LONDON – The British Broadcasting Corp. plans to gather what it says will be the largest ever archive of films, photographs and personal accounts from every human group on the planet — and put it all online.
The BBC is calling on universities, anthropologists and social historians to contribute material to its "Dictionary of Man," which it says will provide the most complete picture of humankind ever assembled.
The dictionary's entries would include articles, photographs and film on the histories, philosophies and languages of people worldwide.
It would also be equipped with a social networking function allowing individuals to trace their national or tribal identities across the globe.
Bob Geldof, whose production company Ten Alps PLC will provide administrative help with the project, said he was spurred to act after being told that 300 African languages had already vanished.
"Even though I never heard those languages, I already miss them," he said. "In these ways the lights of human genius wink out."
He said the dictionary would save the cultures for posterity — and that the photos would help people reconnect with remote members of their family or group.
"Ultimately, I suppose in some ways we're also building the world's family photo album," he said.
The BBC said the dictionary would grow as new information was uncovered and new entries would be added as new groups formed.
Material from the Web site would be engraved on to an encyclopedic volume of DVDs featuring hundreds of hours of programming — and included in books, magazines and exhibitions.
Planning for the dictionary — which is not expected to go live until 2010 — was still in its early stages, and the BBC said no decisions had been made as to how exactly the dictionary would be laid out, or whether it would be accessible free of charge.
A spokesman said no budgeting decisions had yet been made.