The Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory (NMCM) and the Google Cultural Institute today went live with an interactive online experience intended to educate and inspire people for generations to come.

Google donated $1.25 million in 2011– along with advice, expertise and other resources – to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, helping the organization preserve and digitize thousands of archival documents, photographs and videos about Nelson Mandela dating back to 1929.

Among the included exhibits are Mandela’s correspondence with family, friends and associates; public and private photos taken throughout his life; diaries he wrote during his lengthy imprisonment; and notes he made while leading the negotiations that ended apartheid in South Africa.

“At the heart of our strategy for Memory is to make the unique archives of the life and times of Mr. Mandela available to the rest of the world,” said Achmat Dangor, chief executive of the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

South Africa’s Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor spoke about Mandela’s legacy. “Mandela means inspiration,” she said. “It is a pioneering step to digitize his own records and to post them online … The digital world offers a bridge to access information.”

The archives are organized into seven categories: Early Life, Prison Years, Presidential Years, Retirement, Books for Mandela, Young People and My Moments with a Legend.

Google’s Cultural Institute product manager Mark Yoshitake gives the example of learning more about Mandela’s years in prison. “You can immediately see a curated set of materials threaded together into a broader narrative,” he blogged. “These include handwritten notes on his desk calendars, which show, for example, that he met President F.W. De Klerk for the first time on December 13, 1989 for two and a half hours in prison; the Warrants of Committal issued by the Supreme Court which sent him to prison; the earliest known photo of Nelson Mandela’s prison cell on Robben Island circa 1971; and a personal letter written from prison in 1963 to his daughters, Zeni and Zindzi, after their mother was arrested, complete with transcript.”

In comments cited on the NMCM site, Yoshitake added, “We have plans for mobile access, we want global partners to add content from across the globe, and we want the public to share their stories on this digital platform.” People can do so by submitting items to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory Google Plus account.

The Google Cultural Institute’s other initiatives include the Art Project, digitizing the Dead Sea Scrolls and bringing the Yad Vashem Holocaust materials online.

Related links:

Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory – blog post

Google – blog post