The Wonderful World of Wikipedia

Last time I posted Elizabeth Dillon came to our university to discuss the Early Caribbean Digital Archive of which she is a co-creator. It was very enlightening to listen to her talk about creating the archive and the different plans she and her partners have for the archive in the future. It made me realize how time consuming and meticulous it is to create such a thing as an archive. New parts of the archive can only go public after much work and deliberation. While I never assumed that as soon as the idea for the archive was born the archive itself–POOF!–appeared online, it was still interesting to hear Professor Dillon’s talk. I truly respect all of the hard work that goes into creating an archive like the Early Caribbean Digital Archive. To tie it back to my final project, archives are also a type of “unfinished text”–its content and its online platform need constant revising and reworking so the user receives the best result possible.

But that’s not the only reason I’m posting tonight. I’d like to share with you some of what I’ve learned about what I call “The Wonderful World of Wikipedia” and how Wikipedia can be and is used in a university “classroom.”¬†(I’m putting “classroom” in quotation marks because I’m not sure if it is useful to call what I’m talking about–and what digital humanities scholars are talking about–a classroom. A classroom implies a hierarchy between the teacher and the student as well as a “traditional” way of learning. In other words, the students learn and the teachers teach; there is somewhat of a divide between them. This way of learning is also grade centered–students complete work for a specific purpose: a grade. Sometimes the grade is the only result of their work. That is to say, sometimes the grade is what the students “get” out of their assignments. But I digress…)

This week, for class, we were asked to take a look at the digital book, Digital Humanities Pedagogy: Practices, Principles and Politics, and choose a chapter in the book to blog about (which is what I’m doing now ūüôā ). ¬†However, before I begin I’d like to give a short preface. This week in class we’ll be discussing Digital Humanities Pedagogy and what that means for the future of higher education (and possibly education in general). In preparation for our class discussion we were asked to read a couple of works other than Digital Humanities Pedagogy. These works are: Cathy N. Davidson’s and David Theo Goldberg’s “Ten Principles for the Future of Learning” and Hybrid Pedagogy’s (Jesse Stommel’s and Sean Michael Morris’s) “A Bill of Rights and Principles for Learning in the Digital Age.” Both works imply that the digital world is creating a new way of learning that is affecting students and teachers. Because our way of learning is changing, our “classrooms” have to change as well. These works outline the principles of the Digital Humanities “classroom,” of learning in the digital age. Learning should (and is starting to) happen¬†“horizontally” (the teachers can teach and learn; the students can learn and teach). Learning also happens collaborative; learning becomes about the process rather than the result of the learning. ¬†In the last chapter in¬†Digital Humanities Pedagogy,¬†“Wikipedia, Collaboration, and the Politics of Free Knowledge,” Melanie Kill posits Wikipedia as an important part of the digital age and one that can and should be used in the new “classroom” for a wide range of learning.

In “Wikipedia, Collaboration, and the Politics of Knowledge,” Melanie Kill attempts to deconstruct Wikipedia, what it is and what it entails, and how it can be used in the classroom. First and foremost, she states that Wikipedia “provides students with a range of opportunities to work as intermediaries between the disciplinary expertise they are studying, a public system of knowledge curation, and a global audience of readers” (Kill 389). ¬†Wikipedia offers allows students to learn and participate in knowledge creation. No longer are students writing essays and papers that only a few eyes can see, but with Wikipedia, students write for multiple sets of eyes, for a global audience. They can have the opportunity to add to public knowledge. As Kill states, students move beyond working for grades to working to create social knowledge and action. The digital age, and websites like Wikipedia, open students up to a vast learning community. When they learn and share knowledge, they contribute not only to theirs and their classmates’ knowledge, but they contribute to strangers’s knowledge, too.

Wikipedia also involves an important aspect of the Digital Humanities and one that has popped up again and again in our class discussions this semester: collaboration. Kill states that collaboration is not only an essential part of being a student, but it is also becoming an essential part of being a “citizen” (Kill 390). As the “real world” is becoming more and more collaborative, students are constantly being asked to be so as well. Participating in Wikipedia in the “classroom” can prepare students for life beyond academia.

