Wikipedia Visiting Scholar at The JNBC!

June 12, 2017
Eryk Salvaggio Credit: Owlsmcgee - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

The John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage is thrilled to announce that we’ve found a Wikipedia Visiting Scholar through a partnership with the awesome people at The Wiki Education Foundation! The Visiting Scholar program is an innovative initiative that serves two purposes: it helps organizations (like us!) think more about where and how our work and research interests are present (or absent!) on Wikipedia, and it provides Wikipedians with access to institutional resources that enable them to do their jobs well. We’re pleased to welcome Eryk Salvaggio to our JNBC community as he works to improve Wikipedia content related to the field of Ethnic Studies. You can learn more about Eryk and the Visiting Scholar program here. Eryk will be working remotely with us until the Spring of 2018, and we’ll also have some Wiki-related events on campus during the 2017-18 academic year to encourage more student, faculty, and community engagement with Wikipedia: stay tuned this fall!

Wikipedia is arguably one of the world’s largest public humanities initiatives. Since it was launched in 2001 (according to Wikipedia’s entry on Wikipedia!), the crowdsourced online encyclopedia has grown into a tremendous (and, at times, contentious) source of free information. It’s hard to imagine a time when we didn’t have this resource at our fingertips to help with preliminary research, to fuel procrastination, or to settle late-night arguments with our friends.

Academics and public humanities practitioners can no longer ignore the impact of Wikipedia: given its sheer size, its global reach, and its prominence on Google’s search engine results, it’s safe to say that the knowledge that circulates on the online encyclopedia has a tremendous reach and impact on our perceptions of the world and our sense of history. When I first came to Brown in the fall of 2015, I was excited to learn that several courses in American Studies and Public Humanities had been working regularly with Wikipedia in and beyond the classroom. For example, students in Steve Lubar’s “Intro To Public Humanities” course were often asked to evaluate, revise, and refine the encyclopedia’s page on public humanities. In the spring of 2016, we invited representatives from Wiki Ed to talk with Brown’s students and faculty about the value of Wikipedia and ways to improve working with this resource in the classroom. After connecting with the Wiki Ed, we decided to participate in their Visiting Scholar Program, and we’re grateful that they were able to find us someone like Eryk!

There are still many issues related to who and what is circulated and privileged on Wikipedia: the Wikipedia page on “Gender bias in Wikipedia” addresses some of these debates, and the tone and revisions made to the page provide additional information and insights. We wanted our Visiting Scholar to focus on Ethnic Studies because we wanted someone who would be committed to expanding and improving knowledge about a topic that impacts and inform our public humanities work in myriad ways, and because we sensed that Wikipedia could use additional voices that amplify and educate on issues related to this field. We’re grateful to the editors who have begun to address Wikipedia’s blind spots and limitations through community events and edit-a-thons, and we’re excited to join them in their efforts.

Eryk and I are just getting started with our work, and we’ll be checking in during the 2017-18 academic year with updates and ways to get involved on campus. If you have any questions (or if you have suggestions for pages and topics that Eryk might think about!), feel free to email me (james_mcgrath@brown.edu) or get in touch via Twitter @JimMc_Grath!

Jim McGrath is a postdoctoral fellow in Digital Public Humanities at the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage. He recently wrapped up a Spring 2017 grad-level course in Digital Storytelling: learn more about the awesome work his students completed here!

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