Elizabeth Pollard - History


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Raising the Stakes: Witchcraft on Wikipedia

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Elizabeth Pollard - History

  1. 1. RAISING THE STAKES: WITCHCRAFT ON WIKIPEDIA Elizabeth Ann Pollard Department of History
  2. 2. Background: Historical Discourse vs. Wikipedia? <ul><li>HISTORY </li></ul><ul><li>“ Possessive Individualism” </li></ul><ul><li>Single Authorship </li></ul><ul><li>Values original contribution </li></ul><ul><li>Values “experts” </li></ul><ul><li>Questions existence of neutrality </li></ul><ul><li>WIKIPEDIA </li></ul><ul><li>Intellectual commons </li></ul><ul><li>Joint, collaborative enterprise </li></ul><ul><li>Eschews “original research” </li></ul><ul><li>Aversion to “experts” </li></ul><ul><li>Insistence on NPOV (neutral point of view) </li></ul>BUT THESE ARE THE VERY ISSUES THAT A HISTORY METHODS COURSE IN HISTORIOGRAPHY ATTEMPTS TO ADDRESS For elaboration of these ideas, see Roy Rosenzweig’s &quot;Can History be Open Source? Wikipedia and the Future of the Past,&quot; Journal of American History 93, no. 1 (June 2006): 117-46.
  3. 3. Pin-Pointing the Problem <ul><li>Witchcraft-related topics are particularly susceptible to non-historical, biased, even faith-based treatment. </li></ul><ul><li>Witchcraft-related topics are likely to be overlooked on Wikipedia, given its population of primarily male techno-geeks. </li></ul>Greco-Roman “Voodoo Doll,” now at the Louvre, which was used in similar ways as curse tablets --- namely to wish harm on the target of the spell.
  4. 4. Curse Tablets: A Problematic Existing Entry <ul><li>Little to no representation of existing scholarly debate </li></ul><ul><li>Unbalanced coverage (focused on Britain, with little attention to other examples elsewhere) </li></ul><ul><li>Very limited references </li></ul><ul><li>No examples </li></ul><ul><li>Few good external links </li></ul>
  5. 5. Solution: Brewing Up an Entry <ul><li>Target a problematic entry. </li></ul><ul><li>Undertake research in scholarly articles and book-length treatments. </li></ul><ul><li>Determine points of scholarly conflict and consensus. </li></ul><ul><li>Write a NPOV treatment reflecting the arguments and citing their proponents. </li></ul><ul><li>Include references and perhaps even a snippet from a related primary source and/or an image, if possible. </li></ul><ul><li>Provide internal links to related Wikipedia entries and external links to reliable treatments on the web. </li></ul>Hans Baldung Grien’s Witches’ Sabbath (1510)
  6. 6. A Wiki-Stub <ul><li>A gap needing to be addressed almost from scratch </li></ul>What’s wrong with this entry? Current scholarship suggests that the Formicarius is just as central to an understanding of early modern witchcraft accusations as the Malleus Maleficarum , which is much more well-known today and consequently treated in a much longer Wikipedia entry ? NO!
  7. 7. Unveiling the Entry for Examination by “Peers” <ul><li>Participate in the related Wikipedia “discussion”. </li></ul><ul><li>Explain the choices made when recounting the scholarly conflict and consensus. </li></ul><ul><li>Visit the discussion area early and often to engage other Wikipedians. </li></ul>T. H. Matteson’s Examination of a Witch (1853)
  8. 8. Curse Tablets: Room for Historiographical Discussion <ul><li>Opportunity for student to continue historiographical discussion, justifying the changes offered </li></ul><ul><li>Participation in real, high-stakes “peer-review” </li></ul>Example of contributor justification
  9. 9. Outcomes: Sample Student Entries on Wikipedia <ul><li>Peruvian Inquisition </li></ul><ul><li>Martin Ocelotl </li></ul><ul><li>Heresy of the Free Spirit </li></ul><ul><li>Familiars </li></ul><ul><li>Witch Hunt </li></ul><ul><li>Witch Trial </li></ul><ul><li>Tituba </li></ul>Track student changes, thoughts, and historiographical comments in “ discussion” and “history” tabs associated with each individual entry.
  10. 10. Evaluation of the Project <ul><li>Rubric for Professor Evaluation of Student Work </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Significance of the targeted gap or problematic coverage </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Quality of the contribution in terms of content </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Quality of participation in Wikipedia discussion </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Adherence to encyclopedic form </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Adherence to stylistic conventions (spelling, punctuation, and grammar, etc.) in Wikipedia entry </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Clarity of ideas in oral presentation </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Relationship of entry to ongoing historiography project </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Thoroughness of research as evidenced by working bibliography </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Student Survey-Based Response (Sample Questions) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>What did you like best about the assignment? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>What did you dislike? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Biggest challenge? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Most exciting aspect? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>What did you learn? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>How does this use of tech in teaching compare with your previous experience in other courses? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>How did you feel about the “stakes” of the assignment? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>How do you now feel about Wikipedia? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Suggested improvements for the assignment and process? </li></ul></ul>
  11. 11. Student Survey-Based Feedback <ul><li>What worked: </li></ul><ul><li>Improved research skills </li></ul><ul><li>Student sense of pride and accomplishment </li></ul><ul><li>Ongoing student engagement </li></ul><ul><li>Sense of wider academic discourse </li></ul><ul><li>What needs work: </li></ul><ul><li>Topic Selection </li></ul><ul><li>More start-up instruction in the use of technology </li></ul><ul><li>Clearer integration of the assignment earlier </li></ul>
  12. 12. Revision Plans <ul><li>the creation of some sort of Wikipedia tutorial, perhaps an in-class review (by me or by an ITS expert) or an on-line taped tutorial (to save class-time), </li></ul><ul><li>more in-class, hands-on experimentation with the Wikipedia process, </li></ul><ul><li>clearer integration (through teaching and example) of how this assignment relates to historians' historiographical processes, </li></ul><ul><li>more guidance to students in targeting problematic entries, and </li></ul><ul><li>encourage involvement by professor’s professional colleagues in the field. </li></ul>Page from a Greco-Roman grimoire
  13. 13. Unexpected Outcome?: Student Pride in the Work <ul><li>“ I like that I have published, in a way” </li></ul><ul><li>“ I called my mom and bragged” </li></ul><ul><li>“ [The assignment] gave me the feeling that my words were valuable to someone else” </li></ul><ul><li>“ It was the first time [I] felt like a historian, to tell you the truth” </li></ul><ul><li>It was the most &quot;personal reward… I have ever had from a school assignment… I tell my friends and family to check it out all the time&quot; </li></ul><ul><li>&quot;I got to add and change scholarship on a topic I had been studying all semester&quot; </li></ul><ul><li>&quot;I do feel that I made Wiki a slightly better place than when I first found it&quot; </li></ul><ul><li>&quot;No class has ever asked [me] to contribute an original work of this kind&quot; </li></ul>