Current Events in Africa: Archiving Websites Related to African Countries in Conflict: a Pilot Project

Marion Frank-Wilson, Karen Fung, Tim Johnson, Lauris Olson, Jason Schultz, Mohamed el Seoud



A vast amount of knowledge and information of interest for research and scholarly purposes is produced and disseminated via the world wide web (on websites, in blog posts, on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, etc.). This is certainly true in the African context: discussions, analyses, primary information ranging from new literary initiatives to government information and latest news on unfolding political events are all published on the web. Librarians have for some time recognized the need to preserve this sometimes ephemeral information for future generations of researchers but, so far, only sporadic attempts to archive African and/or Africa related websites exist. This proposal will serve as a pilot project which will focus on one subject, i.e., African countries in conflict. With this pilot we want to explore the feasibility to create a more extensive portal of African/Africa-related websites at a later point (assuming funding can be found).

In addition to preserving web resources of interest for this pilot project, the Archive-It subscription service will allow us to build a collection of websites and to provide access to them. It will also allow us to catalog the websites, make them fully searchable, put them in context, etc. It is a tool not only for preserving websites, but also for providing access to them - as opposed to the Wayback Machine which automatically archives websites. Whereas the Wayback machine is a good resource to look up websites for which the URL is known, an Archive-It collection is a curated collection with websites that are closely monitored by us and which are crawled at frequencies specified by us (another difference to the Wayback Machine).

Title VI Directors, in an effort to be competitive and innovative with regard to the next round of Title VI applications, are encouraging all groups who receive cooperative funds - such as Outreach directors, language teachers/coordinators, and librarians – to think of projects which support and relate to the priorities outlined in the upcoming call for proposals. While the call has not been issued yet, at a recent Title VI meeting for area directors and associate directors, a senior Title VI program officer pointed out that priorities for the new round of Title VI proposals will be in accordance with President Obama’s stated goals for developing “global competencies”. Specifically, in our context, this means diversity/capacity building for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and other colleges with smaller or no area studies programs; and access to international information and resources for these colleges. Creating open access web resources, as outlined in this proposal for a web archiving project, will be directly related to these priorities.

For more information, see:

“Succeeding Globally Through International Education and Engagement," November 2012. U.S. Department of Education & International Strategy 2012-16.

KimOanh Nguyen-Lam and Cheryl Gibbs, "Measuring the Impact of National Resource Centers: Perspectives from the U.S. Department of Education, International & Foreign Language Education Program," presentation at the NRC Conference: Demonstrating the Impact of National Resource Centers, held in February 2013 at Ohio State University.

Proposal for pilot project: "Archiving Websites Related to African Countries in Conflict":

Over the course of three years, we will archive web sites (including blogs, twitter posts, podcasts) which focus on countries in conflict, e.g. Mali, Central African Republic, DRC, Libya, etc. This pilot will serve two functions, namely the preservation as well as the curation of websites on a specific topic. Many of these sites are temporary, and to preserve access for the future, they need to be captured/crawled while they are active. We do know, for example, that several websites related to Libya have already disappeared or parts of their content have migrated to other websites and/or Facebook pages which are also likely to disappear. Other sites related to this topic are more permanent (e.g., government websites, news sources), but should be included to present a complete picture of the subject. Our goal is to ensure long-term availability of and access to sites that are of interest to the scholarly community. In the future, we also hope to create a broader network/portal of Africana web resources which would include a wider range of subjects.

Selection criteria: Since it is unpredictable which websites will remain and which will disappear, we chose not to use "danger of disappearing" as our main criterion for selection. Instead, for this pilot project we decided on the subject-specific approach of selecting websites related to African countries in conflict. We believe that this approach will necessarily include websites in danger of disappearing (see example of ceased Libya websites mentioned above). We chose this subject/topic because of its importance and relevance to the scholarly community: as we have seen in Mali, CAR, Libya, etc., as civil unrest occurs, information is most immediately disseminated on websites, blogs, and other electronic discussion fora. This information – which often can be considered primary source material – is of research interest and needs to be preserved before it vanishes. In addition to the preservation aspect, building this web archive will also will also allow us to curate and provide access to a collection of websites on a topic of current interest – which may well be of interest to researchers in the future. Our objective is not to be comprehensive, but to collect material that is either of current interest to scholars or likely to be of interest for future research. Beyond the pilot: this pilot project will help us explore the feasibility of creating a more in-depth portal for Africana websites, extending into many more subjects. Such a portal would also include links to already existing web archives. While there are web archiving projects with Africa-related content, such as Columbia University’s Human Rights Portal or the African Political Web Archive maintained by Karen Fung, in our research to date we did not find a portal specifically for Africana sites across a range of subjects.

Questions and issues this pilot project will help us address:

  • Logistics: this project will help us develop an efficient workflow to manage a web archiving project.
  • Also related to logistics, we will learn how to archive different types of websites (such as twitter and blog posts, podcasts, etc.).
  • We will gather experience with the selection process; e.g., is our idea to funnel website suggestions to the editorial board for consideration feasible? Or should we reach out to the larger scholarly community and develop a scholar-driven selection process?
  • Best ways to promote this project among faculty, graduate students, researchers.
  • Ultimately, the goal is to conceive of a larger project, a portal to archive Africana resources.
  • Based on our experience with the pilot project, will we be interested in pursuing the idea of a portal? If yes, would we use the same approach of an ALC editorial board? Would we even be able to create and sustain such a portal without partners? Or would we look for partners and collaborate, for example with the African Studies Association?
  • We will gain insight into the cost of such projects, and might begin exploring sustainable funding models.