Microsoft and Renowned Harvard Afro-American Scholar To Bring Black History Alive With Encarta Africana

REDMOND, Wash., July 30, 1998 — Microsoft Corp. and a group of leading African-American scholars today announced Microsoft® Encarta® Africana, a comprehensive multimedia reference resource on the history, geography and culture of Africa and people of African descent. Before an audience of 3,000 influential black journalists at the annual National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) convention, the team announced the launch of this unprecedented historical resource, scheduled for release in February 1999. Dr. Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr., chairman of Afro-American Studies at Harvard University, is leading the collaboration with Microsoft in conjunction with his colleague, Dr. Kwame Anthony Appiah.

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. The Encarta Africana multimedia encyclopedia is inspired by this vision.

“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.”

Content Created by Two Teams of Experts

In collaboration with Microsoft’s expert editorial and technical teams, Afropaedia LLC will provide Encarta Africana’s content, which will catalog the historical and cultural achievements of Africa and people of African descent from 4 million BCE (before the Common Era) to the present. Afropaedia is led by Gates and Appiah and 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.

“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.”

The Microsoft Encarta team, made up of several encyclopedia industry veterans from World Book Encyclopedia, Encyclopaedia Britannica and Grolier’s Encyclopedia, will provide interactive technologies to incorporate the still images, video, audio and 360-degree views that will make up Encarta Africana. As an expansion to the Encarta reference line, this new encyclopedia will deliver the same rich multimedia experience, superior technology and world-class content found in the line of Encarta CD-ROM reference titles.

Preparing for Today’s World and Multicultural Education

With the increased focus on African-American studies and other multicultural disciplines in today’s classrooms, Encarta Africana gives educators and students an unprecedented research tool through its comprehensive collection of information on African history. “Encarta Africana, which traces its roots back to W.E.B. Du Bois’ famous Encyclopedia Africana project, holds out the promise of becoming the reference of first choice for students of the black experience everywhere,” said Ken Kister, author, “Kister’s Best Encyclopedias.”

“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.”

“The sixties created Black Studies and Black Studies created an incredible burst of exciting scholarship on Africa and the African Diaspora,” said Julian Bond, chairman of the NAACP and a leading civil rights activist. “Building on that scholarship, Skip Gates and Kwame Appiah at Harvard have put together the first compendium of black knowledge for the computer age.”

Planned Pricing and Availability

Microsoft Encarta Africana for the Microsoft Windows® 95 operating system is scheduled to be available in February 1999 for an estimated retail price of $49.95 after a $20 mail-in rebate discount offer*. Schools and other educational institutions may obtain Encarta Africana at a discount through the Microsoft Open License Pack program, a flexible plan for acquiring Microsoft products. See an authorized academic reseller for more information.

Founded in 1975, Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT”) is the worldwide leader in software for personal computers. The company offers a wide range of products and services for business and personal use, each designed with the mission of making it easier and more enjoyable for people to take advantage of the full power of personal computing every day.


* Rebate offer valid to all purchasers; expires December 1999.

The information contained in this press release relates to a prerelease software product that may be substantially modified before its first commercial release. Accordingly, the information may not accurately describe or reflect the software product when first commercially released. The press release is provided for informational purposes only, and Microsoft makes no warranties, express or implied, with respect to the press release or the information contained in it.

Microsoft, Encarta and Windows are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Microsoft Corp. in the United States and/or other countries.

Other product and company names herein may be trademarks of their respective owners.

NABJ Members Note:

The NABJ convention is being held July 29 to Aug. 2 at the Washington Convention Center in Washington. With 3,000 members, NABJ is the largest media organization for people of color in the world.

Microsoft will be involved in the following activities. NABJ attendees are encouraged to attend:

  • A panel discussion, “Bridging the Gap: Making Technology Accessible to African-Americans,” will be held Thursday, July 30, 1:45-3:15 p.m. This panel will be moderated by Tariq Muhammad of Black Enterprise Magazine and will include representatives from leading technology companies, trade publications, academia and public service organizations.

  • More information about Microsoft Encarta Africana and the Encarta line of learning and reference products is available at Booth 410.

  • Skip Gates’ appearance is 10 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 1 at the Black Journalists of Seattle Chapter Party.

Note to editors: If you are interested in viewing additional information on Microsoft, please visit the Microsoft Web page at on Microsoft’s corporate information pages.

Background on W.E.B. Du Bois

At the turn of the century, African-American historian and sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois conducted research on the black experience in the United States and paved the way for the civil rights, Pan-African and Black Power movements. Through his teaching experiences in poor black communities in rural Tennessee, Du Bois began to develop his intense racial consciousness and his desire to help improve the lives and conditions for all blacks.

Du Bois was born in Great Barrington, Mass., in 1868. A descendant of African-American, French and Dutch ancestors, he demonstrated his intellectual gifts at an early age. He graduated from high school at age 16, the valedictorian and only black in his graduating class of 12. He was orphaned shortly after graduation and was forced to fund his own college education. He won a scholarship to Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn., where he excelled and saw for the first time the plight of Southern blacks.

Du Bois had grown up with more privileges and advantages than most blacks living in the United States at that time; unlike most blacks living in the South, he had suffered neither severe economic hardship nor repeated encounters with blatant racism. As violence against blacks increased in the South throughout the 1880s, Du Bois’s scholarly education was matched by the hard lessons he learned about race relations. He followed reports about the increasing frequency of lynchings, calling each racially motivated killing “a scar” upon his soul.

Du Bois received his bachelor’s degree from Fisk in 1888 and won a scholarship to attend Harvard University. Harvard considered his high-school education and Fisk degree inadequate preparation for a master’s program, so he had to register as an undergraduate. Du Bois received his second bachelor’s degree in 1890 and then enrolled in Harvard’s graduate school. He earned his master’s degree and then his doctoral degree in 1895, becoming the first black to receive that degree from Harvard.

In 1895, Du Bois began his research into the historical and sociological conditions of the black Americans that would make him the most influential black intellectual of his era. Du Bois published several works that had a profound impact on the history and sociology of African Americans living in the United States during that time.

In 1909, Du Bois and Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of the Republic of Ghana, proposed an ambitious scheme for an Encyclopedia Africana: a comprehensive and authoritative compilation of systematic knowledge about Africa and the African Diaspora, for students, researchers and the general public. Du Bois and Nkrumah believed that Encyclopedia Africana would rectify the negative and inaccurate accounting of African history and culture. The vision of Encyclopedia Africana would provide researchers and students with an authentic and scholarly account of African history and culture. Each volume of the set would highlight a particular part of African life – with the content supervised, directed and written by African scholars.

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