Sunday, April 27, 2014

Scholarly Organizations and Wikipedia Editing

Scholarly Organizations and Wikipedia Editing
            I am actually writing in London while just returning from the International Anchoritic Society Conference. At the conference, I pointed out (or should I say guilted) the organizers that my co-organizer Mary Suydam had noticed that “anchoress” did not exist as an entry in Wikipedia. They have duly noted this absence and will work on an entry. So, I have decided to discuss two things in this blog post as a run-up to our 4-day Wikipedia Write-In event at Kalamazoo (Have a look at the program for the International Medieval Congress ( The Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship ( is still looking for volunteers, please send an email to Mary Suydam Facebook has been buzzing on several different group pages about what the entries in Wikipedia look like for specific medieval topics and people. The Middle English group has realized the Chaucer, Gower, and Lydgate entries are woefully under-edited. I would add, someone needs to revise Margery Kempe and Julian of Norwich. Medieval Drama needs some hefty revisions. And I have spoken with several Piers Plowman Society members and they too have admitted the disaster that is William Langland’s Wikipedia entry. Other groups have noticed gaps in their topic’s coverage in Wikipedia (ex. “beguines” needs a complete revision).            
            Along with channeling your inner Isidore of Seville, I would like to point out how Medieval Studies has been intimately intertwined with the history of digital humanities. Adeline Koh’s recent article in differences “Niceness, Building, and Opening the Genealogy of the Digital Humanities” tells the history of humanities computing that “dates back to the 1940s and the work of Father Roberto Busa, an Italian priest who launched a tool to perform text searches of St. Thomas Aquinas’s oeuvre”(95). With this genealogy that goes to medieval scholarship, I thought it would be interesting to have a look at Thomas Aquinas’s Wikipedia page. Though not a specialist, what you see is fairly extensive, but Wikipedia itself has flagged sections that they feel need revision. I hope any of the Thomas Aquinas groups and/or medieval philosophy groups will come in and revise this entry. Wikipedia itself has flagged the entire Psychology section of Thomas Aquinas as needed additional citation for verification. The section is written like a personal reflection or opinion piece. And that finally needs attention from an expert in philosophy. It is crying out for medieval philosophy scholars to take a hand and re-edit it. But the edits are neither complicated nor onerous and could begin with someone in medieval philosophy cleaning up the language. Editing existing entries is an excellent, incremental way for medievalists to change the terrain of Medieval Wikipedia. It’s a shame since the long genealogy of digital humanities began with an attempt to think through Thomas Aquinas’s oeuvre that the Wikipedia page, the go-to for so many of our undergrads, needs so much work.
So in many ways, the several thousand Conference attendees, you are the perfect group to bring your laptops and devices, roll your sleeves up, and do some very straightforward things in Fetzer with us: 1. Clean up the language and prose in entries; 2. Add lots of images to the various entries; 3. Rewrite and add to certain sections with linked and cited information. I do believe as well, that as long as the sound files are open-access, medieval musicologists, you can add sound to entries to your heart’s content. This blog will give you tips, links, and outlines on how to update or revise entries. We suggest you try your hand out at this first since it allows Wikipedia to begin seeing you as an editor “in good faith,” especially if you clean up language, make minor linked or citations revisions, add visual images, etc.
In addition, so many libraries and manuscript repositories have opened up their collection for open-access. I have seen floods of wonderful manuscript images pulled from so many sites around the world up on Twitter. This is another key, but also straightforward way to add to Wikipedia entries. I have already given a head up to the Material Collective on Facebook, but for all the art historians or visually-minded or manuscript-obsessed, you can also add images for your entry rather than editing or writing text. For example, I have noticed (yes, I was just at the Anchoritic Society Conference) that Ancrene Wisse’s entry has no images, yet, the British Library has just completely digitized the Cotton MS Cleopatra There is a link in the entry, but I do believe the BL’s open-access policies mean that I can pull an image from their digital collection and place it on the Wikipedia page with the appropriate citation and credit.
I encourage all Societies who are running sessions, organizing roundtables, having business meetings and events to consider what their topics, people, manuscripts, texts, etc. look like on Wikipedia. We will be there for 4-days and will be happy to help individuals and societies, but particularly for societies, this is a great opportunity to change the scholarly presence of your topic with a little concerted effort. If nothing else, you can add more visual images, include more recent citations, or clean up the language of entries to make them more scholarly.

Steps to Update and Revise Wikipedia
So if you want to do a couple of things before you come to Kalamazoo, you may wish to start by creating a username for yourself on Wikipedia. I have included the following links and guides, many of which are compiled on DHPoco’s Rewriting Wikipedia page: I am particularly grateful for DHPoco’s help in giving me suggestings when I organized the original Write-In proposal. I would start with this brochure: But one easy way to start editing an entry would be to bring a paper in progress in which you have already begun to do the footnotes or citations (possibly your conference paper). Wikipedia is interested in verifiable, citable entries. They do not want you to cite your own work, so it’s best to cite others in “reliable” (peer-reviewed journals, encyclopedias, dictionaries, etc.) sources. Here are some useful tips on how to make your edits stick: The Medieval Congress has told me that our usernames should give us access to Western Michigan University’s Library and thus, it’s online databases. Otherwise, there are excellent resources available at DHPoco including video tutorials and how to make assignments in the future for your students:
The next post for Medieval Feminist Wikipedia Write-In will take up the topic of new entries, a particularly important topic in illuminating women’s history on Wikipedia.

Dorothy Kim
Assistant Profesor of English
Vassar College
“medievalist, digital humanist, feminist”

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