From Afrikaans to Zazaki, there are currently over 270 autonomous language-based Wikimedia projects, not including the numerous sister projects like Wikiversity, Wikibooks, and Wikimedia Commons. Each of these sites was built word by word, article by article, over a span of up to ten years — and yet their unique histories remain buried in archived discussion threads and the memories of a few veteran editors. What makes some of these projects flourish and others stagnate? How have different communities of editors overcome cultural, social, and technological obstacles to create the most up-to-date online reference materials in the world? What lessons can communities of editors learn from each other in order to make every project as productive and successful as it can be?
As fellows in the Community Department, Victoria Doronina and I have been working on a pilot study of the Russian Wikipedia community (available on Meta in both English and Russian: http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/RuWiki_History). Now I’m pleased to pass the torch to other aspiring wiki- historians. I’m looking for multilingual graduate students to participate in a summer fellowship program aimed at writing the histories of the many of the many Wikimedia communities. Together, we can produce nuanced, captivating narratives of the people behind the projects, narratives that capture the triumphs, failures, and daily struggles of the editors working to make the dream of globally shared knowledge a reality.
Good faith collaboration is the driving force behind Wikipedia, and in this spirit, the Community Department is interested in creating an intellectual collaboration between the Wikipedian and academic worlds. The summer fellowship will begin with a three-day conference, workshop, and crash course in and crash course in our culture, intended to acquaint non-Wikimedians with the basic technology/terminology. Each academic researcher will be paired with an active editor of the appropriate project, who will act as his/her guide to the social fabric of the community. After the conference, the graduate student/Wikimedian teams will continue to work together, either remotely or in person, on the historical narrative of their respective Wikipedia project. Graduate students will be encouraged to spend the summer in the language community they are researching, with grants available to finance travel and living expenses.
Composing a wiki-history requires rethinking traditional approaches to historiography, and one of the tasks of this fellowship will be to explore and develop these new methodologies from the ground up. If you are a graduate student with a creative, adventurous spirit and a passion for collaborative culture, or an experienced editor with a thorough knowledge of his/her community, please visit the fellowship page on Meta or get in touch with me for more details!
Maryana Pinchuk, Community Fellow