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.

William Blake, Wikipedia, and a Public Pedagogy

1.        Teaching British Romanticism to undergraduate literature majors and non-majors often necessitates an introductory discussion about the relevance of texts that may seem historically and linguistically remote. One way to facilitate student engagement is to ask them to investigate the public impacts of the assigned texts and to communicate their importance to a public audience. Digital humanists often turn to out of the box tools like Omeka, Scalar, WordPress, WiX, or Anthologize, to provide students with platforms for this kind of work. For faculty who don’t have the time or resources to create their own digital projects or to supervise the creation of student-led digital projects, we suggest adapting and incorporating student Wikipedia assignments.

2.        Wikipedia provides the ideal platform to encourage students to develop editorial responsibility over the creation and publication of knowledge. The website is a high-traffic and globally conspicuous public repository of knowledge that expands in a user-generated, public-facing model that many Romantic-period writers would perhaps have appreciated. For every Wikipedia article created there is a step-by-step archiving process that creates a self-reflective repository ripe for tracing the development and the production of knowledge. Just as William Blake used printing technologies as a testing ground for the expression of his creativity, experimenting with etching and engraving techniques to develop his illuminated printing process, student Wikipedia assignments can be used as a testing ground for collaborative editorial expression (McGann 57).

3.        Despite housing nearly 4.9 million articles and being one of the most visited sites on the web, there are many gaps in Wikipedia’s coverage of British Romantic literature, including coverage of Blake’s most taught collection of poems: Songs of Innocence and of Experience. For a series of undergraduate Wikipedia assignments, we asked our students to fill in those gaps and imagine the broader arguments around Romantic literature. We introduced them to the sort of conversation communities that have become a hallmark of recent literary pedagogy. By using Blake and his illuminated poetry as the focus of our Wikipedia assignments, we also challenged students to navigate a complex, rapidly expanding print and digital ecosystem that is, as recent critics have observed, “collaborative and participatory” (Whitson and Whittacker 51).

The Blakean Ecosystem

4.        During the last 150 years, Blake’s eclectic, experimental creative output has been accessible to a much larger audience than during his own lifetime. Despite the prophetic exhortations of his illuminated books, Blake was a poet/artist with a limited readership. Alexander Gilchrist’s biography of Blake (1863) and W.B. Yeats and Edwin J. Ellis’ edition of Blake’s poetry (1893) did much to establish a broader audience, and by the mid-twentieth century Blake was accorded canonical status. Transcending the academy, Blake is a cultural mainstay for groups as diverse as the British Women’s Institute, the Beat poets, and the far-right British National Party. On the internet, Blake’s presence has grown to the point that Roger Whitson and Jason Whittacker consider that with his remediated presence on sites such as YouTube, Twitter, Wikipedia, and Flickr, Blake “is a true mass media phenomenon” (Whitson and Whittacker 24, 138-61). If we consider Blake’s presence on Wikipedia, for instance, we see that in 2013 users made “about 5,477” editorial revisions to the William Blake Wikipedia page (Whitson and Whittacker 142). By July 13, 2015, the Blake Wikipedia page had 6,402 editorial revisions, an increase of 927 edits. These changes were in response to the many users who experience and critically engage Wikipedia Blake pages every day. In June 2015, the English-language Blake page was viewed at least 51,418 times, and 182 other articles related to Blake received over 232,478 more views. Even accounting for repeat editors and visitors, these figures for editorial revisions and page views far exceed what can be expected for readers of scholarly journal articles and monographs.

5.        Blake’s place in the cultural zeitgeist coupled with library shelves straining under the ever-increasing weight of critical editions, facsimiles, and critical analysis, as well as an array of digital resources (from archival sites such as the William Blake Archive, the British Library’s digital Notebook of William Blake, the Blake 2.0 Cloud and Zoamorphosis Blog, critical editions, and myriad homework help websites analyzing his poems) indicate a diverse and expanding audience. New readers of Blake are often confronted by a bewildering array of different versions of Blake’s works accompanied by a daunting mountain of commentary, accessible in numerous formats and on multiple platforms.

