, which is held by the Swiss Institute for Youth and Media (ISJM).

The university said it “intends to promote the scientific study of these collections,” according to a press release. The archive includes more than 1,000 documents, photos, and illustrations dedicated to the author and Heidi. The public can visit the archive at the ISJM library in Zurich.

There is something quintessentially Swiss about the book. Perhaps it is because the themes woven throughout the story are deeply embedded in Swiss culture: the uplifting power of nature, love of family, and an emotional attachment to home. Swiss families tend to be close and spend a lot of time together. Sharing the evening meal is imperative for many Swiss households and many Swiss stay close to where they grew up.

The values that Spryi writes about in Heidi are ever-present in Swiss culture today and passed on from generation to generation.

This article may be freely shared and re-printed, provided that it prominently links back to the original article.

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