Microsoft and African-American Scholars Launch Encarta Africana at Black Journalists’ Convention

At the turn of the century, W.E.B. Du Bois, the leading African-American intellectual of the 20th century, proposed an ambitious dream to produce the first encyclopedia Africana – a comprehensive reference work on Africa and people of African descent throughout the world. Today, before an audience of 3,000 influential black journalists at the annual National Association of Black Journalists convention, Microsoft and a group of leading African-American scholars fulfilled that dream with the launch of Microsoft Encarta Africana.

Encarta Africana – a collaboration between Microsoft and Afropaedia LLC — features more than 3,000 detailed articles that trace the geography, history, politics and culture of African countries and people of African descent from 4 million BCE (before the Common Era) to the present. Afropaedia — led by Dr. Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr., chairman of Afro-American Studies at Harvard University, and his colleague, Dr. Kwame Anthony Appiah — comprises a distinguished team that includes scholars from Harvard University’s department of Afro-American studies, the W.E.B Du Bois Institute for Afro-American Research and the Committee on African Studies.

“For the first time, the story of Africa and its people will be told in a way never before possible – through images, video, music and text brought together in a unique experience,” Gates said. “As the new millennium approaches, our research, combined with Microsoft’s technology, is making Du Bois’ dream a reality.”

With Encarta Africana, students, researchers and general readers will be able to range from the story of “Lucy,” the 3 million-4 million-year-old adult female hominid skeleton found in Ethiopia, to articles about the slave trade, to profiles and video clips of sports heroes such as Muhammad Ali, Jesse Owens and Kareem Abdul Jabar.

“We’re breaking new ground with Encarta Africana,” said Craig Bartholomew, learning business unit general manager at Microsoft. “When Gates and Appiah approached us with the idea for Encarta Africana, we were instantly intrigued. Microsoft is pleased to work side by side with the Afropaedia team to create this unprecedented multimedia resource. It’s an exciting addition to our award-winning Encarta reference product line.”

To add to the rich multimedia experience, Encarta Africana includes more than 2,000 photos, videos, maps, charts and tables; interactive visual tours of six locations important to African history; video presentations on special topics by celebrities such as Cornel West and Maya Angelou; sidebars that include excerpts from journals, newspapers, speeches and literature; and video footage of Timbuktu, the Swahili Coast and ancient Nubia from the upcoming PBS and BBC documentaries hosted by Gates.

“Encarta Africana is the result of a collaboration between Microsoft and two African-American professors at Harvard,” said Jesse Jackson, CEO of the National Rainbow Coalition/Operation Push. “Its very existence shows how far black people have come since W.E.B. Du Bois first dreamed of an Encyclopedia Africana at the start of this century. It’s great to have a product that shines light on the rich truth of black life, which our society has too long left in the shadows.”

Encarta Africana for Windows is scheduled to be available in stores in January 1999, for an estimated retail price of $49.95 after a $20 mail-in rebate.

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