6.        While this material about Blake continues to increase, creating an ecology of print and electronic resources about and influenced by Blake, we have to remember that the many “Blakes” that constitute this ecology aren’t necessarily representative of the same William Blake, poet, painter, and printmaker. Transferring Blake’s illuminated books to other formats necessitates some form of loss for, as Wayne C. Ripley observes, to translate a work “to a new medium . . . irrevocably changes its form, context, circulation, and meaning” (Ripley para. 5). With the growth of this Blakean ecology, there has also been concern about notions of authority and that the many Blakes existing in print and digital media will confound what is already confusing. Recent scholarship has addressed some of these concerns. For example, Whitson and Whittacker see the proliferation of the Blakean meme as a continuation of Blake’s own creative process, a process that encourages collaboration and participation. Furthermore, the reception of Blake from Gilchrist onward echoes the indeterminacy that Blake created in his own illuminated books. The William Blake Archive has done much to ease scholarly anxiety about Blakean indeterminacy, providing as many digital copies of the illuminated books as are available, yet the abundance of critical editions of Blake’s poetry and prose and the wealth of secondary criticism problematizes notions of scholarly authority and textual stability. For undergraduate students engaging with Blake and his illuminated books for the first time, such a disparate and growing corpus of work can pose a significant challenge to negotiate.

7.        In an attempt to cultivate student engagement with Blake’s illuminated books via the digital environment, we developed an assignment that leveraged one specific and popular component of the Blakean ecosystem: Wikipedia. Drawing on the assignment model developed by the Wikipedia Education Program, our students investigated the complexities of scholarly discourse for one unique collection of Blake’s poems, synthesizing arguments from a variety of methodological approaches. Additionally, as contributors to the larger digital humanities efforts around Blake, our Wikipedia assignment allowed students an intervention in how the public received Blake scholarship.

8.        In two undergraduate courses focusing on British poetry, during the Fall 2013 and Spring 2015 semesters, we asked students to create Wikipedia articles about poems in Blake’s most accessible illuminated book: Songs of Innocence and of Experience. As digital humanists, we also wanted students to contribute to a public resource that wouldn’t require significant curatorial investment that they weren’t trained for or the development of a strict process of editorial oversight, yet would require them to navigate the large, disparate corpus of secondary print and digital scholarship on Blake. Wikipedia provided that opportunity. There are significant lacunae in Wikipedia’s coverage of Blake’s work; for instance, before our assignments about half of the poems from Songs of Innocence and of Experience had no Wikipedia articles, and those that were covered rarely explored secondary criticism. For our student Wikipedia assignments, we asked our students to fill those gaps. The remainder of this essay details our implementation of Wikipedia article writing assignments and sets out some of our missteps regarding implementing digital assignments. We discuss how the exercise 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.

Wikipedia as Knowledge Sausage Factory

9.        Wikipedia afforded an opportunity to create a digitally inflected assignment for our students that in turn facilitates public access to humanistic inquiry about Blake. The seventh most visited site on the internet, Wikipedia was founded in 2001 as an outgrowth of the web’s early open and contributory culture, as an attempt to create “the sum of all human knowledge” in a crowd-sourced, collaborative environment. Educators often misunderstand the multiple layers of editorial work that happens on the site. Once editors add content to Wikipedia, the core volunteer community wrangles this massive contributory activity by following the community's founding five pillars that include policies and community best practices and the ability to track every editorial intervention through the software’s revision history tracking. Three mutually dependent core content policies regulate all the content in Wikipedia:

  1. Neutral Point of View
  2. Verifiability
  3. No Original Research

10.        These policies encourage all content to be tied to a citation from secondary or tertiary sources and for contributors to remain neutral by equally representing all of the major reputable opinions about the topic. In effect, articles that best meet community expectations become thorough literature reviews, where nearly every sentence is yoked to an authoritative citation. When meeting these standards, Wikipedia’s content effectively weighs different interpretive strategies, producing thorough, historiographically rich literature reviews (though in reality only a fraction of Wikipedia articles successfully meets the community's expectations of quality content).

11.        The utility of Wikipedia as a citable source in research is a keen topic of discussion among academics. As recently as five years ago, treatment of Wikipedia ranged from confusion and distrust to outright contempt, with one observer describing Wikipedia as “scrappy, chaotic, dilettantish, amateurish” (Glieck 380-81). For many critics, “the ability of users to add and edit Wikipedia pages at will” is the resource’s most distinguishing characteristic (Leitch 59). The democratization of knowledge production inherent in the development of Web 2.0, and best embodied by Wikipedia, allows any and all users to create and publish content electronically without the supervisory presence of traditional loci of authority. This decentering of authority not only destabilizes traditional conceptions of knowledge production and dissemination but also raises issues regarding what types of knowledge are suitable for scholarly consumption. For some of the more forceful critics of Wikipedia, the outsourcing of knowledge production results in a “truth by consensus” ethic and is akin to “the blind leading the blind—infinite monkeys providing infinite information for infinite readers, perpetuating the cycle of misinformation and ignorance” (Keen 4).

