© Simon Mahony, 2011. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial licence
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The so-called Web 2.0 technologies bring with them new opportunities
and new challenges in the field of scholarship. There is no clear definition of what constitutes Web 2.0 but it is rather a
set of characteristics such as being able to add and edit content in online
media via a web browser; internet services that allow (and perhaps encourage)
interaction, collaboration and sharing; blog and social networking sites. In this context, the term
There is no clear definition of what constitutes Web 2.0 but it is rather a set of characteristics such as being able to add and edit content in online media via a web browser; internet services that allow (and perhaps encourage) interaction, collaboration and sharing; blog and social networking sites.
In this context, the term
This paper was originally written for an earlier publication of the Digital Medievalist, Issue 4 (2008),
Though much is taken, much abides: Recovering antiquity through innovative digital methodologies
The focus here is on the Digital Classicist wiki (http://wiki.digitalclassicist.org/) as an example of openness and how this approach can be used to enhance the research process. This paper will discuss the research and pedagogic value of the project, and situate the wiki within the sphere of the advances in the scholarly application of digital tools for the humanities. It will consider discovery and collaboration in the research process and say something about openness before lastly commenting on the need for such projects.
By way of introduction: the Digital Classicist (DC) is hosted at the
Centre for Computing in Humanities (CCH) at King’s College London and has been set up
by and for practitioners interested in the application of the digital humanities to
the study of the ancient world (http://www.digitalclassicist.org/). It provides a web-based focus for
research interest in this rich, diverse and multi-national field of scholarship. One
of the stated aims of this project is to bring scholars together and to address
head-on the issues of collaborative working; hence the use of a wiki (for more on the
Digital Classicist see Bodard and Mahony 2008).
Cooperation and collaboration are central to the DC's philosophy so rather than
setting up in competition with other projects, partnerships were established with
other institutions such as the Digital Medievalist, the Stoa Consortium, the Centre
for Hellenic Studies, and the Perseus Project. This has helped to construct a central
hub linking these together and giving focus to scholarship in this diverse area. For a full listing of partner institutions see the DC wiki members page: http://wiki.digitalclassicist.org/Members See respectively the DC wiki (http://wiki.digitalclassicist.org/Scaife_Digital_Library ) and APA 2010. For more on classicists advancing
scholarship in the digital sphere see Blackwell and Crane 2009.
For a full listing of partner institutions see the DC wiki members page: http://wiki.digitalclassicist.org/Members
See respectively the DC wiki (http://wiki.digitalclassicist.org/Scaife_Digital_Library ) and APA 2010. For more on classicists advancing scholarship in the digital sphere see Blackwell and Crane 2009.
More on the DC wiki:
… as well as sharing information about themselves and their own work, members collaboratively compile, review and comment upon articles on digital projects, tools and research questions of particular relevance to the ancient world. They also list guides to practice, introduce the discussion forum and, most importantly, list events. It is these events that more than anything else define the Digital Classicist community by providing a showcase for our members' research and a venue for discussion, introductions, and inspiration for new collaborative relationships and projects (Mahony and Bodard 2010, 2).
Although wiki technology has been around since the mid 1990's, it is
now becoming more widespread, with the most well known public example probably being Wikipedia. For an extensive up to date literature review and the results of a research
project into the application of blogs and wikis see Watson and Harper 2008. As this paper is
concerned with the use rather than technical aspects of wikis, the term
inherently democratic process according to Ward
Cunningham, who is credited with the development of the first wiki software (Leuf and Cunningham
2001). Not only does this facilitate the creation of
collaborative works but it also tends to level out the playing field with all
contributors being able to have their say. This is one of the great strengths of the
wiki but also one of the greatest obstacles to its scholarly use.
For an extensive up to date literature review and the results of a research
project into the application of blogs and wikis see Watson and Harper 2008. As this paper is
concerned with the use rather than technical aspects of wikis, the term
This ability to add content rather than just view pages on the web is
also more in-tune with Tim Berners-Lee’s original conception of the World Wide Web,
[t]he idea was not just that it should be a big browsing medium. The idea
was that everybody would be putting their ideas in, as well as taking them out
(Berners-Lee 1999). Berners-Lee has
reinforced this point more recently:
the web was driven initially by the group
work need, … [although] the most rapid wealth growth has been outside of the work
environment, in public information and he continues
the web use is
returning … to the original goal of facilitating workplace collaboration (Berners-Lee 2003, xiv). From this original vision,
for many the Web has become an online marketplace and entertainment centre but it is
being reclaimed here for scholarly use. These tools enable and indeed encourage
collaborative working with the possibilities for openness and transparency, which were
Tim Berners-Lee's original claimed intention.
