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Wikipedia: The Infinite Palimpsest


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Presentation given at "The Worlds of Wikimedia: communicating and collaborating across languages and cultures" conference. June 2019.

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Wikipedia: The Infinite Palimpsest

  1. 1. Wikipedia:
 The Infinite Palimpsest Liam Wyatt / @Wittylama 
 University of Sydney June 2019
  2. 2. Who are these women; and why are they important to Wikimedia?
  3. 3. Palimpsest? That which was overwritten is just as important - if not more so - than that which is kept. What was discarded can be recovered. Novgorod Codex - the only known “hyper palimpsest”
  4. 4. This is not about how to use [read] Wikipedia in the classroom; how to be a user [editor]; or how to use [reference] articles. This presentation talks about Wikipedia as a historical record in its own right and therefore how it might be legitimately used as a primary source. “Using” Wikipedia
  5. 5. NPOV; V; NOR Without these three pillars, Wikipedia would not be of any use to historical research. With them, Wikipedia is a compendium of information - created by the world in real time - of primary history. It is “the people” consciously attempting to dispassionately write their own story.
  6. 6. Given an sufficient amount of server space and the commitment to maintain it, a resource already exists that may not only sound the death knell of archaeology but also the opportunity to enable a greater depth and sophistication of anthropology than has ever existed before. So radical an innovation would this new anthropological methodology represent that it deserves its own name. Call it Wikipediology. - Andrew Updergrove, The Wikipedia and the death of archaeology 2006.
  7. 7. 4 types of primary sources Articles Analysis Paratexts Discussions
  8. 8. 1. Articles
  9. 9. “Long” history More than just “Recentism", But not quite “historical POV”.
  10. 10. The ‘diff’ is more historiographically interesting than the text
  11. 11. Encyclopædia Britannica: “Australasia - Natives: The natives, wherever they have been met with, are of the very lowest description of human beings...” Encyclopædia Britannica 1842:208.  “Australia - Aborigines: The origin of the natives of Australia presents a difficult problem. The chief difficulty in deciding their ethnical relations is their remarkable physical difference from the neighbouring peoples…” 1911:954 English Wikipedia: “Indigenous Australians: The Australian Aborigines are the indigenous people of Australia. They were a stone age people who are belived [sic] to have arrived in Australia about 40,000 years ago.” August 2002
  12. 12. “Medium” history For example: “ Why the Guardian is changing the language it uses about the environment: From now, house style guide recommends terms such as ‘climate crisis’ and ‘global heating’ “ — 17 May, 2019
  13. 13. Semantic drift • English: "Battle of the Macrons" - NZ • “First Fleet”- Australia/USA • English: Gdańsk/Gdansk/Danzig • German: Jänner • Arabic: ‫وليام‬ ،‫ويليام‬ ،‫وليم‬ • Dutch: Towns in Friesland • French: Puck/Palet/Rondelle/Disque • Cantonese: “Common” or “Etymological” • All: How many continents? • All: localisation of technical terms… …and identity politics within/among languages Worldwide POV & Countering Systemic-Bias
  14. 14. “Gender vote” on De.WP Geschlechtergerechte Sprache Liste von Science- Fiction-Autoren See also:
  15. 15. Wikipedia can only has one fact at a time, this is the cause of editorial debate (for better and worse). Wikidata simply requires you to ask a different question - allowing different slices of knowledge.
  16. 16. •2007 Virgina Tech shooting • 2014 Sydney hostage crisis # Debate on status as a terrorist event A minute by minute account of the public record of history.
 Wikipedia isn’t the eyewitness history, it is a compilation of the public chronology. “Short” history
  17. 17. 2. Discussions This is unmediated debate in the frame of describing topics for posterity. Wikipedia discussion pages are not for conversation but for planning and debating the best way to convey a topic.
  18. 18.
  19. 19. I submit that this transcript is valuable in revealing exactly how a war of ideas is waged. Wikipedia uses an online collaboration technology that allows its articles to be freely edited by any Wikipedia user. As the primary article about the Muhammad cartoons evolved, there also arose behind the scenes a fierce debate over whether or not the cartoons themselves should be included and how they should be displayed.  The transcript of the debate captures not only the ideas expressed by the many contributors and readers, but also the tenor of the debate, the pleas, the acts of vandalism, the argumentative styles, strategies, tactics and gambits. In other words, the transcript reveals how some contributors won the debate, how the others lost, and how each side treated the other.  This transcript reveals the mechanics of the clash of civilizations.  — John Simmons
  20. 20. 3. Paratexts
  21. 21. “...from the philosophical and the poetic to the lewd and the obscene.” Rex Wallace, An Introduction to Wall Inscriptions from Pompeii and Herculaneum, 2005
  22. 22. Their banality becomes their usefulness. What was once discarded becomes important, precisely because it was never meant to be kept. Spelling/grammar mistakes, marginalia, erasures, hidden comments, vandalism…
 And old headwords… and edit summaries:
  23. 23. 4. Analysis Examples: Editorship, Readership, Content
  24. 24. The Zeitgeist Or, “What do Atlas Shrugged and Baby, It's Cold Outside have in common?”
  25. 25. Popular interest
  26. 26. Women in Red
  27. 27. Peace, Love & Metadata Liam Wyatt / @Wittylama 
 University of Sydney June 2019