Alright, first of all, it is absolutely necessary for all of you to watch the video linked below until at least the end of the first chorus so that you can sing my title “Wiki-pedia Wonder-la-and” along to it before you read the rest of this post!
Now, onto the wonderland that is Wikipedia! For my research skills seminar we had to edit a Wikipedia page relating to our area of research as part of our assessment. We were given the instructions for the assessment the night before so I was in a panic about finding a page to edit, collecting sources, and creating a Wikipedia account. I was met with many challenges that night:
I had obligations that night that were unrelated to college so I only had two hours to work with from the moment we got our instructions. At first, this seemed like a reasonable amount of time to create my account and to skim through a few Wikipedia pages to see what could do with my help. Unfortunately, my IP address was blocked from making a Wikipedia account due to “repeated vandalism over a long period of time”! Now, I may be a lot of things but a wiki-vandal is not one of them! Alas, I thought, I shall fail this assessment. But, with the help of our wonderful seminar leader Dr Mairin MacCarron, I figured out a way to create my account. When one’s IP address is blocked Wikipedia, one cannot be unblocked even if they are innocent because there is a risk of unblocking a similar IP address and letting the original vandals wreak havoc on the website once again. So, I went about finding my way around this block – I tried multiple browsers in the hopes that one would let me create the account necessary for my assessment. Finally, I downloaded Mozilla Firefox and I escaped my false persecution as vandal.
In the end, I decided to revamp the James Baldwin wiki page. Because I didn’t have enough time to collect sources, I decided instead to rewrite the introduction and fix the syntax, grammar, and spelling issues throughout the rest of the page. I was nervous as I thought this would not be enough, but it was enough work to fill the two hours we had allocated to the completion of this project. Alongside making our edits, we live-tweeted this wikisession with the hashtag “EditWikiLit.” It was great fun to see the humourous tweets from my colleagues about the overwhelming sense of power they felt at being able to change the face of Wikipedia! Of course, it was also very informative, as I discovered the research interests of my peers, and received quite a few book recommendations. Quite a few of my colleagues did some excellent work during this class. One wiki-project I admired was Lara O’Toole’s. Lara added notable Irish women writers to the Irish literature page. Check out her remarkable additions here.
Onto my own work!
The main issues I came across on James Baldwin’s page that I could fix off the cuff were small inaccuracies, confusing omissions, and one paragraph-long sentence in the introduction that required immediate rewriting.
Above is the original introduction. Note that Baldwin is listed as merely a “novelist, playwright, and activist” – I amended this to make it more accurate by adding “essayist” and “poet” into the equation. Perhaps I should also have added “short story and screenplay writer” – Baldwin was a man of a great many talents. (On the other hand, please ignore the tab at the top of my screenshot which reads “how to screenshot on a laptop” – I am not a woman of many talents. The second paragraph in the screenshot was written in a very verbose and dense fashion, and I thought it would be more effective if I simplified and clarified it without losing its original intention. Thus, after my handiwork, the introduction ended up looking like this:
It has been over 24 hours and my amendments have not been challenged!
For the rest of the class, I pruned the rest of the sections in Baldwin’s wikipage, fixing issues such as the contested hyphenation of “African American”, changing problematic phrasing, and cutting out one or two brief points that were erroneous (such as the insinuation that close friends James Baldwin and Toni Morrison were… cousins? Can one family even contain that much greatness?!?!?!)
One thing that I didn’t expect to happen from my perusal and pruning of Baldwin’s wiki page was to learn something new about Baldwin. For example, while I knew Baldwin and Marlon Brando were friends, I had not known they had been roommates for a spell. Cue my reaction of:
There were a few things missing that I would have liked to have added, but I did not have the time to find sources for these snippets of information I know off the top of my head. For example, there was no mention of the suicide of Baldwin’s best friend which prompted him to expatriate in the first place. Nor was there any mention of the significance of music in Baldwin’s writing (though I was delighted to see homage to the artistic influence of painter Beauford Delaney on Baldwin and his work included on the page! Check out Delaney’s incredible Baldwin portraits here). Finally, there was little mention of his poetry collection Jimmy’s Blues and it was his only work with no wiki page of its own! I’ve decided that once I establish myself as an academic (fingers crossed) I’m going to light up Baldwin’s page with all of this information and sources to boot! Perhaps, some day, my work on Baldwin will be listed as a valid source…
UPDATE: My edits to the Baldwin wiki page have not been challenged! As of the 23rd of March 2020, they remain live!