A wiki has no preset design structure and so tends to grow
organically in response to the user group. It accelerates knowledge creation and
dissemination (as we will see) but at the same time raises concerns among some
scholars about attribution and how they might personally benefit from the work they contribute. For a good discussion of this including the amount of time, effort and money
that has gone into the construction of Wikipedia see the section titled
For a good discussion of this including the amount of time, effort and money that has gone into the construction of Wikipedia see the section titled
wiki wayits philosophy must fit with the culture of the user community (Leuf and Cunningham 2001).
The Digital Classicist was always conceived of as a community, a
network of users (Mahony and Bodard 2010), and
this is demonstrated by the DC wiki's opening page, illustrated in fig. 1, where the
access statistics and Creative Commons icon are clearly displayed in the footer. The
interactive tools chosen to facilitate this were the weblog and the wiki. After an
initial phase the DC blog was joined with the Stoa Consortium with an RSS feed
supplying links to the latest postings on the homepage of the DC website. The DC wiki
is set up as a collaborative tool and although freely viewable has a defined list of
members and editorial team. This means that anyone can look through and download any
material they wish All pages of the DC wiki display the CC (Creative Commons) logo which links to
a description of the
All pages of the DC wiki display the CC (Creative Commons) logo which links to a description of the
This was seen as a necessary step to prevent being spammed following the
experiences of the Digital Medievalist and the TEI wiki http://www.tei-c.org/wiki/ which
still has a notice on the front page:
locked due to spamming. This has
become common practice due to the large numbers of spammers and robots.
The DC discussion list uses JISCmail and is described at http://wiki.digitalclassicist.org/Discussion.
As with all wikis, this one is fully searchable with an index which
lists such things as Projects, Tools, Resources, Members and Events. Central to this
wiki is the FAQ list which provides the means for collaborative authoring of
full-blown guides to practice (see fig. 3). These guides to practice derive from the
research experience of the practitioners involved and so should be considered
research outputs in themselves. See for example:
See for example:
As a community driven enterprise all approved members may add and edit material on the wiki pages. Again, as with other wikis, alerts may be set up to notify an author if any change is made to their material.
The argument that follows is supported by the published findings of
the Summit on Digital Tools for the Humanities. This Summit was convened in 2005 at
the University of Charlottesville Virginia. Participants identified areas where
innovative change was taking place
enabled by information technology that
could possibly lead to what they referred to as
a new stage in humanistic
scholarship (Summit 2005, 5). The style of
collaboration enabled by digital tools was identified as one such area. This has been
further reinforced at the 2007 National Endowment of the Humanities Summit Meeting of
Centers and Funders at Maryland. On the summit wiki among the areas of research
priorities and funder priorities John Unsworth lists
[i]t is hard to learn how to collaborate(Summit 2007,
Collaboration with joint works, publications, and analyses has long been with us but online interactive tools such as the wiki enable a new kind of collaboration. The material held in an online environment can be searched, analysed and edited all in a very short time by a number of editors regardless of their physical location. This in turn opens up the prospect of dramatic increases in productivity. Authoring material, annotation of that material, changes, corrections, and amendments are greatly accelerated, and knowledge creation is therefore greatly accelerated as a result.
This process represents in effect a shift in academic culture away from the paradigm of the isolated scholar towards one where no single person has control or ownership. I have argued elsewhere that this perhaps needs humanities research practice to shift closer towards models in operation in the sciences and that we may need to develop protocols that borrow some aspects of science research practice where many areas consist of teamwork, where no single person has complete control or ownership, and where publications have multiple authors (Mahony 2007). This is also far more common in the Social Sciences and Library Studies where publications also have multiple authors and is becoming more usual amongst digital humanists.
Classicists have always been at the forefront of innovation and
collaborative thinking brought about by working with a disparate range of materials. For a full exposition of the collaborative and interdisciplinary nature of the
Digital Classics community see Terras 2010.
