Just a few more days before ICMS Kalamazoo 2014 begins and I am very excited that the Congress has upped their digital game this year. ICMS has created a twitter handle (@KzooICMS with a nice healthy 2900 followers) and they have set the hashtag #Kzoo2014 themselves. Feel free to look at this previous post for anyone who wants to know how to tweet at conferences: http://www.inthemedievalmiddle.com/2014/01/medievaltwitter.html. For conference panel moderators, you may want to check with your speakers whether they are comfortable being tweeted live and then announce whether tweeting is welcome or not to the audience at the start of your panels. The standard practice is to tweet live unless a speaker or panel moderator says otherwise.
This year’s medieval digital presence includes: ThatCampMedieval http://medievalcongress2014.thatcamp.org/ happening from 4-9pm on Wednesday night (there is still room to register and participate, I encourage everyone to try it out); numerous medieval digital humanities sessions throughout the Congress; and of course, the 4-day Wikipedia Write-In organized and sponsored by the Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship. The Write-In is scheduled for 1060 Fetzer, Thursday-Saturday 10-6pm and Sunday 9-12. Bring your laptops and other editing devices; bring your papers with all your lovely footnotes; and come to Fetzer and try your hand at editing Wikipedia entries. If you wish, you can create an account before you come to Kalamazoo and then edit the Wikipedia:Meetup/MedievalFeminist page to add your username and what you are editing and updating https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Meetup/MedievalFeminist. If you would want to read on the way to Kalamazoo about the how to edit, update, add to Wikipedia, have a look at this brochure: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/18/Editing_Wikipedia_brochure_EN.pdf. There will be volunteers at the Wikipedia Write-In who can help walk you through the steps to edit, but you can come in to edit with other liked-minded medievalists as well. If you have questions feel free to ask on our twitter feed @SocietyMedFem or on the Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship facebook page.
I titled this post: “Why Individual Medievalists Should Think about Encyclopedic Data” because I wanted to consider Wikipedia both in terms of its editing and data. On the editorial side, Wikipedia is a scrupulous editorial archive. If you click the “view history” button on the side of an entry, it will pull up an entire history of the editors and the edits they have made. As a medievalist especially interested in manuscripts, I cannot but think about this “view history” button within the framework of mouvance and theories of textual mobility within manuscripts. Bella Millet writes a lovely piece about this in relation to manuscript editing and medieval editorial theories: http://www.southampton.ac.uk/~wpwt/mouvance/mouvance.htm. What particularly resonates in critically examining the act of editing Wikipedia is her explanation of later editorial theories that begin to pay more attention to “examining the ways in which the creation of a ‘work’ might be seen as a communal process extending over time rather than an individual act of literary production.” Wikipedia is obviously not a literary production, but the idea of a communal process that extends over time especially rings true. You can create a profile of yourself as an editor, but you can also erase this profile. It reminds me so much of trying to piece and puzzle together scribal pathways through a manuscript. Sometimes, we get concrete information about our manuscript scribes; often, they are anonymous other than the editorial footprints they have left behind. And occasionally, as with the case of Adrianne Wadewitz, your scribal and editorial work, leaves a large mark and a large footprint, so much so that you are memorialized in a different and older textual medium: the newspaper editorial http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/editorials/2014/05/03/adrianne-wadewitz-seizing-power-wikipedia/j5LtDtmbbr8LDSzuread2I/story.html.
On the other side of editing, is Wikipedia’s vast data set. DBpedia (http://dbpedia.org/About) is a “crowd-sourced community effort to extract structured information from Wikipedia and make this information available on the Web.” Wikipedia has become the central knowledge bank in which all digital knowledge sets are linked and compared. My thanks to Bridget Whearty for reminding me about DBpedia and why medievalists should be editing Wikipedia in relation to data contribution, control, and curation. As they explain on their site about interlinking (http://wiki.dbpedia.org/Interlinking) and as they visualize in this diagram, DBpedia (and thus, Wikipedia’s data) is the central data axis to which all open-linked and open-sourced knowledge is connected.
The point of DBpedia’s communal crowd sourcing and also its use of Wikipedia data is to get diverse points of views in their datasets. However, if the Wikipedia entries continue to tip towards 90% white men around the age of 30, this completely defeats the purpose of an open editing system to widen the demographics and knowledge base. Likewise, if Wikipedia does not have robust entries for medieval topics—especially those related to women, minorities, non-Anglophone areas—there is no baseline data set for these often overlooked voices. Thus, our chosen field of study, our areas of interest, will not be counted in this web of linked data.
I encourage all medievalists to take a little break, come in, and add your footnoted knowledge, your voice, and your skills to shaping Wikipedia to be something Isidore of Seville would have been pleased with. You can follow our progress on twitter at #medievalwiki and don’t forget to add your username and what you have edited to our meetup page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Meetup/MedievalFeminist.
Final Note: The Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship will have refreshments at their Business Meeting (Friday, 5:15 in Fetzer), where any congress attendee can pitch a session for next year’s ICMS. We endeavor every year to try to have a media session. In addition, we will be having an OPEN BAR and graduate reception on Saturday at 5:30pm in Fetzer. Come and celebrate with us over what will be a very busy Congress.
Assistant Professor of English
2013-2014 Frankel Fellow at the University of Michigan
"medievalist, digital humanist, feminist"