12.        Despite the weaknesses created by this approach to knowledge production, the scale and good faith of most contributions to Wikipedia has created an indispensable digital resource. Wikipedia’s ubiquity and comprehensiveness in many public topics has led to it becoming a common starting point (and occasionally a source for citation). Effective use of Wikipedia as a research tool and critical awareness of its process are, however, skills sorely needed amongst undergraduates. To spread Wikipedia literacy and create public-oriented scholars, a number of communities have opted to have their students write Wikipedia articles. Major academic associations, like the Association for Psychological Science, have been encouraging students to improve their digital literacy by using Wikipedia to create more authoritative public entry points for topics important to their field. This process also gives students the opportunity to witness and partake in the construction of Wikipedia’s knowledge base so as to be better able to reflect critically on Wikipedia as a platform for synthesizing a priori knowledge and the process by which authoritative sources of knowledge are created. As a participant in a Teaching with Wikipedia workshop we hosted at Kansas State University in Spring 2015 observed, ‘Wikipedia assignments highlight the need for students to see how the knowledge sausage is made, so that they’re careful about which sausage they consume.’

Wikipedia as Academic Practice Space

13.        Having students contribute to Wikipedia requires an initial process of acclimatization. For instance, we introduced our students to Wikipedia’s community of practice expectations and then monitored them as they explored this new and unfamiliar environment. Members of the Wikipedia community have long recognized the challenges facing new contributors. Since 2010 the Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit that undergirds the community and technology that Wikipedia runs on, has supported a global Wikipedia Education Program that provides best practices and tools to ease the learning curve of creating such assignments. This framework has supported thousands of classes globally, and, since 2013 additional resources, including mentoring and assignment design support, have been available for educators in the United States and Canada through a sister non-profit the Wiki Education Foundation. Among the resources produced are instructional booklets for classroom instruction, targeted disciplinary best practices and sample assignment guides.

14.        Most assignments where students create Wikipedia articles capitalize on how Wikipedia’s core content policies closely mirror the kinds of expectations placed on student work for annotated bibliographies or literature reviews. Wikipedia’s framework for creating and editing content actually trains students in skillsets that humanities undergraduates often need to learn. Humanities classrooms, particularly literature courses, tend to emphasize original interpretation and students are often not taught scholarly assessment skills until graduate school. As Thomas Leitch notes when talking about the relationship between the kinds of knowledge mastery and that emphasized by traditional canon-based learning in the field of English, the ability to assess and compare original research, a literacy of secondary sources, is missing from both academia and Web 2.0. Leitch goes on to claim that “the more critical relationship between literature and literacy [is] that a close consideration of Web 2.0 could foster seems essential to the revitalizing, perhaps to the survival, of English studies and liberal education generally” (Leitch 80).

15.        We see our Wikipedia assignments providing, in part, a much-needed critical space for our students to become better recognizers, assessors, and communicators of the knowledge and skills they acquire in digitally inflected humanities classes. Having students practice writing and research on Wikipedia gives them the opportunity to investigate the complex layers of secondary criticism that creates the academy’s authoritative knowledge base. There is also an additional benefit: in developing and honing their digital literacy, our students were concomitantly transforming Wikipedia’s representation of Blake’s poems for casual readers, students, and researchers, highlighting multiple contrasting readings of Songs of Innocence and of Experience and pointing towards possible sources for further research.

Students Writing Songs of Innocence and of Experience in Wikipedia

16.        For those not familiar with assigning Wikipedia article writing in the classroom, we would strongly recommend the use of materials provided by the Wikipedia Education Program and the newly launched Wikipedia Assignment Design Wizard. The Wikimedia Foundation and the Wiki Education Foundation staff maintain these resources with the help of faculty and volunteers experienced in running such assignments. The design wizard and standard documentation of assignments have activities and staged assignment deadlines that can be used in an eight to twelve week writing assignment akin to a literature review or essay rubric used in upper division undergraduate or graduate classes. These resources guide instructors and students through selecting topics, developing familiarity with Wikipedia’s community of practice, student research, engagement with library support, student peer review, and final assessment projects. These materials are, however, limiting because they require the Wikipedia assignment to be the core written assignment of the semester. For our use of the Wikipedia assignment model, we opted to modify the sample syllabus because we needed to include other forms of written assessment, including poetry analysis. We created a four to six week assignment that included using four evenly spaced “gates” corresponding to the specific tasks we wanted to the students to undertake and to focus the students on the Student Learning Objectives (SLOs) for the course. The core SLOs for both courses are as follows:

