Google and the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory (NMCM) have created a new Nelson Mandela Digital Archive on the web that is freely accessible to the world.
Google donated about US$1.25-million to the Johannesburg-based Centre in 2011 to help preserve and digitise thousands of archival documents, photographs and videos about Mandela.
Along with historians, educationalists, researchers and activists, users from around the world now have access to extensive information about the life and legacy of this extraordinary African statesman.
The new online multimedia archive includes Mandela’s correspondence with family, comrades and friends, diaries written during his 27 years of imprisonment, and notes he made while leading the negotiations that ended apartheid in South Africa.
The archive will also include the earliest-known photograph of Mandela, rare images of his cell on Robben Island in the 1970s, and never-seen drafts of Mandela’s manuscripts for the sequel to his autobiography “Long Walk to Freedom.”
“It is invigorating to see our combined efforts become a reality,” said Verne Harris from the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory.
“This digital initiative will make it possible for us to reach the full spectrum of our stakeholders, from the global elite to systemically disadvantaged South Africans. Visitors can search and browse the archives to explore different parts of Mandela’s life and work in-depth: Early Life, Prison Years, Presidential Years, Retirement, Books for Mandela, Young People, and My Moments with a Legend.”
Steve Crossan, Director of the Google Cultural Institute said: “The Mandela Digital Archive Project shows how the Internet can help preserve historical heritage and make it available to the world. We’ve worked closely with the NMCM to create an interactive online experience with powerful search and browsing tools, so that users can explore Mandela’s inspiring life story.”
“The Archive currently includes over 1900 unique images, documents and videos, and will grow over time,” said Luke Mckend, Country Manager for Google South Africa.
“South Africans from all walks of life can now engage with important parts of our country’s history. For example, reading handwritten pages of a letter smuggled from Robben Island in 1977, or seeing warrant documents that sent Mandela to jail first for five years and then for life.”
The Nelson Mandela Digital Archive project is an initiative by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory and the Google Cultural Institute. With a team of dedicated Googlers around the world, the Cultural Institute builds tools to preserve cultural heritage and make it accessible worldwide. Other projects include showcasing the Dead Sea Scrolls, presenting thousands of works of art online through the Art Project, and the digitisation of the Yad Vashem Holocaust materials.
Users who are interested in Nelson Mandela’s personal memories of the time he was incarcerated can click into the Prison Years exhibit. As a user, you can immediately see a curated set of materials threaded together into a broader narrative.
Included are handwritten notes on his desk calendars, which show, for example, that he met President F.W. De Klerk for the first time on December 13, 1989 for two and a half hours in prison; the Warrants of Commital issued by the Supreme Court which sent him to prison; the earliest known photo of Nelson Mandela’s prison cell on Robben Island circa 1971; and a personal letter written from prison in 1963 to his daughters, Zeni and Zindzi, after their mother was arrested, complete with transcript.
From there, a user might want to see all the letters held by the archive, and click ‘see more’ in the letters category, where you can discover all personal letters, or use the time filter to explore his diaries and calendars written between 1988 and 1998, where you can see that in the last page of the last diary, he met with President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni of Uganda to exchange ideas about the situation in northern Uganda.
If you were a researcher, you can search through various fragments of Madiba’s memory that relate to Ahmed Kathrada, his long time comrade, politician and anti-apartheid activist, where you can find photos, videos, manuscripts, and letters that relate to him.