DHPoco’s Great Wikipedia Dream

I seem to be drawn to the topic of Wikipedia as a model, anti-model, or something in between for the digital humanities. Given our discussion last week about the DH Manifesto 2.0’s idealization of Wikipedia and the impossibility of a scholarly Wikipedia if anyone can contribute, I find it fascinating that one of DHPoco’s recurring projects is to rewrite Wikipedia. Instead of creating their own platform for scholarly resources, they aim to affect available information that millions (billions?) of internet users are already searching and accessing through Wikipedia and through Google, which seems to privilege Wikipedia entries in its search results. The (re)writers at DHPoco are concerned with producing somewhat scholarly work for Wikipedia, as evidenced by their guidelines on how to create Wikipedia entries, but not with maintaining their claim to practicing scholarship or potentially gaining anything from it themselves by publishing this work on a vetted or exclusively DH platform. While Wikipedia is not itself scholarly and never guarantees the accuracy of its information, DHPoco’s entry creation and editing may affect the ideas of readers, non-scholarly and scholarly, who search for or stumble across entries about members of underrepresented groups or postcolonial authors or texts by making sure that accurate, unbiased entries exist. To quickly gauge postcolonial presence on Wikipedia, I searched for the Nigerian novel that the visiting postcolonial candidate spoke about in his talk on Monday: Tides by Isidore Okpewho. The author has a Wikipedia entry (a scant four sentences long), but the novel does not, although it is on Google Books. It seems that if Wikipedia is to include informative entries for all “notable” topics, it needs more postcolonial material.

DHPoco appears to ask about Wikipedia a form of one of Paul Barrett’s questions: “Is digital humanities a form of American hegemony masquerading as transnationalism?” The scholars at DHPoco seem to contend, particularly through some of their comics, that DH might be, and that Wikipedia certainly is. They cite the Wikimedia Wikipedia Editor’s Survey of 2011 and conclude that “knowledge produced on Wikipedia is primarily conservative…The majority of Wikipedia editors are white, male, and middle-class. Correspondingly, Wikipedia reflects the worldview of this social demographic, which is economically and socially privileged, as well as US/Eurocentric.” One activity that might help to address this problem, aside from adding entries, is tackling entries on controversial topics to make sure that they are balanced and include the perspectives of underrepresented groups. Given the seemingly incomplete RWP outcomes page for the Global Women Wikipedia Write-in, it does not look like the DHPoco rewriters have done this yet.

The national aspect of the Wikipedia worldview dilemma must be in part due to language barriers. There are different Wikipedias for different languages; it makes sense that the English one has a US/Eurocentric bias, just as the Japanese language Wikipedia, which I can assume is primarily written by people from Japan, has a Japan-centric bias. So although the DHPoco community is right to want to increase the number of articles relating to other countries and peoples, the American and Eurocentric bias will be inevitable. Whether this is inevitable among the community of digital humanities scholars is another question, one posed by Paul Barrett: “In what ways does this scholarly turn to the digital pave over local cultures and insist upon the English language as a requirement for membership in digital humanities?” In his phrasing of the question, he assumes that DH does, in fact, insist upon English. I wonder if this “digital” problem is significantly different from the problem of first-world academia paving over local cultures and insisting on English, or at least on a limited number of languages in which scholars can publish. Talking about Wikipedia seems to be, even regarding this language issue, a means of exploring benefits and problems of DH, even if we break with DHPoco and choose not to consider it DH.

One thought on “DHPoco’s Great Wikipedia Dream

  1. Loren Springer

    Allison, I like your suggestion as to how to tackle the problem of the bias of the privileged class in Wikipedia. Since Wikipedia is still a basically an encyclopedia, I don’t see how the people who we are trying to hear from are going to be heard since it is a word based text. If Wikipedia could incorporate videos or an embedded Glogster or other means of producing a message besides words/text, that would also be a step toward more scholarship from the non-privileged class.

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