For a full exposition of the collaborative and interdisciplinary nature of the Digital Classics community see Terras 2010.
An example of a recent collaborative initiative on the DC wiki is a collection of articles started up by Sebastian Heath and Matteo Romanello on
As well as the research issues there are also the pedagogical implications of this wiki. There are links to other sites useful in the study of the ancient world; lists of projects and tools including learning tools; and help with issues needed to guide students through the learning process. One example of this is the Philoponia project, the result of a research group at Cambridge which has created electronic tools to assist Latin language teachers integrate unseen translation exercises into their classes (http://wiki.digitalclassicist.org/Philoponia; http://wiki.digitalclassicist.org/Category:Projects).
The DC wiki has always been useful as a case study for teaching when illustrating collaborative working, community projects, or Web 2.0 initiatives. This author currently uses the DC wiki as a specific example in an Electronic Publishing module and is aware of a colleague (Gabriel Bodard) who has similarly used the wiki to set up a discussion about Web 2.0 followed by an online one posted to the Stoa blog; the former is on an institutional intranet but the latter is publicly available and illustrated in fig. 5.
It is always difficult to quantify usage and measure effectiveness of any of these resources. We can track material, edits and comments that are uploaded to the wiki, but tools are not available in a standard wiki setup to monitor what is being read. This is in contrast with a Virtual Learning Environment such as Blackboard which can record the number and length of visits and the material accessed. However, even these statistics would not tell us if the material that was accessed had actually been read. The DC wiki has built-in statistics to display on the footer of each page the number of times that page has been accessed, but, again, that does not tell us if that page has been read. The same holds for the discussion mailing lists: some people actively contribute and generate further discussion and exploration, and others only read these discussions. Nevertheless people in both categories are equally part of the community; reading the discussion lists keeps members up to date with the current thinking and scholarship on key issues whether they contribute to that discussion or not.
One more important aspect of the wiki is its openness, including allowing users to view the editorial history of the site. As discussed above, all changes on the wiki are tracked and made available to the user, as is authorship of pages and changes. If you know where to look, it is clear who has authored or amended a specific piece of information and the names often link back to a brief self-authored profile of the contributor. For example, looking at the
historyat 30/10/10 shows the last edit to be
14:50, 30 October 2010 SimonMahony. This tells us that the last change was made by Simon Mahony (DC editor) and gives the time and date when the change was made (it is a requirement that all users register with their correct name rather than a tag). Clicking on
SimonMahonytakes you directly to his profile on the DC wiki, where you can see where his authority comes from and contact him if there is the need (see fig. 7). In other words, it is possible to see who authored the change and when any changes were made. The effect is ongoing peer review – if you don’t agree with an entry you are able to change it. For each page there is also the possibility to set up a discussion (a Talk page) to allow exchanges over any contentious issues (see fig. 8). The DC has a discussion list so this facility has never been implemented but I add the
What we have here with the DC wiki is a medium for cooperative research and cooperative learning. The
The skills required to make the most effective use of these modern
tools must be taught alongside traditional writing and communication skills. Students
should be actively encouraged to engage with each other both inside and outside of
the classroom. With social software, students are already building networked
communities and with the application of the blog and the wiki we now have the tools
to build communities of learning and scholarship. Examples of social software include Facebook (
a social utility that
connects you with the people around you: http://www.facebook.com/); MySpace
a place for friends: http://www.myspace.com/); Multiply (
…for your friends, your
family, or your entire social network: http://multiply.com/); and Bebo (
popular social networking site which connects you to everyone and everything
you care about: http://www.bebo.com/). Note that Facebook is now the second most
visited website (only coming behind Google): Alexa http://www.alexa.com/topsites
Examples of social software include Facebook (
It is not advocated here that these social networks be used for the
purpose of teaching and learning. Many Facebook users will be aware that some
institutions do set up such groups, but the problem with doing this is one of
separating the personal from the academic sphere. The report recently published by
JISC (2009) highlights the problems associated with
using social networks for learning. Their findings show that for young people
Facebook and MySpace are avenues to get away from learning not to help
learning (p. 22). The so-called Web 2.0 social networks develop a sense of
community spirit, but that in turn
leads to the formation of a clear sense of
boundaries in web space between the private and personal space as opposed to
the public and published one (JISC 2009, 24). It seems
that students are defensive about the former and are uncomfortable with
staff-initiated discussion groups in social networking space [such as Facebook
and Bebo] when they are at ease with those they set up themselves for
study-related purposes (JISC 2009, 24). It is
perceived as an invasion of what is regarded as a personal
In contrast, wikis can be deployed as experiential and formative learning environments outside of the lecture hall or IT lab where students can create their own content, comment on each others', and share resources. It can be a group space on the web located somewhere between the study and the social domains to support teaching and learning (JISC 2009, 24). A good example of the way in which the wiki has been deployed as a pedagogical tool can been seen at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in a course taught by Alan Liu in the English department called
Social bookmarking sites such as
Building communities of learning has been the subject of much study
by those in the distance learning community One example is The Centre for Distance Education, part of the University of
London External System, set up in 2005 http://www.cde.london.ac.uk/.