  1. Demonstrate a detailed knowledge of poetry from the British Romantic Period, including identifying the various formal properties of these poems.
  2. Use appropriate terminology when referring to the poets and poems.
  3. Research secondary scholarship on the poems.
  4. Textually summarize and communicate information on the poems via Wikipedia.
And the “Gates” for our Wikipedia assignments:
  • Gate 1: Article topic selection
  • Gate 2: Completion of the Wikipedia the education programs student tutorial
  • Gate 3: Research, write, and revise the Wikipedia article
  • Gate 4: Self assessment and publication
For a detailed description of each Gate, see Fig. 2 below.

Figure 1: Wikipedia Writing Assignment, Fall 2013 (ENGL 340).

17.        The first iteration of the Wikipedia assignment was in Mark Crosby’s ENGL 340: Introduction to Poetry Class during Fall 2013. The class consisted entirely of non-English majors, and we offered the Wikipedia assignment as an alternative to a standard literature review. Ten students out of twenty opted for the Wikipedia assignment and were grouped in pairs and self-selected one of the following poems from Blake’s Songs of Innocence: “The Little Boy Lost,” “The Little Boy Found,” “Laughing Song,” “Spring,” and “Night.” The assignment lasted six weeks.

Figure 2: Wikipedia Writing Assignment, Fall 2013: Description of “Gates”.

18.        The teamwork approach to writing the articles created a range in quality according to Wikipedia’s taxonomy of quality (see Fig. 3). Three of the student articles, “The Little Boy Lost,” “The Little Boy Found,” and “Night” achieved Wikipedia’s C class of article assessment containing decent prose, covering the main topical areas, and citing reliable sources. The other two articles didn’t reach this standard. Instead, the students provided adequate summaries of the poem, its structure, and a good textual foundation for future article expansion, yet experienced some difficulty in finding secondary research on the poems and so failed to meet Wikipedia’s Start Class Quality Assessment threshold.

Figure 3: Wikipedia Taxonomy of Quality

19.        Despite the variable quality, all of the articles have reached the top of Google searches that return other commentary on the poems. In many teaching environments, high visibility of student work can be a key motivator for encouraging students to create high quality content: student work no longer dies at the end of the semester, but rather has a lasting public impact. In one month, the student articles had 1538 views (or an average 256 views per page), reaching more readers in thirty days than many scholarly articles ever will, even though their contributions don’t all meet Wikipedia’s own high quality standards. After a year and a half, when the articles were able to increase their position on Google, that average increased to 418 views, or a 60% increase. Clearly there was a latent public demand for information about these poems, when almost every month has that level of traffic. Moreover, the student work fills omissions on Blake not previously addressed by Wikipedia editors; in subsequent student work on the articles, only two of the articles have been revised: “The Little Boy Lost” denuded superfluous background material related to Blake and gained a gallery of images; and “The Little Boy Found” received a rigorous copyedit and gained a gallery of images. The other three articles, however, remain largely the same, a lasting legacy of our students’ work that semester. Table 1 (below) offers a statistical overview for the Wikipedia articles on Blake’s poems that the students created for the first assignment.

Article title Page Views in January 2014 Page Views inJune 2015 Wikipedia Class of Quality (see fig. 6). # Secondary sources cited in article
Laughing Song 322 584 Start 2
The Little Boy Lost 461 466 Start 2
The Little Boy Found 480 563 Start 3
Night 103 574 C 11
Spring 172 324 Start 1

20.        After the first assignment, we realized that the quality of our students’ articles could be improved. When modifying the Wikipedia’s Education Program’s model for the assignment, we chose to omit the following elements: ensuring that peer review and meeting the “gates” were graded; building in early research support for non-English-major students; and placing more emphasis on quality rather than completion in the grading rubric. While meeting the core SLOs for the poetry course, the articles produced for the first iteration of the assignment may not impact public Blake knowledge as strongly as they could and students didn’t get as thorough an immersion in scholarship as we had intended.

