If the Digital Humanities exist at all separately from their individual disciplines, they exist as a community of people, academic and technical, who are passionate about the study of the humanities and the ways that digital technologies can enhance, improve and enable our knowledge of the humanities.
A number of organisations exist to facilitate this, and many courses and programmes have developed formal study in the field, but much endeavour in DH is borne from individuals and groups pursuing traditional themes with a more digital approach. The field is rich in independent scholars and practitioners, and is highly interdisciplinary, borrowing methods from diverse fields such as Data Science, Physics, Biosciences, Art History, Medicine and many more.
Above all, this community is receptive to and challenged by this diversity of thought, and there are many opportunities to make contributions to the field, from editing a Wikipedia page on a subject you have knowledge of, to applying skills and knowledge from other disciplines to the study of the humanities.
Digital Humanities is a community activity, and usually involves a great deal of collaboration and communication to assemble the relevant expertise for any given project. Communitiies are often electronically mediated and extremely active in sharing knowledge and new methods.
An international network of digital humanities centers formed for cooperative and collaborative action, providing a virtual DH centre for isolated DH projects and a platform for educating the broader scholarly community about Digital Humanities.
A mailing list and archive covering a wide-ranging series of topics related to digital humanities.
A community of scholars and practitioners interested in the application of digital methods in Classics and Ancient History. Resources include a blog, discussion list, seminar reports and a Wiki-based website.
A community of library practitioners and scholars interested in the role of libraries in digital humanities teaching and research.
Wikipedia was launched in 2001 as a collaborative online platform through which volunteers contribute to a world-wide network of information. This network is constantly expanding and provides its users with information in the form of ‘Wikis’. The platform enables anyone to edit and contribute to a free body of knowledge that is accessible to a wide and diverse audience. A team of volunteer and professional editors and bots monitor any changes made on Wikipedia, providing relevant and constructive feedback. Neutrality is a fundamental part of the Wikipedia ethos, as contributors aim to produce factual, evidenced content. The vast network of volunteers helps to maintain this neutral point of view by cross-checking each edit.
Wikipedia is founded upon five key pillars: layout, news, neutrality, collaborative editing, and content re-use and free-licensing. As Wikipedia functions as an online encyclopaedia, the layout and presentation mirror the style of hard copy encyclopaedias. News refers to the speed at which Wikipedia is updated. Content is often published as it happens, as the ‘In the News’ section provides an up-to-date account of current affairs. A neutral focus increases the value of Wikipedia as a reliable resource, whilst the collaborative editing aspect maintains this reliability through a peer review system. Content is already licensed and can be re-used immediately under some of the terms of the Creative Commons license, rather than needing to request permission from the copyright owner. No editor can claim ownership of an article, as the article may be constantly revised and built upon by others.
Wikipedia requires members to treat each other with respect and to welcome new volunteers into the community in order to create a friendly and productive environment. However, if a particularly controversial article is at risk of vandalism, it can be ‘protected’. A protected status means that restrictions are put in place so that users cannot edit the article unless they have been granted specific permission. Only reputable sources may be cited in an article. A reputable source may include published academic texts, websites of institutions or respected media publications.
Why is it important to become a contributor?
In some academic circles, the use of Wikipedia has been discouraged because of the assumption that it is not a reliable resource. However, this narrative is gradually changing as influential academics applaud Wikipedia’s collaborative peer-review process. Many university professors are encouraging students to contribute to existing articles as a core part of their teaching methodology. Not only does this allow students to engage with a diverse online community, it also allows them to make meaningful contributions to a knowledge-sharing enterprise and facilitate access to information. Additionally, librarians are encouraging Wikipedia usage as a valuable starting point for patrons.
Despite the inclusive nature of Wikipedia’s volunteer community, researchers have identified disparities in gender representation. Many important female figures do not yet have a Wikipedia page, an issue that has been attributed to the fact that the majority of volunteers are male. However, several projects have recently emerged to challenge this disparity. For example, the ‘Women in Red’ project is set up to redress the gender bias in Wikipedia editing. The project title refers to the red links that identify notable women who do not yet have their own page. Volunteers can then select and create an article based on this information. ‘Women’s History’ is another movement focusing on the experiences of women until the mid-twentieth century, demonstrating the importance of increasing representation on digital information platforms. By recognising and addressing these shortcomings, volunteers can provide an invaluable contribution to a project that will change the way that marginalised groups are represented online.
Wikipedia is also a valuable tool for aiding the development of digital heritage collections. For example, the University of Exeter hosts over 12,000 items from the Hypatia collection, a collaborative project that records the achievements of women in a broad range of fields. Founded in 2017, the project works in partnership with Special Collections and the Digital Humanities Lab in order to create an accessible digital showcase of collection highlights. This is a valuable resource for those hoping to develop Wikipedia pages for heritage collections, as it draws attention to culturally significant books, documents and artefacts. One of the texts in the Hypatia collection is Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford, a popular nineteenth-century novel. The creation of a Wikipedia page for Cranford demonstrates how volunteers can contribute to the dissemination of these collections by accessing a broader audience. Wikipedia can therefore be a valuable tool for the promotion of heritage collections, as volunteers from a range of backgrounds help to develop these articles.
How to get started:
The Digital Humanities Lab runs virtual Wikipedia training for those interested in learning more about this dynamic online community. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about these remote learning sessions.