One example is The Centre for Distance Education, part of the University of London External System, set up in 2005 http://www.cde.london.ac.uk/.
Teaching programmes should incorporate critical awareness of the
possibilities of new innovations to develop skills to enable upcoming scholars to
adapt to new technological advances as they happen. The most important of these are
Another important issue that the DC wiki addresses is the needs of a variety of user groups. These range from the specialist, who requires full details, to the beginner who simply needs the basic information to get started and does not want to be swamped with too much information, especially of a technical nature. If you look through the wiki you will find that this material is often research output which is made available to be picked up and re-used by other practitioners.
This environment encourages ideas and information about the creation and use of digital resources to be shared and discussed between experts in their respective fields; again making the results available to expert and non-expert alike. Much discussion is facilitated through email lists to which users can subscribe. Ongoing examples currently range from electronic critical editions of text, through copyright issues, open standards, and obtaining digital images of manuscripts.
Here it is necessary to consider what it is that we are implicitly
doing when conducting such an activity. We are engaging, contributing to and
developing what might be considered the basic building blocks of scholarship or the
fundamental operations that are performed during the research process. John Unsworth
has written much about this process and uses the term
scholarly primitives to
describe these fundamental operations (2000). These
primitives are relatively low level methods that combine and interact to form the
basis for higher-level scholarly activity throughout the humanities—or to use his
words, they are
the irreducible currency of scholarship and
scholarship across eras and across media. Unsworth defines them as
discovering, annotation, comparing, referring, sampling, illustrating and
representing, although he does not claim that his list is exhaustive. These
primitives are explored more fully elsewhere (Unsworth
2000) but two of them will be considered here in the context of the DC wiki:
discovery and annotation.
Discovery is at the heart of all educational and research practice.
Discovering implies finding something that you did not already know, and there have
been consequences here with the advent of digital scholarship. In what ways are
discovery facilitated and achieved? In general terms we learn from each other by
discussion, argument and persuasion. This can be in the form of conversation, the
printed word and now the electronic word. Traditionally a library or catalogue search
for something we knew existed was always supplemented by expanding the search to
those works adjacent on the stack shelf in the hope of finding something unexpected
but relevant to our study; indeed this has been a spin-off benefit of the Dewey
decimal classification system. The search in question was normally initially prompted
by a course bibliography, bibliographic searches and suggestions from colleagues.
Serendipity now becomes a useful tool such that something we find by accident will
hopefully assist us in our search for knowledge. We have Google and Google Scholar to
find things for us—often things that we had no prior knowledge of and so could not
have looked for. We must all have learned from experience (as Unsworth notes)
value the serendipity of the unlooked-for search result (Unsworth 2000) just as now we must strive to record
all that we find as again through experience, by the nature of the web, (just like
the misplaced library book) it may not be there next time we look.
Libraries and archives have always been sites of discovery for
scholars. Digital scholars also discover through the internet, university network,
CDs and DVDs, and the rapidly expanding range of digital resources. Much is also
discovered, as previously, through conversation and dialogue with others but now the
medium for this form of communication is frequently the Internet. Humanities scholars
have used online discussion groups heavily for many years, such as Humanist,
international online seminar on humanities computing and the digital
humanities which started in 1987 and predates the Web (http://www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist/). Communities of scholars who
correspond and work together using a mixture of electronic and conventional means
have also emerged: the DC mailing list, the Digital Medievalist and the Stoa
Consortium to name a few. The majority of projects involving digital scholarship are
highly collaborative, and collaborative websites, wikis, and blogs mark the next
phase of the development of discovery through communication with others.
