Emory Report
July 9, 2007
Volume 59, Number 34

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July 9, 2007
Partnership with Ethiopia includes digitization of historical documents

by Carol Clark

Emory will apply its state-of-the-art digital technology to some of the most venerable historical documents in sub-Saharan Africa under a memorandum of understanding recently signed between Emory and Ethiopia’s Addis Ababa University.

Digitizing AAU’s collection of rare parchment documents could open a new window on medieval African history by making the previously obscure materials accessible to scholars worldwide on the Internet.
“AAU has an extensive photo library dating back to the 1800s, showing the history of the country, and some parchment documents that date back 700 to 800 years. If something isn’t done to digitally preserve them, they will disappear,” said Alan Cattier, director of academic technologies with Emory’s AAIT Academic Technology Services.

Emory could benefit by having free access to the materials, he said, while AAU could benefit by charging subscription fees to other scholars and institutions who wanted to access them. “That way, AAU could support the further digitization of documents and photographs that they are about to lose to old age,” Cattier said.

This application of Emory information technology resources to African history follows other recent University initiatives in digitization, including the documentation of slave passage records and their posting on the Web by scholars in Emory’s History Department.

In May, Emory launched another groundbreaking model for digital scholarship: the use of cutting-edge scanning technology to make thousands of rare, out-of-print books available via a fast, affordable print-on-demand service.

In addition to the digitalization project, the MOU that Emory signed with AAU lays the foundation for a long-range partnership to include faculty and possible student exchanges, joint research and scholarship projects, and administrative capacity-building initiatives in information technology, finance and human resources.

The agreement formalized an ongoing relationship between the two universities, sparked when Emory President Jim Wagner visited AAU with former President Jimmy Carter in September 2005. In exploring potential partnerships in Africa, the pair met with AAU President Andreas Eschete. They learned that AAU is taking a lead role in the Ethiopian government’s mission to expand the nation’s capacity in higher education, in order to alleviate poverty and improve health care.

“Presidents Wagner and Carter felt that AAU was serious about having the university really make a difference in the country, and they thought there would be good synergy with Emory’s strategic plan as it relates to internationalization, which includes working to build capacity in the developing world,” said Mike Mandl, Emory executive vice president, finance and administration.

Key administrators from AAU and Emory have been traveling back and forth since that first meeting, working out the details of the relationship. “We want to identify mutual opportunities to benefit each institution,” Mandl said.

In 2007, two groups of faculty and administrators from AAU made brief visits to Emory, touring various schools and undergoing intensive training in IT, finance and human resource systems.

“We appreciate the commitment of Emory and the people here who have been investing their time and effort in briefing us,” said Abebaw Bihonegn Belachew, director of the AAU Planning, Budget and Finance Office, who led the AAU delegation to Emory in June. “The information is very helpful.”

Finding enough Ph.D. faculty is one of the biggest challenges AAU faces as it seeks to rapidly expand its graduate programs, he said.

Emory plans to send a total of seven emeritus faculty to AAU by the end of 2007, to teach courses lasting several weeks. The MOU also outlines a plan for student exchange programs.

The Institute for Developing Nations, a collaboration between Emory and The Carter Center, has been closely involved with establishing the partnership between Emory and AAU.

“We have been charged with building a research program, and a strong desire of our academic advisory board is that we do that in collaboration with African scholars in ways that are mutually beneficial,” said Sita
Ranchod-Nilsson, IDN director.