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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

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:

Stephen Greenblatt;


Bryan Reynolds.

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?

  • At 12/21/2006 05:02:00 PM, Blogger Simplicius wrote…

    Let's see...

    Harold Bloom has a long one, and Stanley Fish a relatively substantial one (neither as long as the one for Transveral Reynolds, though).

    Stanley Wells has a brief one too, as do Andrew Gurr and the historian Geoffrey Parker.

    But Truewit is right: Renaissance scholars are not highly represented in Wikipedia. I guess I'm going to start working on mine.


  • At 12/21/2006 06:10:00 PM, Blogger Simplicius wrote…

    "tony grafton" left a comment today over at Flavia's, and he too has a short wikipedia entry.


  • At 12/21/2006 06:42:00 PM, Blogger Flavia wrote…

    To my mind, writing your own Wikipedia entry is on the same order as paying to be included in an oh-so-exclusive "Who's Who" volume. There seems to be an assumption that someone might actually be flipping (or clicking) through that reference source, come upon your profile unintentionally, and then be astonished and bowled over by your accomplishments.

    In reality, most people probably arrive a a Wikipedia entry via a Google search for the person's name. Just set up a personal webpage, already!


  • At 12/21/2006 07:02:00 PM, Blogger Hieronimo wrote…

    I agree with Flavia. And I'll just add that the auto-Wiki-ed page in question has (checking the history page) been flagged multiple times as "advertisement" (apparently against the Wiki-laws). That is, others seem to feel it's inappropriate self-puffery.

    It's one thing to write a basic info Wiki page--that's akin to a personal website. "So-and-so teaches Renaissance Literature at the University of Texas, Austin. He is the author of Title." So if you want people to be able to find you that way (not that they would, I think), that seems fine (ie, not annoying) to me. But a long, detailed, and endlessly self-laudatory post? I like the "Who's Who" analogy. I'll add one more. It's like editing one's own festschrift. But perhaps even more of a cry for help.


  • At 12/21/2006 11:35:00 PM, Blogger bdh wrote…

    To maybe move the topic away from more Reynolds bashing (believe me, I could contribute), what I've found far more interesting than Wikipedia entries are Amazon wishlists. I've found that many of my favourite (and not-so-favourite) critics have Amazon accounts, and have wishlists.

    For example: Leah Marcus has her eyes set on a DVD copy of "Bride and Prejudice" and CD audio tour of Varanasi (a holy city in India).

    Bruce Boehrer is keeping an eye on his own book on parrots, and Ackroyd's Milton in America. Maybe you should forward him your review.

    Douglas Bruster is after soundtracks to every Shakespeare film he can find, and books on Shakespeare's songs. No prize for guessing what he's working on next!

    Others I've found include Dympna Callaghan (after a gift certificate and a Maynard MacK book on Renaissance poetry), Arthur Little (modern Jewish fiction and a study of social Darwinism), Mary Beth Rose (wants to catch up on her Lawrence Stone), Louis Montrose (a book of photographic portraits by Steve McCurry), Emily Bartels (Helen Vendler's book on the sonnets, and a children's book), Linda Woodbridge (a Stravinsky CD), Arthur Kinney (every Shakepeare DVD/VHS on the planet, Robertson's Tyrannicide Brief, and a couple of monographs).

    That'll do for now – enjoy looking for others!


  • At 12/22/2006 10:42:00 AM, Blogger Hieronimo wrote…

    Oh man, bdh, that is a nightmare! Somehow an Amazon wishlist seems so personal (especially when one's own book is on one's own list!); now I have to go check mine and make sure people can't find it.

    (returning) Ah, I remember now that I checked that I made it "private" a little while ago. Whew.


  • At 12/22/2006 04:54:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote…

    "John Childs is an English serial killer who murdered six people between 1974 and 1978"!!!

    Maybe that's why some people think military historians are all bloodthirsty psychopaths.


  • At 12/22/2006 06:14:00 PM, Blogger Hieronimo wrote…

    Mark Bland "is an American professional wrestler .... Mark is the only known person in St. Louis wrestling history to debut as a Heavyweight Tag Team Champion (for the MMWA-SICW). He eventually retired from pro-wrestling in 2003 due to a knee injury and neck injury he sustained from training and wrestling."

    At which point he went into bibliography, I guess.

    I love this game.


  • At 12/23/2006 10:49:00 AM, Blogger Hieronimo wrote…

    Wikipedia does have a page that begins to address the criteria for inclusion or noninclusion of academics. You can read it here and see the somewhat amorphous but interesting discussion about it as well. It's still under debate and so has not yet become an official Wiki-guideline.

