Abstract

William Blake, Wikipedia, and a Public Pedagogy

When teaching British Romanticism, cultivating student interest in the material often requires the educator to explain the relevance of texts that for many seem historically and linguistically remote. One way to help facilitate student engagement is to ask them to investigate the public impacts of the assigned texts and communicate those impacts to a public audience. Digital humanists often turn to established digital humanities projects or blogs to provide students a platform for this kind of work; however, we trialed using a public resource that didn’t require a curatorial investment or the development of strict editorial oversight. Wikipedia provided that opportunity: despite nearly 4.9 million articles and one of the most visited sites on the web, there are a number of gaps in Wikipedia’s coverage of British Romantic literature, including coverage of William Blake’s most taught collection of poems: Songs of Innocence and of Experience. For a series of coursework assignments on Romantic poetry, we asked students to fill those gaps. This essay details our implementation of Wikipedia article writing assignments over two semesters of a British Romantic poetry class, including both the digital pedagogy and design concerns shaping the assignment. We explore some of the missteps regarding the implementation of digital assignments and discuss how the experience not only provided our students with different types of learning opportunities, but also how such an assignment can become a tool for shaping the public reception of Blake, Romanticism, and humanities knowledge more generally.