Wiki-ing the Renaissance Scholar
|Hieronimo spent some time grading Wikipedia recently, which inspired me to finally explore the site a little bit. And by explore, I mean check to see if someone had created an entry for me. Turns out, I’m not in there. Not shocking. I’m probably going to have to pull off something on the order of a naked bank heist to get Wiki-ed, and, to be honest, that’s fine with me. I’m not sure how I feel about people who don’t know me writing me up. Like a naked bank heist, it could easily go horribly awry.|
Anyway, once I finished searching for me, I checked for the next best thing: people like me (i.e., professors of Renaissance lit and history). What I discovered may shock you. Some of the most prominent members of our community are not who I thought they were.
Gary Taylor (and I quote) “is a former strongman from Wales who won the World's Strongest Man contest in 1993. His strongman career ended in 1997 when he sustained a serious leg injury in the tire flip in a contest in Holland."Wow! Remind me not to flip tires competitively.
Jim “the Hammer” Shapiro "is an American attorney and author who was suspended from practicing law for one year in New York and Florida because of his misleading and aggressive television commercials and his attempt to solicit business from a comatose patient."Hey -- where I come from, that’s called “teaching.”
Vanessa Harding "is an American professional wrestler and manager."And all this time I thought she was writing urban history. Maybe that was just a set up for the pile-driver she’s about to throw down on us. [Update (12.22): We were recently visited by someone googling for "Vanessa Harding pile driver," which means I'm clearly not the only one worried about what she's up to.]
Martin Butler "is an English professional football striker with Walsall."Actually, for some reason, that one doesn’t surprise me. Totally believable.
My (admittedly scattershot) research revealed that many well-known historians and critics who have worked in our period have real entries – especially those who are dead, or near-dead, or in the public eye. Hill, Tawney, Trevor-Roper, Elton (whose birth name turns out to be Gottfried Rudolph Ehrenberg!), Stone, Schama, and Strong all make appearances, as do a few of the prominent literary scholars of the past century, including Empson, Kermode, Bradbrook, and A. C. Bradley. They’ve all done something to catch the eye of Wiki writers, thus, they’ve been included. Only a small number of more contemporary scholars of early modern culture can say the same. Stephen Orgel, Jonathan Goldberg, Lisa Jardine, Anthony Grafton, and David Bevington all have very brief bios up with a list of books published. But the vast majority of others do not, including quite a few people who probably deserve it at this point. A random, drama-heavy sampling of Wikinvisible Renaissance literary critics: Michael Neill, Jeffrey Masten, Phyllis Rackin, Lars Engle, Anne Prescott, Margaret Hannay, Douglas Bruster, Jean Howard, Gail Paster, Fran Dolan, Richard Halpern, Deborah Shugar, Patricia Fumerton, Richard Helgerson, Valerie Traub, David Scott Kastan, Peter Stallybrass, Patricia Parker.
It’s fairly predictable that these folks aren’t represented on Wikipedia in 2006, since they’re not frequently in the public eye, and they’re not dead (as far as I know). I think they’re all brilliant, and it’s likely that many of our readers do, too, but unless one of the ten of us gets motivated, that’s not going to change the Wikiscape. But their absence becomes a bit more of a subject for conversation when you consider the two longest, most detailed entries for early modern culture scholars I was able to find:
The first is a bit of a no-brainer, as they say here in brainy America, and we all know why. The man is famous and deeply influential. His page has been developing in standard Wikipedia fashion, beginning with a shorter entry in 2003 and slowly growing over time as different users have added information and edited one another for accuracy. Not an infallible process, but that’s the way it goes in Wikiville. Spivak, Butler, and others have received the same treatment.
The second is clearly an example of self-Wiki-ing, which is not against the Wiki laws, as far as I know. I’m sure lots of people do it. Just not that many Renaissance lit professors. This brings us to the big questions at hand. This post began with a list of people – including one whose recent work has made him a very public figure – who are not only Wikinvisible, but have Wikklegangers. No one searching for historian Vanessa Harding is actually going to be confused upon encountering wrestling manager Vanessa Harding, but perhaps there is an argument to be made for staking out your own Wiki space? Should you do it before it gets done for you? And on a related topic, one that I’m sure the bloggers among us have been mulling over, what are the limits -- social, ethical, even aesthetic -- of internet self-promotion in the creation of a career as a scholar and a teacher?