This month, the University of Victoria welcomes Dr. Christian Vandendorpe, a widely respected scholar in the digital humanities, as its first Honorary Resident Wikipedian.
“The position is mainly meant to draw the attention of academics to the importance of Wikipedia,” said Vandendorpe in an email interview with the Martlet. “Encyclopedias have never been at the forefront of research. Academics have always considered this kind of book as a starting point.”
In his capacity as Honorary Resident Wikipedian, Vandendorpe will work on UVic Wikipedia pages, as well as on pages within his specific fields, which include digital humanities, social knowledge creation, book history, and electronic publishing.
“Basically, we see Christian’s work as exceptional,” said Alyssa Arbuckle, Assistant Director, Research Partnerships and Development, Electronic Textual Cultures Lab (ETCL). “[He] is more or less devoting his time to improving the public record of knowledge, and so we want not only to recognize that in a really public way, but also to have him come to UVic and share [his work].”
Vandendorpe will begin his role at UVic on Jan. 23 as a keynote speaker in the Wikipedia edit-a-thon, a UVic digital humanities initiative co-hosted by the UVic library and the ETCL.
“We found that frequently folks in the university are very anti-Wikipedia. Since it’s not peer reviewed in the traditional sense, [people see it as] not really valid,” explained Arbuckle. “What Christian is saying is that it is actually reviewed and can be very credible if people take the time to make it credible.”
According to Arbuckle, the open access and editable nature of Wikipedia is actually an asset. “You have a total record of what the changes are, [which makes it] actually much clearer what editing is going on than in more traditional forms of writing and publishing.” Arbuckle used the example of a newspaper article, stating that though she knows who the author is, it is unclear what edits were made by other people and what was taken out of the article or changed.
Christian also commented on the stigma surrounding Wikipedia, stating, “In the beginning, it was easy to dismiss [Wikipedia] as amateurish in comparison with Britannica, the top jewel of [encyclopedias]. Today things have evolved. On most topics, you will find much more information in Wikipedia than in any other encyclopedia, but the old clichés still stick, particularly in the academic world.”
According to Vandendorpe, Wikipedia has surpassed its precursors and is not only an encyclopedia, but also a “colossal archive” due to 24 million media files stored on WikiCommons.
“Scholarly research does not happen in a vacuum,” Vandendorpe explained. “Knowledge is an ecosystem and, as such, it has to be nurtured in its various forms.”
“Wikipedia offers an opportunity that we have not seen before to share knowledge and research much more widely that those in the university were able to do before,” explained Arbuckle. “That’s invaluable.”
The Wikipedia edit-a-thon will take place in Mearns Centre for Learning in the McPherson Library on Jan. 23 from 10 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. and is open to faculty, staff, students, and the public.