The BBC, BBC Worldwide and Bob Geldof have today announced an intention to collaborate on the Dictionary of Man, a unique and ambitious anthropology project that will record every human society on the planet.
The Dictionary of Man website will be a limitless repository of content, an immense digital catalogue of all current human existence and an enormous resource for the exchange of ideas and information.
The BBC will, in tandem, produce for television a classic BBC landmark series, The Human Planet. The eight-part series will be produced in a unique collaboration between the BBC's world-renowned Natural History Unit, BBC Bristol Features and Documentaries and BBC Wales.
The scale and ambition of this unprecedented project will use every available medium to create the largest ever living record of films, photographs, anthropological histories, philosophies, theologies, economies, language, art, and documented and personal accounts from people of every society across the globe. It will serve as a definitive record of us - Mankind - at the beginning of the 21st century.
Twenty years ago, Bob Geldof was sitting on a tree stump in Northern Niger with a regional governor, looking out at what Geldof described as "a moonscape". The governor told of how 300 different languages that once existed had disappeared forever in just two years during the famine. Geldof has written, "Even though I never heard those languages, I already miss them. In these ways the lights of human genius wink out." From then on he was determined to record "all those sounds, voices and jokes so they never disappear again".
Announcing the Dictionary of Man project at the MIP conference in Cannes, Bob Geldof, who is working in partnership with award-winning producer/director John Maguire, said, "This will be an A to Z of Mankind which will catalogue the world we live in now, the people who share this planet, the way we live and the way we adapt to face common and different challenges. Mankind is the world's most extraordinary animal. In an age of globalisation and increasing connection, we face the growing homogenisation of cultures and the disappearance of extraordinary and diverse mechanisms that man has invented in order to survive in whichever environment he has found himself. Culture is a function of survival."
With the cooperation of the great institutions of the world all extant photographs, archives and records will be included. Anthropologists, social historians and experts in many other disciplines will be involved as, over the years, the degrees of human difference are gradually logged.
The architecture of the site will use the very latest social networking technologies in order to allow individuals across the globe to track and trace their national, clan, tribal, family and individual dispersals and reconnect to far-flung and ancient versions of their family or group members. "Ultimately I suppose in some ways we're also building the World's Family Photo Album," said Geldof.
Simultaneous to this vast site, Dictionary of Man crews will travel the globe to capture on film 900 of the separate groups of people that anthropologists believe to be in existence. Experts suggest that there could be up to 27,000 variations alongside the core 900.
In a hugely ambitious multi-media initiative, all the collated material will be available through the Dictionary of Man website, an encyclopaedic volume of DVDs featuring hundreds of hours of programming, books, magazines, CDs, exhibitions, theatrical and all media platforms.
Filmed in high definition, the TV series The Human Planet will be an epic record of how different peoples adapt to different surroundings.
As they've done before with the multi-award-winning series The Blue Planet and Planet Earth, the BBC now turns its attention to Man - the Miracle Animal. "Only the BBC with its scope, scale, ambition, professionalism and reputation could possibly achieve this massive project and I'm proud to be associated with the Natural History Unit, one of the most renowned and respected parts of the BBC," said Geldof.
This project goes to the heart of the modern BBC - only two months ago Director of BBC Vision, Jana Bennett, called for a response to the challenge of what she called 360 degree media, referring to the digital age and the dissemination of content. The Dictionary of Man and The Human Planet places the BBC at the very edge of modern media and its capability.
Jana Bennett said, “Coming from joint production teams with this pedigree, The Human Planet promises to be spectacular television. It will give us the chance to meet and understand the people who share our planet in a way we’ve never seen them before. In joining forces with Bob Geldof, we have one of the world’s foremost humanitarians as an ally as we create a legacy for both current and future generations. More importantly, this is not just about television, it’s about 360 degree media on a scale we’ve never seen before. Public service – why the BBC exists.”
The BBC’s commercial arm, BBC Worldwide, will act as facilitator in seeking international partnerships for the initiative.
Says BBC Worldwide’s Director of Content & Production, Wayne Garvie, “BBC Worldwide has a vast amount of experience in working with global partners and we are
looking forward to using our international relationships to pursue all the opportunities this huge and exciting project can bring.”
Tom Archer, Studio Head, BBC Bristol Features and Documentaries, says, “This is the ideal project for us; it is almost a definition of why we exist. It will create both a unique television landmark and a lasting legacy for future generations. It’s the realisation of a long-held ambition to bring a celebration of human diversity to a mass audience across the world.
"The television series is so ambitious it demanded the bringing together of the different forms of expertise and approach represented by the three BBC Vision studios involved: Wales for their achievements with Tribe, Bristol Features and Documentaries for their story-telling and the NHU for their world-beating, blue-chip film-making."
Geldof's Ten Alps media group will also provide the administrative and infrastructural backup for the Dictionary of Man. Ten Alps CEO, Alex Connock, said, "This is a fantastic, hugely ambitious project on a scale that only Bob Geldof would contemplate. Ten Alps is delighted to be part of it and support it in every way possible."
About the BBC
The British Broadcasting Corporation is a public service broadcaster established by Royal Charter to enrich the lives of UK audiences with high quality programming and services that inform, educate and entertain. BBC public services include eight television channels, eight national radio networks and nearly 40 local radio stations, as well as an internationally respected website. The BBC is financed by a TV licence paid by UK households.
BBC Worldwide Limited is the main commercial arm and a wholly owned subsidiary of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). The company exists to maximise the value of the BBC’s assets for the benefit of the licence payer and invest in public service programming in return for rights. The company has six core businesses: Global Channels, Global TV Sales, magazines, Content & Production, Home Entertainment and Digital Media. In 2005/06 BBC Worldwide generated profits of £89 million on sales of £784 million.