Philippa Thomas Online

Occasional thoughts about life, books and news.

Working on Wikipedia

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This is a work in progress. Appropriately for work on Wikipedia.

I’ve started editing as a project for the Harvard Kennedy School DPI659 class on Media Power and Politics led by Nicco Mele. It could become a habit. Here follow baby steps.

For starters, I set up a Wikipedia user page .

Then came the articles. The project prompted us to shortlist articles that somehow reflect our experience and expertise. Mine veered wildly from Julia Glass, a successful American novelist whom I’ve recently met and just started reading, ; to GMC Motorhome, about a vintage vehicle which I happen to own, where I can contribute some quality images; to the Gaspe Peninsula, where I’ve travelled recently, can provide images, and can suggest links to National Park sites and to places of historical interest.

But the article I chose to begin with is LITTLE DUNMOW because 1) I wanted to learn more about the English village where my parents live and the eleventh century church in which I got married ; 2) I know the article is out of date and 3) there’s a 2007 appeal at the top of the article, asking for help in citing references and sources.  It seemed a useful place to start. It was also a good exercise in providing a Neutral Point of View: focussing on the facts alone, and steering clear of village politics. Which exist.

I moved onto QUESTIONS

FIRST  does it have a standard Wikipedia structure? Lead, body, footnotes?
SECOND is it neutral? And is there a place for community discussion?
THIRD is it comprehensive?
FOURTH does it have good sourcing and links?
FIFTH does it have adequate illustration?

FIRST, I thought some reshaping would help the essential facts stand out. The lead is well written, but quite long. Could the lead be pared down, with the facts about the development of Flitch Green moved to that section, and the facts about the Flitch Way moved to another separate heading? I wrote a note in the discussion page to suggest the following structure:
1. History
2. The Flitch Trials.
3. The Flitch Way.
4. Flitch Green.
5. Chelmer Mead proposals.
6. References.

SECOND, the update needed to be agreed to be neutral over the controversial Chelmer Mead proposals to build several thousand more homes around the historic village.

THIRD, I looked for sources for a detailed Bibliography, like the electoral register for latest population statistics; Uttlesford District Council for the latest facts about expansion plans; any Church of England documentation; archives of the local newspaper the Dummow Broadcast; any national coverage.

FOURTH I started looking for images that would improve the article, and do more to demonstrate why Little Dunmow and its historic priory are notable.

Then I took my first Wikipedia ACTIONS .

First: HISTORY
Added internal link to [[Dissolution of theMonasteries]]
On related article Little Dunmow Priory which is a stub, added internal link to [[Little Dunmow]] , and added link to a detailed architectural survey available online.

Second: FLITCH TRIALS
Added to body of text that: The last recorded Priory trial was held in 1751  [[Flitch of Bacon custom]]  but the custom was revived in Victorian times following the 1854 publication of the novel “The flitch of bacon” by [[William Harrison Ainsworth]].

In the last Flitch trials held on 12th July 2008, four couples were awarded the bacon. The next Flitch trial will be held on 14th July 2012.

Third :created a new FLITCH GREEN section – a week after suggesting it in the discussion page, with no responses. Brought down information from the lead. Put internal wiki link to Flitch Green article high in the text. Added external link to more recent (than 2007) Dunmow Broadcast article of 30 July. ASKED other contributers if anyone could update the population statistics. Found out a week later that the contributer who had done so was actually my father!

Fourth : much reduced the CHELMER MEAD section, as the proposals to build this new community of 3000 homes have – for the time being – failed. Added links to the official document which shows the lack of local and council support for the plans.

The result? I don’t know how many folks will notice. But I’ve found it a satisfying project. I’ve learned more. I’ve learned more about how to research English history and delve into the online records of English local authorities. And my dad and I have found a great common interest which has sparked a flurry of emails back and forth across the Atlantic.

Author: philippathomas

I've been a BBC newswoman for 28 years: reporting from around the world. Currently to be seen anchoring BBC World News TV. Main interests - politics, diplomacy, tech, media, arts and all things American. I began this personal blog as a 2011 Nieman Journalism Fellow at Harvard. You can also find me talking daily news on Twitter at @PhilippaBBC, and sharing anything from travel photos to my year in books on Instagram at @philippanews. Thanks for reading!

2 thoughts on “Working on Wikipedia

  1. Pingback: Academics “embrace” Wikipedia – shock! | Philippa Thomas Online

  2. Pingback: Academics “embrace” Wikipedia – shock! (via Philippa Thomas Online) | Urban Choreography

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