Google Think Tank Helps Build Virtual Museum for World Constitutions

 
 
By Todd R. Weiss  |  Posted 2013-09-29
 
 
 
think tank

Google's Ideas think tank has helped create a fascinating online collection of constitutions for scores of nations around the world where visitors can explore and learn about how the documents change over time.

The new site, called Constitute, was built by the Comparative Constitutions Project and supported with the help of the Google Ideas think tank, Sara Sinclair Brody, the Google Ideas product manager, wrote in a Sept. 23 post on the Google Official Blog.

"Constitutions are as unique as the people they govern, and have been around in one form or another for millennia," wrote Brody. "But did you know that every year approximately five new constitutions are written, and 20 to 30 are amended or revised? Or that Africa has the youngest set of constitutions, with 19 out of the 39 constitutions written globally since 2000 from the region?"

Those are the kinds of facts and lessons that can be gleaned from this intriguing collection of some 177 constitutions, which includes original and amended versions from many nations.

So far, the collection includes constitutions over time from countries including Afghanistan, Albania, Australia, Belarus, Belgium, Bolivia, Cambodia, China, Cuba, Finland, Gambia, Greece, Haiti, Honduras, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Libya, Madagascar, Mexico, Moldova, the Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Turkey, the Ukraine, the United States, Yemen and Zambia.

"The process of redesigning and drafting a new constitution can play a critical role in uniting a country, especially following periods of conflict and instability," wrote Brody. "In the past, it's been difficult to access and compare existing constitutional documents and language–which is critical to drafters–because the texts are locked up in libraries or on the hard drives of constitutional experts. Although the process of drafting constitutions has evolved from chisels and stone tablets to pens and modern computers, there has been little innovation in how their content is sourced and referenced."

That's where the new Constitute site comes in as a resource for scholars, historians, political leaders and others to probe constitutions from around the world and the changes that have followed them after they were originally written.

"Constitute enables people to browse and search constitutions via curated and tagged topics, as well as by country and year," wrote Brody. "The Comparative Constitutions Project cataloged and tagged nearly 350 themes, so people can easily find and compare specific constitutional material."

The theme topics include amendments, citizenship, elections, cultures, international law, regulations and more.

"Our aim is to arm drafters with a better tool for constitution design and writing," she wrote. "We also hope citizens will use Constitute to learn more about their own constitutions, and those of countries around the world."

Google Ideas provided a grant to the University of Texas at Austin for the Comparative Constitutions Project, according to the group. Other funding was also provided by the Indigo Trust and IC2.  Since 2005, the Comparative Constitutions Project has also received contributions from the National Science Foundation, the Cline Center for Democracy, the University of Texas, the University of Chicago and the Constitution Unit at University College London.

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