Africa Commons: Digitising, disseminating and showcasing African cultural materials 

africa commons
27 Sep 2023

The voices of Africa telling their own stories have in the past been accessible in local collections, but often not published using formal channels. Now these voices and stories are being amplified through Africa Commons – an exciting project to discover, digitise and disseminate African cultural materials. Sabinet has formed a distribution agreement with Coherent Digital to make Africa Commons available in South Africa and the rest of Africa.

Coherent Digital works with 600 organisations, including Sabinet, to expand Africa Commons. The platform aims to enable Africa to digitise and/or disseminate its archival riches – those within the continent and items residing internationally. The goal is to help preserve African content and enable African scholars to easily find, and access expressions of their heritage situated worldwide including in Western collections. Making these collections available digitally enables access, while at the same time giving a global voice to the writers of the stories.

Integrated on a single platform, Africa Commons currently comprises three collections: Rare and historical out of copyright Africa Commons: South African Magazines, Africa Commons: Southern African Films and Documentaries that cover key events from 1919 onward, and Africa Commons: History and Culture that offers central access point to over 450,000 digital cultural artefacts, thoughtfully curated from more than 4,500 collections worldwide. Sabinet works closely with Coherent Digital on the magazines module to, with the assistance of library partners, identify possible additions. Sabinet is responsible for meticulously digitising the collection.

A celebration of Africa and South Africa’s rich cultural heritage

As South Africans celebrated Heritage Day on 24 September, Sabinet is excited to offer Africa Commons. This service plays an important role in cultivating a deeper understanding of Africa and its people by saving and preserving at-risk content and sharing this rich heritage with the world.

Available on Coherent Digital’s platform, Africa Commons is an invaluable resource for academic researchers and students; independent and corporate researchers; public libraries patrons; and government departments researchers.

Africa Commons: South African Magazines is a collection of rare and/or at-risk historical magazines. The collection currently contains titles such as Grace, Township Housewife, Hi-Note!, Drum, and more from as early as 1937. Magazines are digitised at a high resolution and are full-text searchable.

The Africa Commons: Southern African Films and Documentaries collection features over 100 films dating from the 1900s to the early 2000s. The films and newsreels cover key events from 1919 onward, such as the Rand rebellion, WWII, mining industry efforts and the Rhodesian Bush War. Exclusive interviews from the 1980s feature writers, journalists, and activists. All films are transcribed and keyword searchable.

Research shows that African knowledge is severely underrepresented in digital spaces. Although Africa is home to approximately 17% of the world’s population, it makes up only 4% of the world’s digital knowledge. The Africa Commons: History and Culture module on Africa Commons is one resource helping librarians close the representation gap. It serves as a central access point to over 450 000 digital cultural artefacts, thoughtfully curated from more than 4 500 collections worldwide.

Users can find thousands of digital collections of African materials in one place. Organisations located in Africa are invited to contribute to the Africa Commons: History and Culture module by uploading their relevant content or links.

Celebrating Heritage Month, while providing access to our stories 

As we South Africans celebrate Heritage Day and Heritage Month 2023, we also celebrate the fact that Africa Commons is helping cultivate a deeper understanding of Africa and its people. The collections help preserve at-risk physical collections, and provide digital access – in one place – to rare and/or difficult to find historical materials that previously only existed in physical locations.

Researchers and students in history, political science, Africana studies, culture, gender, education, and media studies are invited to discover and access for the first time rare, historical, out-of-copyright magazines; exclusive interviews with prominent figures in history; news reels; unreleased video footage of key events; writings, first-hand accounts and more.

For more information about Africa Commons, please contact [email protected]. Learn more about the project.

Sabinet invites you to create a free myDiscover Profile to browse and access Sabinet content.

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(This article is provided for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. For more information on the topic, please contact the author/s or the relevant provider.)
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