Figure 4: Wikipedia Article: William Blake’s ‘Night

21.        Learning from our earlier experiences, we chose to run the next iteration of the assignment in an upper-division British Literature class during Spring 2015. We made several revisions to the first iteration of the assignment. Rather than have students write articles collaboratively, we assigned one article per student and provided a bibliography of secondary sources. We also shortened the deadline to four weeks. We found that these changes, plus running the assignment with a group of English majors, created a much better outcome for the students and their contributions. Our students wrote most of the remaining missing articles on Songs of Innocence and of Experience, creating, on average, higher quality articles. The best indicators for this improvement are the number and types of secondary sources the students referenced in the articles and Wikipedia article quality. But, in some respects, these are superficial indicators. “The School Boy,” for instance, didn’t summarize all eleven of its sources, instead relying on three while providing the others for future researchers as a “Further reading,” whereas other articles like “The Little Girl Lost” do exemplary jobs focusing on the nuance of the three scholarly interpretations.

22.        With this iteration of the assignment, the students consistently added greater publicly valuable content, with nuanced summaries of critical readings of the poems. Thus far, except for some formatting and consistency changes made by Alex Stinson and other Wikipedia editors, there have been no significant revisions or changes to the articles. Table 2 (below) offers a statistical overview for the Wikipedia articles on Blake’s poems that the students created for the second version of our Wikipedia assignment.

Article title Page Views in May 2015 Page Views in June 2015 Wikipedia Class of Quality (See fig 6) # Secondary Sources Cited
Earth’s Answer 599 408 C 5
A Cradle Song 614 442 Start 8
A Dream 407 293 C 4
The Little Girl Lost 699 508 Start 3
The School Boy 211 330 C 11
A Little Boy Lost 368 305 C 5
My Pretty Rose Tree 456 347 Start 3
The Lily 497 381 Start 3
The Little Vagabond 437 316 C 8
The Clod and the Pebble 960 628 Start 4
The Shepherd 811 641 C 5

23.        For the second version of the assignment we also asked students to complete a survey that contributed to their grade upon completion. In general, student responses to the survey suggest that the assignment led to a new literacy about how Wikipedia works: six of the students used Wikipedia weekly before the assignment, yet only two of the students knew that they could edit prior to the assignment. In an open-ended question about what they learned, almost every student mentioned having a new understanding of what's “going on behind the scenes in Wikipedia” with most of the students making reference to Wikipedia’s Verifiability policy. Only two of the respondents had technical concerns with editing Wikipedia.

24.        When asked about difficulties of the assignment, students felt most challenged by the research process required in creating Wikipedia articles. Several of the responses mention a degree of nervousness about putting their “best work” forward for Wikipedia and a public audience. In turn, the challenge of doing research and having quality material available to the public prompted students to consider who uses this information. Every respondent answered questions about the impact of public spaces like Wikipedia on poetry readers optimistically, hoping that they could make it easier for new readers of poetry (including students like themselves) to understand poems. For six of the students, this was the first humanities course where they had been asked to communicate to an audience beyond the instructor or their classmates. As a skills-focused assignment, the research portion appears to have developed their understanding and engagement with scholarly criticism as well as prompted them to think critically about their own readers. In terms of a public audience, we asked our students to consider the near impossible: all potential global users of Wikipedia. Yet, with the parameters set out by the Wikipedia editorial policy, specifically the neutrality and citation requirements, students had clear editorial guidelines to shape their respective public interventions in the Blakean ecosystem. Furthermore, as users of Wikipedia prior to our classes, the students were alert to the significance and relevancy of their assignments as high-traffic gateways to other sources of knowledge about Blake.

Imagining Wikipedia Assignments Creating a Public entry to Romanticism

25.        Overall, we found both iterations of the assignment to be successful, but we also found ourselves questioning whether our two Wikipedia assignments provided a suitable environment for students to engage with Blake’s creative output. Part of Wikipedia’s radical vision of “anyone can edit” is acknowledging that when you aren’t commissioning work from authorities (as with traditional academic collections) much of the work is going to incomplete or imperfect, especially in the first version. Thus, Wikipedia is, and always will be, a “work in progress.” For a Wikipedia article, no scholarly imperative demands the student work meet the best accuracy, precision, and comprehensiveness of content; rather these concerns are ceded to the community of practice supporting Wikipedia, and to the many voices and eyes that edit it. Therefore, as assessors of student work, we didn’t have an obligation to spend additional time increasing precision and comprehensiveness of student work, rather we could focus on assessment and teaching competencies. As long as our students created better content than was previously on Wikipedia, and they provided citations to authoritative secondary sources where the public can learn more about Blake, the students created a better public portal to the poems than the SparkNotes or GradeSaver type websites that tend to dominate Google searches when Wikipedia articles aren’t present. Additionally, while the articles created by our students were all outside the top echelon of Wikipedia’s taxonomy of quality (fig. 3), the assignment nevertheless satisfied the SLOs for our courses. From the first iteration of the assignment it was apparent that Wikipedia’s highest standards of quality exceeded expectations typically placed on undergraduates for literature review assignments.

