Rainbow Warrior's Life Goes Online ; UNIVERSITIES Archbishop Desmond Tutu Is a Key Figure in South Africa's History. His Story Will Now Be Told in a Vast Internet Archive
Jackson, Nick, The Independent (London, England)
Later this month, work begins on the greatest online biographical archive of any living figure, with King's College London marking Desmond Tutu's 75th birthday with the Desmond Tutu Digital Archive. The pounds 4.5m project will make the veteran apartheid campaigner's entire archive of speeches, letters and writings available to internet users.
Few people in the last century can match Archbishop Tutu as a figure of moral authority, and one who represented the best of South Africa in some very bleak times. As the architect of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission - and the man who coined the phrase "rainbow nation" to describe post-apartheid South Africa - he is one of those rare dissidents whose reputation has grown since winning the argument.
Which is why King's College London and the universities of the Western Cape and Witwatersrand are willing to spend at least five years on getting every one of about 200,000 documents and more than 1,000 hours of audio recordings online. In the first year, the archive is expected to be used by a million people.
"This is the first attempt to do a warts-and-all archive like this for a living figure," says Harold Short, director of KCL's Centre for Computing in the Humanities, which is co-ordinating the project. The priority for Short is getting this vast resource out to young South Africans. "For everyone under the age of 20 in South Africa, there is no clear sense of what South Africa was like," Short says. The project will make the information available to South African schoolchildren, either via free access online or, if that is not possible, through information packs.
This is more than an archive of one man's life, Short says. "Tutu has always been at the centre of controversy. Whenever I've been in South Africa, everyone from hotel porters and taxi drivers to politicians has a Tutu story. We want to incorporate that into the archive." People will be able to add their memories of the period. The aim is for Tutu's life to be a touchstone of his times. "His life exemplifies the lives of many South Africans in the struggle from apartheid to now," Short says.
To be chosen as that example is quite something, particularly when the anti-apartheid movement embraced so many heroes. Archbishop Tutu is appropriately chuffed. "I am humbled to be at the centre of such an initiative," he says. …