R50m for Tutu internet archive

26 September 2006

In a ground-breaking technology project involving South African and British universities, Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s entire works – including thousands of video and audio items, documents and letters – are to be organised and digitised to create the most comprehensive online archive of any living figure.

The Desmond Tutu Digital Archive project was announced in Cape Town on Monday at a function to celebrate the 75th birthday of the Nobel Peace Prize winner.

The University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) and the University of the Western Cape (UWC) will work with computer experts from King’s College, London to digitise up to 200 000 pages of documents, more than 1 000 hours of live audio, hundreds of hours of video, as well as films, photos and personal letters.

King’s College – where Tutu gained his bachelors’ and masters’ degrees in the 1960s – estimates that the archive could have 93-million potential users worldwide, and says it will be delivered free of charge to all schools in South Africa as a teaching resource.

The project, to be housed and managed in South Africa, will be developed as an active repository of the Archbishop’s wisdom, humanitarianism, guidance and moral authority, as well as a unique historical record of South Africa’s struggle for freedom and reconciliation.

“I am humbled to be at the centre of such an initiative,” Tutu said. “If it can help spread understanding and, dare I say it, love, around the world, then it surely must be a good thing.”

‘One of our most influential leaders’

“As one of our most influential leaders, Archbishop Tutu continues to bring messages and hope to a troubled world,” said King’s College Principal Professor Richard Trainer, currently visiting South Africa with a King’s College delegation to raise funds for the R50-million enterprise.

“Our intention is to ensure that everyone everywhere can benefit from his teaching and speeches by making them freely available via the internet,” Trainer said. “The archive will be a place of learning, a place of entertainment, and a place where people can connect with the past in an exciting way.

“King’s is proud to be sharing its skills with South Africa to achieve this,” Trainer added. “While King’s will be co-ordinating the project, UWC and Wits – both of them rich in archival resources – will contribute unsurpassed subject expertise for enhancing and editing the content.”

Developing skills

In order to house and retain the archive in South Africa, UWC and Wits will work closely with King’s College, whose world-leading humanities computing experience will help develop the necessary technical infrastructure and skills.

The work will constitute the most comprehensive digitisation of a personal archive in the world.

With experience of over 450 digitisation and digital delivery projects, the Centre for Computing in the Humanities at King’s College will, through its UWC/Wits collaboration, enable the archive to act as a model for Africa in how to deliver this type of content.

Technical tools developed by the three universities will be made freely available for similar projects in the future. Potentially, a whole new knowledge transfer industry for the creation and management of digital resources could emerge in South Africa.

Massive education resource

As a massive educational resource, the archive will be made available to every South African scholar, either via free online access or through information packs.

“For every South African under the age of 20, there is no clear sense of what the country was like under apartheid,” says King’s College project director Harold Short. “It is our priority to get this vast resource out to young South Africans.”

Short is enthusiastically supported by the schools he has consulted. “You may think what we need are resources like food or roofs,” says a teacher at Meetse a Bophelo primary school in Mamelodi outside Pretoria. “But I know that, in five years’ time, we will have computers and a library.

“We will then need something to show our pupils, and I can think of nothing better than the inspirational words of Desmond Tutu.”

The teaching packs – to be delivered for free to every school in SA – are being created by South African educationists in conjunction with the SA Education Directorate.

They will contain the Archbishop’s key speeches, sermons and writings, structured with guidance for teachers to appeal to core curriculum subject areas.

For schools with computers but without internet resources, the packs will be freely available on DVD, with the same text plus audio visual content. Scholars without access to computers will be able to apply for print versions.

SAinfo reporter

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