Let us also consider annotation. Marginalia dating back many hundreds
of years is evidence that annotation has always been an important research technique
and a legitimate area of scholarship in its own right along with
One key issue here is often not how to facilitate annotation but rather how to share these annotations between scholars in a way that is open but also secure from abuse or accidental damage. This is a great advantage of the wiki where the process of authorship can be tracked and preserved, although this is also true with many social network applications such as blogs, and indeed The Library of Congress are endeavouring to archive all public postings on Twitter since March 2006 (http://www.loc.gov/today/pr/2010/10-081.html).
Academic disciplines have historically grown up in separate boxes and it is our academic culture that distinguishes so greatly between the arts and humanities on the one hand, and the sciences on the other. The Presocratic thinkers would not have recognised this distinction, and natural science (as we call it today) would have been indistinguishable to them from philosophy. The etymology of science as knowledge is very different to our modern understanding of the term. This is very much a Nineteenth-Century construct, and the
1. knowledge (of a fact or situation)…1.b as implying certainty, opp. mere belief.
In modern use, often treated as synonymous withNatural and Physical Science, and thus restricted to those branches of study that relate to the phenomena of the material universe and their laws, sometimes with implied exclusion of pure mathematics. This is now the dominant sense in ordinary use.
1867 W. G. WARD in
Dubl. Rev.Apr. 255 note, We shall use the wordsciencein the sense which Englishmen so commonly give to it; as expressing physical and experimental science, to the exclusion of theological and metaphysical.
The emergence of digital scholarship in the humanities has had considerable impact on disciplines such as Classics and the study of the ancient world. The example of the DC wiki is used here to demonstrate the possibilities for collaborative authorship, the creation of reusable research output, the opportunities to add thoughts and comments in the form of annotation, and to facilitate the exchange of ideas. These are all central to building communities of learning and scholarship, but the most important is the exchange of ideas. It is in this way that knowledge grows and we are able to push the boundaries of scholarship.
The standard way of accessing web resources is via the web browser which allows only limited interaction with what are effectively static webpages. The user can follow a list of links, view the content and (if his browser allows) print these off for future reference. Wikis and blogs allow interaction in a way that the traditional browser and webpage does not. These pages are dynamic and mutable as they can be edited by the user through their web browser. This gives users the ability to enrich the material and make them available for others, unlike a print publication where the reader may add notes in the margin but only for personal use. The model that develops here is one where the user moves from being a passive reader of other people's material to one that actively engages with that material, moving from reader to interpreter and contributor.
Putting all this in the wider context, as argued above, it is by
building a community of learners that we will instil the cooperative, collaborative,
and reflective skills needed for a community of humanities scholars—skills that are
equally in demand outside of the academy. In addition the DC wiki fills an important
gap in the existing scholarly documentation by creating concise, reliable and
critical guidance on crucial technical issues. The DC wiki also facilitates both
community building and collaborative working, and this is the most striking and
successful aspect of Digital Classics.
Digital Classicists do not work in
isolation; they develop projects in tandem with colleagues …; they collect data,
conduct research, develop tools and resources, and importantly make them available
electronically, often under free and open licenses such as Creative Commons, for
reference and for re-use by scholars, students and non-specialists alike (Mahony and Bodard 2010, 2).
Collaboration and interdisciplinarity have always been at the heart of Classical Studies. This is nothing new, but we must always look to the future and push the boundaries of scholarship forward. We must be reactive to new technologies and proactive in our approach to their use.
The complexities of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) and issues surrounding the sharing of thoughts, ideas and scholarship are not a new phenomenon. The following quote is taken from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson in 1813 on the subject of ideas and copyright. It fits the purpose here.
If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it (Jefferson 1813).
The author notes that this is also quoted at the end of the report published as Summit 2005.
The important piece for this discussion is the final sentence:
one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. An idea
is not diminished when it is shared.
aesthetic indeterminacy: a model for text analysis tools
cultural hegemonyin Humanities Computing: Pliny