Kill also discusses Wikipedia as a new type of genre, an innovative encyclopedia of sorts. It is innovative because it is a collaborative creation. It allows its users to find information and discover the conversations between the editors of the webpage that happen “behind the scenes.” ¬†We are all aware that we can press the “Talk Tab” on any given page which will allow us to discuss the page’s content with other users. We can also “edit” the page and view the page’s history, seeing its various edits and revisions. Kill makes an important point that correlates to the various tasks we can do on Wikipedia. A student can use Wikipedia to simply edit typos and grammar, or can edit pages, adding and revising information for others to see. Inevitably, another user will then edit our edits because that is the nature of Wikipedia. By nature, it’s open to adaptation and free use. That’s what we love about Wikipedia. But that’s also what makes it controversial.

I like Kill’s essay because it does not ignore the controversy around Wikipedia–she knows that people see Wikipedia as “too open” to revision. If anyone can edit, how can we know its information is correct? If there are no established rules to Wikipedia, how can we trust its credibility. Most importantly, why should we teach it to our students? Another way we can phrase that question is, what can it offer to our students?

Asking a student to participate in Wikipedia is not without challenges and Kill gives us some suggestions that will hopefully erase those difficulties. They are:

  • Situated Practice
  • Overt Instruction
  • Critical Framing
  • Transformed Practice

I think what’s most important about Kill’s essay is that it suggests (or rather, it tells us) that Wikipedia can and should be used for learning. It participates in collaboration, open access, and teaching and learning for all. Towards the conclusion of her essay she indicates that students may use Wikipedia to look up information, but it is rare they understand how to use it and how they can add to it. It is up to teachers to show them. Once shown and if led properly, students will learn to share in the creation and distribution of knowledge. With Wikipedia, students can gain a voice and give others a voice as well.

I don’t know about you, but I think I’ll go add to Wikipedia now.

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Mapping to Interpret Texts

Today Dr. Elizabeth Dillon, co-creator of the Early Caribbean Digital Archive, is coming to campus to talk about the archive and discuss her new book, New World Drama: Performative Commons in the Atlantic World, 1649-1849. In order to prepare for her visit, my class was asked to tool around the Early Caribbean Digital Archive and come up with questions to ask Dr. Dillon. Being that my class is currently working on our CommentPress collaboration and specifically, being that I am writing my subchapter of CommentPress on the “Unfinished Text” it is extremely appropriate and convenient that Dr. Dillon come speak with us now. I hope to ask her about the most challenging parts of creating the archive, as well as when she and her co-creators decided it was time to make the archive open for public view. How did they know it was “ready?” Was its readiness predicated by it’s usefulness to their audience? How often did they have to edit the project and how often do they go back and revise, add to, or take away from the project? These question stem not only from my interest in the archive, but also my interest in the unfinished text that the Digital Humanities create. I would like to see if we can link the unfinished text to the archive as well as a digital book or blog. Likewise, I want to ask about her experience collaborating the project. On the most basic (and naive) level, I want to know how the collaborating worked when creating the project. How did they decide who did what and when it was time to work together?

However, I’m not posting today just to voice my questions that I have for Dr. Dillon and the Early Caribbean Digital Archive. I’m posting today because something I came across in the archive reminded me of the topic of a couple of my posts a few weeks back. Google Maps.

A few weeks ago my class had a presentation on how to use Google Maps for scholarship. We were also asked to find an example of a Google Map that was used for scholarship and evaluate it. If my memory serves me correctly, the Google Map I found was helpful, but not that helpful. It was actually a use of Google Earth to track changes in Concord Massachusetts. You can check out my post about it here.

That being said, I found use of Google Maps in the Early Caribbean Digital Archive very, very successful. A student created a Google Map of Mary Prince in The History of Mary Prince. While I must admit that I’ve never read the narrative, the Google Map that racks her movements in the novel was extremely interesting. The student not only used the map to track Prince’s movement from place to place, country to country, but he also used the map to track the level of her agency in her movements. He color coordinated her movements to match the level of agency that existed in her movements. Each of her movements have an explanation attached to them and, citing from the text and interpreting it, he supported his claims for her level of agency in the move. Find his map here, along with another map of the ECDA Early Caribbean Slave Narrative Exhibit.