26.        As we continue to develop our Wikipedia assignment and other scholars implement similar assignments, we’ll witness the creation of more content and its continuous improvement with articles becoming even better (if not the best) representation of the authoritative knowledge available on the internet about these poems. Wikipedia’s dominance on search engines and in the public’s research practices allows us to leverage student work to create a public representation of our field and guarantees the students’ work reaches a large public audience. Digital student projects on blogs and other digital humanities sites could never guarantee this kind of public impact.

27.        Both iterations of our Wikipedia assignment enabled students to create critical gateways for public understanding of the humanities. The missing articles and cursory coverage that we filled with our assignments exist in a number of important literary subjects ranging from gaps in obscure or eclectic areas with limited public interest, to some of the most well-researched authors and topics in Romanticism. For example, there are crucial gaps in many Romantic-period writers, including Felicia Hemans and Charlotte Smith. While Hemans has a Start Class rating and Smith a C Class quality rating according to Wikipedia’s taxonomy of quality, as of October 30, 2015 there are no articles on their literary works. In addition to these significant topical gaps, humanities on Wikipedia frequently suffers from a form of knowledge popularism: the more popular the subject, the more contributors write into the Wikipedia articles, while key critical concerns are missed.

28.        The seeming lack of scholarly rigor often evident in Wikipedia humanities topics should not prevent scholars and students from using the platform to communicate humanities topics to a public beyond the academy. There are thousands of students in literature classrooms around the globe that can fill the knowledge gaps in Wikipedia while providing a degree of scholarly rigor. Wikipedia offers a collaborative space where scholars and their students can actualize the Romantic ideal of bettering society through enriching minds, providing a ready-made framework for exposing the public to the complexities of scholarly discourse and encouraging them to participate in knowledge production. With these two Wikipedia assignments, our students became part of a broader Wikipedia community that shares an interest in researching and disseminating the best knowledge to the public.

Works Cited

Dent, Shirley. “‘Thou readst white where I read black’ William Blake, the Hymn ‘Jerusalem’, and the Far Right.” Re-envisioning Blake, edited by Mark Crosby, Troy Paternaude and Angus Whitehead. Palgrave, 2013.

Eaves, Morris. “One Blake’s We Want and Blake’s We Don’t.” Huntington Library Quarterly, vol. 58, no. 3, 1995, pp. 413-39.

Farzan, Rosta, and Robert E. Kraut. "Wikipedia classroom experiment: bidirectional benefits of students' engagement in online production communities." Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, 2013, pp. 783-92.

Glieck, Jason. The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood. Pantheon, 2011.

Goode, Mike. ‘Blakespotting.’ PMLA, vol. 121, no. 3, 2006, pp. 769-86.

Keen, Andrew. The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Culture is Killing Our Culture. Doubleday, 2007.

Leitch, Thomas. Wikipedia U, Knowledge, Authority, and Liberal Education in the Digital Age. Johns Hopkins UP, 2014.

McGann, Jerome J. The Textual Condition. Princeton, 1991.

Ripley, Wayne C. “Delineation Editing of Co-Texts: William Blake’s Illustrations.” Romantic Circles Praxis: Editing and Reading Blake, edited by Wayne C. Ripley and Justin Van Kleeck, 2010, https://www.rc.umd.edu/praxis/editing_blake/index.html. Accessed July 2015.

Todorinova, Lily. “Wikipedia and undergraduate research trajectories.” New Library World, vol. 116, no. 3/4, 2015, pp. 201-12.

Whitson, Roger and Jason Whittacker. William Blake and Digital Humanities. Routledge, 2013.

Wadewitz, Adrianne, Anne Ellen Geller, and Jon Beasley-Murray. “Wiki-hacking: Opening up the Academy with Wikipedia.” Hacking the Academy, edited by Tom Scheinfeldt and Dan Cohen. U of Michigan P, 2011.

