Wikipedia trifft Altertum

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Logo of the conference “Wikipedia trifft Altertum” (“Wikipedia meets Antiquity”).
Created by Xavax in the German Graphic Lab.

Wikipedia meets Antiquity (Wikipedia trifft Altertum) is a Wikipedia Academy held in Germany on 10-11 June 2011.


On 10-11 June 2011, the conference „Wikipedia trifft Altertum. Freies Wissen, Neue Medien, populäre Wissensvermittlung und Enzyklopädien in den Altertumswissenschaften“ (“Wikipedia meets Antiquity. Free knowledge, new media, popular transfer of knowledge and encyclopedias of the classical studies“) took place in the main auditorium of the University of Göttingen. In addition to the 25 Wikipedians, 50 scientists from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland participated in this meeting—including several university lecturers; members of the German Foreign Office, the Cultural heritage office of Saxony-Anhalt, the German and Austrian archaeological institutes; several academies, museums, and libraries; and the the president of the University of Erfurt, Dr. Kai Brodersen.

The conference was sponsored by the Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft, Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft (“German Oriental Society”), Deutscher Altphilologenverband (“German Society of Classical Philology”), Deutscher Archäologen-Verband (“German Archaelogical Association”), Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, Mommsen-Gesellschaft (German federation of the societies of classical studies), University of Göttingen, and Wikimedia Deutschland. They supported the conference with invitation mails and announcements on their webpages. These institutions also asked their board members to participate in this meeting: two members of the German Archaeological Institute, three board members of Wikimedia Germany, one of the German Archaological Association, and two of the Mommsen-Gesellschaft, including the current chair Dr. Tanja Scheer. More than 100 people attended the meeting, including students, guest auditors, other visitors, and helpers; this was a major success for an event that was organized by volunteers.

Welcome by Martin Rulsch.
© Raimond Spekking (via Wikimedia Commons) / CC-BY-SA-3.0, 10 June 2011

A word or two on the program: When the last person entered the auditorium which was designed for 160 auditors, he was overwhelmed by an almost full room. Following four lively keynote speeches, two scientists presented their projects before the coffee break. In the meantime, the organizers had to re-staff the presentation Provinzialrömische Archäologie in der Wikipedia (“Archaeology in the Roman provinces of Wikipedia”) because its speaker Hartmann Linge unfortunately could not attend. Fortunately, his fellow Holger Jürgenliemk took over his presentation at short notice.

After the other presentations of classical faculties in the German Wikipedia, the participants split, one part was three-quarters of an hour competently guided by the Curator Dr. Daniel Graepler and one of his assistants through the famous cast collection of the Archaeologial Institute of the University of Göttingen and the special exhibition „Bunte Götter—Die Farbigkeit antiker Skulptur“ (“Coloured gods—Chromaticity of ancient sculptures”), and the other one directly went into the booked restaurant „Kartoffelhaus“ (“Potato house”) in the old town of Göttingen. That evening, 50 participants came together for dinner and discussed the first results of the meeting and followup conferences.

After the latish beginning on Saturday at 10:00, the conference proceeded almost as expected. The presentation by Dr. Christoph Höcker with the suspenseful title Wikipedia versus Buchlexikon am Beispiel des Sachgebietes „Antike Architektur“ (“Wikipedia versus writting lexicon using the example of ‘Ancient Architecture’”) could not take place for reasons of health, the same happened for the CEO of the German Clusters of Excellence TOPOI, Dr. Hauke Ziemssen, who had to cancel his presentation about Open Access in TOPOI on Saturday. Both scientists as well as all of the other presentators had been offered to publish their content in the planned conference proceedings. All in all the audience had the possibility to choose between 28 presentations about “inventory, modernization of the very old, basic reflections, information, performance comparison and confrontation“ (a shortened quotation of Prof. Dr. Uwe Walter's comment on the conference in the blog of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung). Joyfully, the presentations made by Wikipedians and all of the others were well-attended.