I not only like the student’s Google Map on Mary Prince because of it’s neatness, transparency, and helpfulness, but I also like the student’s Google Map because it is a great use of using Google Maps to interpret texts. It opens up so many options (in my mind at least) on what Google Maps can do not only for scholarship, but for a student learning in the university. The student’s Google Map takes Google Maps tools, masters them, AND uses them to assist him in his OWN interpretation of the text. It’s a great model for the rest of us students out there who are looking for innovative ways to show our interpretations of the texts we read.

Google Maps: 19th Century Concord Digital Archive

I have a confession to make: I’ve never used Google Maps for scholarly purposes.

I’ve used Google Maps to look up directions and, once, before I went to Paris, to “see” the University where I was dorming. Therefore, I’ve never used Google Maps for “scholarly purposes.” Until tonight!

This week in class we will be learning about Google Maps and mapping technology–how to make them, how to¬†use them, how¬†to learn from them, etc. Appropriately, this week’s create assignment is to either play around with Google Maps or explore a successful use of Google Maps. Since I wouldn’t know where¬†to begin in creating my own “map” (can you even create your own Google map? I had no idea…!), I decided to search the internet for some successful uses of the technology. While I was doing so, I thought of The Willa Cather Archive and its successful use of mapping technology. We talked about The Willa Cather Archive’s Geographical Chronology¬†in class a few weeks ago and most (if not all) of us were extremely impressed by its use of the technology. I personally love the feature that allows the user to click on a location and then find Willa Cather’s letters that were sent either to or from that location. I thought the map was easily navigated, too. It was a successful use of the technology because it added new ways of looking at Willa Cather’s life and writing. ¬†Because I was so impressed with their map, I decided to measure the Google Map I studied against it. Meaning that The Willa Cather Archive’s map showed me that a Google Map, when used aside or to support scholarship, should be easily navigated and enlightening in some way.

That being said, I studied The 19th-Century Concord Digital Archive’s “Google Map Overlay.” In order to do so, however, I had to download Google Earth onto my computer. It was easy to download (the archive gave instructions), but it was a bit inconvenient. I would have much rather looked at the map on the archive’s actual website. I’m not sure why the map can’t be viewed on the website though; there might be a reason for this.

The map itself is of Massachusetts, specifically Concord. There is also a map of 1852 Concord over the Google map. In order for the overlay/1852 map to be read, however, the user needs to zoom in extremely close to the overlay map.Once this is done then both maps can be read together. For example, one can find Walden Pond on the overlay map and then see pictures of what the area looks like today. The pictures, especially for Walden Pond, are visually stunning. That being said, all of the pictures of Concord are great. In order to see the picture of a particular place, the user can click on any of the many picture icons on the map. Each icon has a title and is paired with an address. Some even have multiple pictures of one address so the user can get a wider view of the particular area.

Overall, I think the map is successful because it pairs two maps–today’s and one from 1852. Comparing the two allows the user to visualize Concord in 1852 and in 2014. Although I think its use of map is successful, I have two suggestions of how to make the archive more successful.

1. Parts of the overlay/1852 map are hard to read, even if the user zooms in. This takes away from the viewing of the map. Even though I am able to see the pictures of Concord today, I am not able to read some parts the map from 1852. If I were able to see both, I might be able to compare where a particular place is now and where it was in 1852.

2. For a digital humanities student reading the map for class, I am able to appreciate its use of technology. However, I wonder how the creators of the map can show me (and all the other users) the significance of each area. For example, the map in The Willa Cather Archive noted if there was a letter that was sent to or from a particular point on the map. I wonder if something like that can be done on The 19th-Century Concord Digital Archive’s map. Is there a location that exists today that was significant in 1852? If so, why?

I’m intrigued by The Willa Cather Archive, The 19th-Century Concord Digital Archive, and the general use of Google Maps for scholarship and knowledge. Google Maps are just another example of how technology is changing the way we learn and share knowledge.

I’m sure you haven’t heard the last of me on this topic!

Walt Whitman Archive/ The Walt Whitman “Arsenal”

Kenneth M. Price in his article, “Edition, Project, Database, Archive, Thematic Research Collection: What’s in a Name?” , uses an archive he collaboratively created as an example of how “archives” are much more than what that title or other titles (edition, project, database, archive, thematic research collection, etc.) suggest. His “archive,” the Walt Whitman Archive, encompasses a vast array of Whitman’s material–that which Whitman published in a multitude of mediums as well as Whitman’s manuscripts. As Price states, such a collection is ongoing, it’s not a project with an end, but one that is an ongoing. The process takes many, not just one, contributors which makes the “archive” collaborative. In light of these characteristics of the Walt Whitman Archive–and all “archives” like it–Price suggests uses a different term to describe the collection: an “arsenal.” An arsenal’s emphasis is on the product and the process to get that product. In other words, an arsenal, like the Walt Whitman Archive, is a workshop.

