MU to help South African university preserve apartheid-era media

Monday, December 9, 2013 | 6:45 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — MU will be working with two South African institutions, the University of Western Cape and the Robben Island Museum, where former president Nelson Mandela was imprisoned, to create a website to feature photos, videos, oral histories and other media from the apartheid era that still affects the country today. The effort is expected to take five to 10 years.

"We're digitizing it and making it accessible worldwide," said Tom Kochtanek, a professor at MU's School of Information Science and Learning Technologies, who is leading MU's participation in the effort. "The objective is to partner with these three groups and to make this cultural heritage, which represents the struggle against the apartheid, accessible via website."

The archive contains manuscripts, sound, hand-written documents, oral histories, video, art and nearly 120,000 photos from the apartheid era. Many important South African figures have submitted their own papers, including Albie Sachs, who was appointed to the Constitutional Court of South Africa by Mandela in 1994.

"It really details the struggle against apartheid," said Rod Uphoff, director of the University of Missouri South African Education Program and professor at the MU School of Law. "It's as if the people who were involved in the (American Revolution) gave their papers to one collection, and we helped digitize those papers."

MU senior Connor Wangler studied abroad in South Africa during the summer of 2012 and he learned that the nation's history of racial segregation still affected the people who live there.

He felt the effect of that segregation in the cities he visited with his peers, where they studied South Africa's urban layout, post-apartheid.

And he felt it when he volunteered at a children's home and met a 14-year-old girl named Annie, who told him she was inspired by his success as an American college student.

Wangler was struck by the way his ability to travel and go to college amazed her. "We're visiting their country because we have the money to study abroad. We have the choice to be there and they don't.

"Going there and seeing everything first-hand gives you a more well-rounded understanding of the situation, instead of just reading in a book," he said.

For those not able to travel to South Africa, the website might help bridge the gap.

Kochtanek said MU College of Education faculty and graduate students, as well as those from other MU colleges, will work to create a website that everyone is interested in.

"What we're trying to do is engage teachers and students both here in the state of Missouri and in South Africa," he said.

Uphoff said he hopes the website will reach beyond academia.

"The project is really designed to make the materials in the archives more accessible online, not only to researchers and students, but to the general public," he said.

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