The long day ended at 18:00 in front of a slightly reduced audience with a one hour ad hoc panel discussion that was enriched by the participation of Prof. Dr. Beat Näf, Drs Dirk Rohmann, Henning Börm and Olaf Simons, and Martin Rulsch, B.A., on the pannel, with many interested participants in the audience.

Frank Schulenburg presenting the Campus Ambassadors project.
© Raimond Spekking (via Wikimedia Commons) / CC-BY-SA-3.0, 10 June 2011

The direct results of the conference: The audience has been informed that although some classical faculties in the Wikipedia have a lot of articles which are visited several thousand times per month, some of them have just a few or even no regular contributor/organizer. In addition, lots of large specialized articles were created while in all faculties basic articles were missing or in in bad repair. Wikipedia in fact doesn't want to be a specialized but a general encyclopedia. So it is not its intention to be quotable; but in fact it is not only used in academic and educational contexts but also quoted as reference. But the alarming lack of regular contributors and the partly bad quality of the articles in the Wikipedia could hardly be solved by an inflow of scientists. It's on the one hand difficult for newbies to understand the by this time very complex set of rules, and on the other hand there's no incentive to participate because of the missing attribution. As a result, a notation on the talk page about a person of contact was positively discussed.

Three ideas have been presented to solve some problems: Scientists who are interested in participating in Wikipedia can use the German mentoring program where experienced users help them to share their knowledge; the Wikimedia Foundation or the German chapter Wikimedia Deutschland could invite scientists and Wikipedians to conferences about subjects which are incomplete in Wikipedia. Their results would be published by them in books and online, e.g. in Wikibooks, Wikiversity, or another project to be developed. Furthermore, Frank Schulenburg presented the Campus Ambassador project where lecturers from 22 universities, including Harvard and Berkeley, asked their students to write Wikipedia articles instead of traditional term papers. Such a project does not only increase the articles' quality, but it also increases the students' writing skills and media literacy. The students' motivation would be increased by the fact that their work would be made accessible to millions of users worldwide. Both teachers and students would be supported by Wikipedia Ambassadors who support them with their first steps on Wikipedia.

Also, the following open access image and text databases and classical science webpages have been presented and a better connection with similar projects like Wikipedia has been discussed, too:

Poster for the Große Mommsen-Tagung (“Great Mommsen Conference”) of the Mommsen-Gesellschaft.
Created by Martin Rulsch.

At the Große Mommsen-Tagung (“Great Mommsen Conference”) of the Mommsen-Gesellschaft multiple board members complimented me on the successful conference and added that the program of their conference about "communication of classic studies" is missing a section about the internet. The former chair, Dr. Wulf Raeck, even compared in his keynote speech „Wikipedia trifft Altertum“ with the last Great Mommsen Conference in 2009 in Berlin with the international congress organized by the International Federation of the Societies of Classical Studies. Moreover, I was allowed to present a poster with the program and results of the conference (see the file on the right side). In the evening of the first day they also invited me to participate in a discussion about Am Abend des ersten Veranstaltungstages war ich in die Runde zur Verbesserung der promotion of young classical scholars where the board member Dr. Anne Friedrich recommended the Campus Ambassador project by Frank Schulenburg. That also was presented together with a report about the conference “Wikipedia trifft Altertum” at the general assembly of the Mommsen-Gesellschaft; in the internal area of their webpage they are now waiting for positive responses. The first lessons could be supported by Wikimedia Germany in the fall term 2012-13.

But one presentator already agreed to start a similar project on his own: The vice director of the Münzkabinett Berlin, Dr. Bernhard Weisser, along with the classical archaeologist Dr. Angela Berthold, will give a lecture on Greek numismatics in the fall term 2011-12 where students create or improve Wikipedia articles instead of taking an exam or writing seminar papers. Wherever it is possible for me or other Wikipedians to help, we will assist him.

