For my first real venture into Digital History I chose a relatively simple and practical endeavor. I am digitizing a 10 page discussion titled “What is Black Consciousness?” between Steve Biko, a South African Revolutionary during apartheid, and a white South African court during Biko’s trial. This is a piece of a larger work of Biko’s writing, speeches, and other primary source material smuggled out of South Africa after his death due to a head wound suffered while in police custody in 1977. While Biko died before the end of Apartheid, he was instrumental in the revolutionary movement as well as his death was a major turning point in international attention to the Apartheid oppression. I will include a sample of this document. “We come from a background which is essentially peasant and worker, we do not have any form of daily contact with a highly technological society, we are foreigners in that field. When you have got to write an essay as a black child under for instance JMB the topics that are given there tally very well with white experience, but you as a black student writing the same essay have got to grapple with something which is foreign to you — not only foreign but superior in a sense; because of the ability of the white culture to solve so many problems in the sphere of medicine, various spheres, you tend to look at it as a superior culture than yours, you tend to despise the worker culture, and this inculcates in the black man a sense of self-hatred which I think is an important determining factor in his dealings with himself and his life.” (BIko, 1976)
Marxists.org or Marxists Internet Archive (MIA) has been an invaluable resource for me in researching international revolutionary movements. The Marxists Internet Archive is an all-volunteer, non-profit public library, started more than 20 years ago in 1990. MIA abides by seven fundamental tenets found in their charter. They promise to always be 100% Free; to always be a non-profit organization; to always be based on democratic decision making; to always have full disclosure; to always remain politically independent; Their priority is to provide archival information and to present content in a way that is easy to access and understand. For more information: http://marxists.org/admin/intro/index.htm
I have signed up as a volunteer with MIA and will be working on three or more digitizing projects in the next six months. This is very interesting and helpful to me as I will be working with these type of sources on a regular basis. I have used this site extensively as it is often the only location where I can access a primary source that was originally written in a language I cannot read, or can only be physically found in one or two libraries internationally. This site is often the first place that a source has been digitized or translated.
I must acknowledge that this site has its own limitations. First, it contains only a sampling of all sources that could be published and is what Digital Humanities call an Intentional Archive. Second, MIA is compiled by volunteers who make mistakes, unlike Wikipedia, this is a collection of primary sources and the mistakes are more in the way of grammatical errors and translation mistakes. A few of the very valuable aspects of this archive is that it is compiled by people in many countries in the world, speaking many different languages. This makes it accessible not only to Western historians with limited language abilities but also internationally in more than 45 different languages. One of my biggest concerns about digital history is access. If history is being digitized and perhaps more accessible to western countries, is it also becoming less accessible to people reading non-western languages? MIA is one of the few Digital Archives that has made such a focus on diverse language accessibility.