In light of the information in Price’s article I couldn’t help but want to discover and search through the Walt Whitman Archive for this week’s assignment. Here are my thoughts and findings on the archive:

  • Is the purpose of the site/project/archive clearly articulated?

I have never worked with an archive before so upon entering the Walt Whitman Archive I was unsure how to navigate. Luckily, the site is easy to navigate. The title of the site is clearly visible, along with the names of the editors–Ed Folsom and Kenneth M. Price. (The two editors make this site a collaborative project.) There are various tabs along the left-hand side of the page which indicate the various categories of the site. One has the choice of visiting Whitman’s published works, works written in Whitman’s hand, his life and letters, commentary about Whitman, pictures and sounds of Whitman, other resources, and an “about page.” My only criticism is that this “about” category is placed at the bottom of the list. Ideally, it should be placed at the top so that the scholar, the student, or even a reader of Whitman could learn more about the site and how to navigate it. The reason I suggest this is because that “about” tab has a link to a tour of the site. The tour of the site explains what the user will find in each category and gives examples of the kinds of material that they will find there. This is extremely helpful for a new user to the site as well as a new user to digital archives. This about page also clearly articulates the purpose of the site: to digitize Whitman’s work and writings so the scholar, the student, and the reader may have access to them.

  • Is the site easy to navigate?

Your next question might be, is the site easy to navigate? Is the “tour” necessary to the site or can I figure out the site on my own? My answer would be yes, even without the tour the site is¬†easy to navigate. Each category/tab/section contains information that is relevant to each tab and information that is easily reached. For example, if one clicks on the “Published Works” tab, one will be given options on where to search next. From there, if one chooses to go to “Books, by Whitman” then one will be given more choices. Does the user want to see the Leaves of Grass editions or his other works? Essentially, the site narrows down your search for you, giving you options that are clearly defined for the best search result possible.

  • Who is the primary audience?

The Walt Whitman Archive claims that its use is for the scholar, student and reader. It’s accessibility to students/ teachers and readers is one of its strengths. Because it is accessible to the general reader, the Archive shares the humanities (and the digital humanities) with a much wider audience. The Archive assumes that not only are humanities scholars and students interested in literature, but that the general public is as well.

  • What is being done in this project that cannot be done in print based scholarships?

To answer this question I would like to take a moment to discuss the Leaves of Grass editions that the archive makes available. If I were studying Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and wanted to track the changes in its various editions without using the digital archive, I would have to buy or rent from the library all of the previous editions of the book. If I did that, I would be surrounded by books, flipping through page after page (sounds like tedious work to me!). Instead of doing that, however, I can go to the archive where the editions are all in one place. The archive does the tedious work for me, it gathers the texts together, so all is left for me to do is search through the material and draw my conclusions. The Walt Whitman Archive is also searchable. If you type in a word, the search engine produces a list of links to where that word is used in Whitman’s works. This cannot be done in print based material because print based material is not searchable way that digital material is. If I were to look up a specific word I would have to carefully comb through every page of the material in question. If I were to use the Walt Whitman Archive, the combing is done for me.

  • ¬†How can one use it for one’s research?

An important question remains, how can I use the Walt Whitman Archive? A general reader can use this archive for curiosities sake, or to increase their understanding of Walt Whitman. A scholar or a student can use the archive for the same purposes. Most importantly, they can use it to answer their questions, they can use it for their research. The usefulness of the Walt Whitman Archive is vast. The benefits of the information on the site is vaster. The site allows the user to clearly and easily comb through a vast amount of information that print works do not. The site allows the user to narrow down their research or to answer her questions with more questions. Most importantly, the Walt Whitman Archive allows one access. It allows access to information that might not have been available otherwise. In allowing access, it allows questions (and answers), and contribution to knowledge.

It’s amazing what technology can do for the humanities¬†and digital archiving is one great example among many.