Wadewitz, Adrianne and Alex Stinson “Crowdsourcing Historiography: The Shape of Historical Uncertainty and Multiplicity on Wikipedia.” Digital Humanities Quarterly (forthcoming, Fall 2016).


[1] For example, see The Blake Archive (https://blakearchive.wordpress.com) and British Literature, 1700-1900, A Course Blog (https://britlitsurvey2.wordpress.com). BACK

[2] For a discussion of the various cultural appropriations of Blake, see Dent 48-62. BACK

[3] Retrieved using User:Hedonil’s XTools gadget (https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Hedonil/XTools) which aggregates mediawiki software data. BACK

[4] Retrieved using stats.grok.se on July 13, 2015 (http://stats.grok.se/en/201506/William_Blake). Data from stats.grok.se is the standard accepted page view statistic for Wikipedia articles. The site offers a good estimate, but is known to have data errors that likely underestimate pageviews; for example, in 2014 the Wikimedia Foundation discovered that over 30% of pageviews on Wikipedia from mobile viewers were not being counted in these numbers (see the author comment from username ed17, “Wikipedia traffic statistics understated by nearly one-third” The Signpost [Wikipedia], September 17, 2014). This error has since been fixed, but there are likely more; all page view statistics in this article are based on that tool and are known to have this limitation. Second set of stats retrieved using Magnes Mankse’s “Treeviews” tools on July 12, 2015 (which aggregates page views from stats.grok.se). For this query, see http://tools.wmflabs.org/glamtools/treeviews/?q=%7B%22rows%22%3A%5B%7B%22title%22%3A%22William%20Blake%22%7D%5D%7D BACK

[5] See, for example, Eaves 413-39 and Goode 115-37. BACK

[6] There are various editions of Blake’s verbal and visual work, from different publishers, all with different editorial agendas. For example, in addition to David V. Erdman’s standard reference work: The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake (2nd ed. 1988), there is a Norton Critical edition of Blake’s Poetry and Designs, eds. John E. Grant and Mary Lynn Johnson (2nd ed. 2007), Penguin’s William Blake The Complete Poems ed. Alicia Ostriker (1977), and Oxford University Press’s Selected Poetry of William Blake ed. Michael Mason (2007). There are also a range of editions of individual poems, such as The Marriage of Heaven and Hell and Visions of the Daughters of Albion. All of these editions prioritize textual transcriptions of Blake’s work in illuminated printing. BACK

[7] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia_talk:Purpose BACK

[8] Wadewitz and Stinson show that the articles that the community assess as the best quality, represent the kinds comparative approaches used in academic historiography. These articles only represent a tiny fraction of the historical articles present on Wikipedia (Wadewitz and Stinson). BACK

[9] As a recent undergraduate study found at Rutgers University, most students didn’t use the references at the bottom of the article to start their research into quality, but had a tendency to stop after reading the article and search Google again (Todorinova 201-12). BACK

[10] See Farzan and Kraus. For information about associations with Wikipedia editing initiatives, see http://wikiedu.org/partnerships/. BACK

[11] For more, see Wadewitz, Geller, and Beasley-Murray. BACK

[12] See tracking page at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_Program:Kansas_State_University/ENGL_340_(Fall,_2013) BACK

[13] Quality assessment is based on Wikipedia’s Quality scale, which goes “Stub” (short, no or few sources), “Start” (few sources, basic coverage of several main points), C (Significant Coverage, not exhaustive, some problems), “B” (Significant Coverage, near exhaustive, not peer reviewed) and GA and FA (Peer reviewed, top quality articles). For the scheme, see the assessment criteria at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Version_1.0_Editorial_Team/Assessment. Also, see Fig 3 above. BACK

[14] “The Little Boy Lost,” “The Little Boy Found” and “Laughing Song” all show up with just title searches; both “Night” and “Spring” need Blake's name to be in the search string. BACK

[15] See the Wikipedia comparative revisions at: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=The_Little_Boy_Lost&type=revision&diff=670774173&oldid=586049976 BACK

[16] See the Wikipedia comparative revisions at: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=The_Little_Boy_Found&type=revision&diff=646826817&oldid=584709095 BACK

[17] We asked, “What do you think is the role of poetry in public digital spaces like Wikipedia? How important is it to share academic knowledge about poetry with the public?” BACK