    The main issue in the discussion is how exactly Wiki-editors can determine whether an academic is sufficiently "notable" for inclusion. Part of the problem is that most Wiki-editors don't know enough about the intricacies of the academic system of prestige and cultural capital (not that they ought to), and so you see recommendations like, "every professor at a university, but not adjuncts"; or "every professor who has published an article in an international journal." But part of the problem is that the system of academic prestige and cultural capital is itself complex and often in bad faith.

    I'd be interested in hearing what people think about that discussion. My own impulse is that most professors shouldn't be in Wikipedia, if we want to take Wikipedia seriously on its own terms (another debate entirely). Wikipedia isn't Google, and most professors just aren't important to non-academics. Some do become so: Stanley Fish, e.g., now writing for the Times; Greenblatt, who's published general-interest books; people like Conrad Russell, say, who are responsible for major shifts in scholarly thought (Greenblatt fits this bill too).

    It's an odd case because, on the one hand, Wiki wants experts to write for them, as the recent Chronicle of Higher Ed piece made clear--the creators of Wiki are urging academics to get involved in writing articles in their areas of specialty. But on the other hand, if experts get involved, then Wiki will almost inevitably contain a lot of arcana, including bios of a thousand professors that 99% of Wiki-users will never have heard of. And we'd certainly want to include people in that last category--responsible for major shifts in scholarly thought--but that's virtually impossible for Wiki-authors to determine, and once the "experts" get involved, then we all know there will be a million people responsible for "major" shifts in scholarly thought. I almost feel like: if an academic is writing the bio of an academic, then that person shouldn't be in Wiki; if a non-academic is writing it, then that person should be in Wiki. But that seems sort of paradoxical, and would lead to some really bad articles.

    A tricky question, I think...


  • At 12/23/2006 11:29:00 AM, Blogger Hieronimo wrote…

    One correction to Truewit's post.

    "... self-Wiki-ing, which is not against the Wiki laws, as far as I know."

    Actually, it turns out that self-Wiki-ing is against the Wiki laws. See this guideline on Autobiography.


  • At 12/25/2006 12:13:00 AM, Blogger Pamphilia wrote…

    Funny-- I just performed the same search you did (although I added Margreta de Grazia to your long list) and was shocked to see no entries as well, and not even on the other famous scholars and writers in the de grazia clan.

    I did of course find Martha Nussbaum, though only a smattering of her books was listed.

    As for self-Wiki-ing-- my personal preference is to wait for someone else to create an entry. But that has never been Reynolds' style, now has it?


  • At 12/27/2006 10:52:00 AM, Blogger Hieronimo wrote…

    Update: oddly, just as Truewit posted this, a debate was beginning over the Reynolds Wiki, on just this issue of self-wiki-ing or of "hagiographic" wiki-ing (their term). As I mentioned in earlier comment, the article had been flagged a few times as "advertisement" by the time Truewit posted, and then it was "proposed for deletion," a Wiki-function that allows users to debate whether to keep the article. You can see the debate here. The main writer of the article is a user named Gregorthebug; the person who proposed it for deletion is AndyJones--the rest are pretty self-explanatory.

    As a result, during the debate, the original article has been significantly revised. To see the original version that Truewit was blogging about, you can go here.

    If I were a Wiki voter (which I'm not, since I don't have an account), I'd vote keep with the same thoughts as OinkOink; Reynolds seems "notable" according to Wiki-standards for academics, but the article needed cleaning since it was largely hagiographic in tone, clearly written by a huge fan of Reynolds's work, and had a ton of info that the lay reader (and many English professors) would not be able to understand.


  • At 12/29/2006 12:42:00 PM, Blogger Simplicius wrote…

    It appears Reynolds no longer has an entry in Wikipedia. That'd be a good song, "I Was Deleted from Wikipedia."


  • At 12/29/2006 03:08:00 PM, Blogger Greenwit wrote…

    I was a little surprised it was deleted. One of the shorter versions seemed right to me. But Wikipedia is not designed with my sensibilities and knowledge base in mind, nor should it be. You'd end up with way too many entries on Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, or something.


  • At 12/29/2006 03:35:00 PM, Blogger Simplicius wrote…

    Nah, even the short version seemed excessive to me--two paragraphs on a Theatre Journal article from 1997, which the entry called his first "major critical work"?!? BR would be a great character in a David Lodge book, and he is nothing if not well known, but I'm not sure I'd put him anywhere near the top tier of Renaissance scholars (my criterion of Wiki-worthiness).

    bdh's Amazon searching is plain scary.


  • At 12/29/2006 03:40:00 PM, Blogger Simplicius wrote…

    And wouldn't you know, the controversy continues about the Reynolds entry. That is one debate I'll be happy never to enter.


 Scribble some marginalia

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