On 6 July 2011, two attendees of the conference, Dr. Anne Friedrich and Alexandra Eckert, commented on the conference and put the use of Wikipedia in the university lecturer up for discussion in the colloquium of the Department for Classical Studies in the Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg. The professor for old history, Dr. Andreas Mehl, asked me to participate in this discussion as a representative of Wikipedia. In a nice atmosphere of 25 participants I was able to remove some ambiguity — for example that Wikipedia does not allow original research and articles mostly present a multiple instead of a neutral point of view with the result that lots of articles became disproportionately long. Even now the percentage of one author's text in an article can be calculated by tools like WikiHistory, although a lot of articles were written by just one person. Furthermore, Wikipedia would depend on books and especially secondary literature and so could not replace it. One participant complained about the difficult wiki syntax and the late visualization of unflagged revisions although Wikipedia promises a free and direct editing—here I had to tell them that a flagged revision does not include a content-related verification although some projects within the German Wikipedia also use these flags to validate edits and that the German mentoring program simplifies the access to Wikipedia. Very remarkable was the note by Andreas Mehl that also the German standard work of classic studies, the Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft (1893–1978), contains just a few general articles and that this trend is a new one. So first its successor, the New Pauly (since 1996), contains those articles which are in fact difficult to write. Wikipedia does not need to complain about missing (good) general articles and could leave these articles to special encyclopedias and lexica. Articles in Wikipedia about places, people and works concerning the classical studies would be more important.

Moreover, there are plans for succeeding conferences: Dr. Stephan Hoppe suggested a similar conference for Art history and Dr. Beat Näf talked with me about a special conference about churches. The organizers are thinking about a conference simply focused on archaeology or old languages while the Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft recommended a focus on Indology. Before the conference in Göttingen, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Ur- und Frühgeschichte wanted to enlarge our conference with a focus on prehistory which we had to reject first.

The exhausted organizers, Marcus Cyron, Martin Rulsch, and Jonathan Groß (left to right), at the conclusion of the conference.
User:Bücherwürmlein / CC-BY-SA-3.0, 11 June 2011

After collating hundreds of mail and post addresses to communicate with all participants, more than 700 edits in the internal organization wiki, a four-digit number of mails in my mailbox, and several hundred hours of work for this conference, I want to thank some people: Marcus Cyron had the idea for this conference and helped me to design the schedule, to communicate with Wikimedia Germany, and to do many other things. He was able to win some Wikipedians over to present about their faculties, added the flyer lists which I had created and he organized a guided tour through the archaeological exhibition. Furthermore, he transported the equipment and information leaflets to the venue. Jonathan Groß, supported by the director of the Department for Classical Philology, Dr. Heinz-Günther Nesselrath, had organized the venue, internet, and restaurant.

On behalf of our main sponsor Wikimedia Deutschland, the organizers first of all have to thank the donors who had been incited by the volunteering Wikimedians to donate for Free Knowledge and the support of a conference like „Wikipedia trifft Altertum“. Then I have to thank the project manager Nicole Ebber who helped us plan the budget, organize the hotel, equipment, and similar things, and the PR department that not only published a press release which I'd mainly written, but also absorbed costs when our budget was truncated. It was the first time for Wikimedia Deutschland to organize such a project with volunteers and support them with money and logistics. Unfortunately, inaccurately defined sponsoring conditions and indefinite allocations of responsibilities caused problems in coordination between the organizers and the office. For the benefit of future collaborations, a clarifying discussion took place and an instruction sheet was written by the organizers and other volunteers. We have to thank our other sponsors too, and especially the German Society of Classical Philology whose financial support helped us to break a bottleneck.

Special thanks go to all helpers on the ground: At the reception desk Henriette Fiebig (who also helped on site a lot), Alice Chodura, a fellow of Jonathan, and other Wikipedians. The first images made by Elke Wetzig and Raimond Spekking can be found under commons:Category:Wikipedia trifft Altertum; other ones will come soon — many thanks to both of you! Finally we want to express our greatest gratitude to all presentators and participants for having enriched this conference.