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Research:Virtual Community Histories summer fellowship

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This page documents a completed research project.

Virtual Community History Fellowship


Why "wiki-histories"?


Across the globe, there are currently over 270 autonomous language-based Wikipedia projects, plus many sister projects such as Wikiversity, Wikibooks, and Commons. Why are the communities behind some of these projects still experiencing rapid growth while others are leveling off or gradually declining? How have different communities of volunteers overcome cultural, social, and technological obstacles to create the most up-to-date online reference materials in the world? What lessons can communities learn from each other in order to make every project more healthy?

To answer these questions, the Wikimedia Foundation is seeking to partner graduate history students with active editors from Wikipedia communities, large and small, to participate in a summer fellowship program aimed at writing the history of a handful of Wikipedia communities. We are interested in producing nuanced, captivating narratives of the people behind the projects, narratives that capture the triumphs, failures, and daily struggles of the editors working to make the dream of globally shared knowledge a reality.

This project is a pilot program. We will opportunistically work on histories of projects where we can find a qualified writer who speaks the language of the project. As part of this project, we will attempt to create tools and methods for volunteers to create their own project histories without access to a trained historian. The very first attempt at a Wiki-history, created by Victoria Doronina (Mstislavl from the Russian Wikipedia) and Maryana Pinchuk, can be found here.



"Good faith collaboration" is the driving force behind Wikipedia, and in this spirit, the Wikimedia Foundation is interested in creating an intellectual collaboration between the Wikipedian and academic worlds. The summer fellowship will begin with an in-person orientation/ crash course in wiki-culture, intended to acquaint non-Wikipedians with in-depth knowledge of the technology and terminology of our movement, and present the findings of preliminary research into wiki-historiography. Each academic researcher will be paired with at least one active Wikipedian, who will act as his/her guide to the social fabric of the community. After the conference, the graduate student/Wikipedian teams will continue to work together, either remotely or in person, on the historical narrative of their respective Wikipedia project. Graduate students will be encouraged to spend the summer in the language community they are studying, and modest grants will be available to finance travel and living expenses.

Composing a wiki-history requires a radical rethinking of traditional approaches to historiography, and one of the tasks of this fellowship will be to explore and develop these new methodologies from the ground up.

Academics we're looking for


The ideal graduate student candidate should:

  • be bi/multilingual or demonstrate a focused interest in a specific topic within the English Wikipedia and sister projects -- e.g., conflict mediation, editor demographics, or evolution of guidelines and policies
  • possess high proficiency in his/her research language and exceptional writing skills (both academic and journalistic) in English
  • feel comfortable in the world of online communities and contemporary social media (including but not limited to: blogs, online communities, forums, social networking sites, Instant Messenger, and Skype)
  • be exceptionally self-motivated, creative, and open to the adventurous spirit of this project

Volunteers we're looking for


We are looking for Wikipedians to guide our historians. Candidates should:

  • be an experienced editor with a significant contribution history
  • have a good record of conduct and a thorough knowledge of his/her Wikipedia community
  • preferably have been an active part of his/her community since the early phases of its development
  • demonstrate an interest in Meta projects and interwiki discussion/collaboration
  • be available in early June for the conference/workshop (your travel expenses will be covered), and have sufficient time during the summer to assist his/her grad student teammate, either locally or remotely

All Wikipedians are encouraged to apply, but at the moment, we are especially interested in the following wikis, which represent languages spoken by some of our potential academic historians.

  • Tagalog
  • Italian
  • Armenian
  • Belarusian
  • Polish
  • Urdu
  • Hindi
  • Sanskrit
  • Cantonese
  • Chinese

To apply


Please get in touch with Maryana on the talk page here or via email: mpinchuk(_AT_)wikimedia.org