Virtually here: UVic’s first Honorary Resident Wikipedian


- Tara Sharpe

Christian Vandendorpe is UVic's first Honorary Resident Wikipedian.

A widely respected scholar of semiotics, former magazine editor and author of From Papyrus to Hypertext (2009), Dr. Vandendorpe can also be considered a doctor of Wikipedia-in returning the "pulse" and vigour to Wikipedia pages with his sharp editorial interventions.

The honorary role will primarily involve remote visits from his residence in Kingston, Ontario. On Jan. 13, Vandendorpe was only "virtually" on campus when he spoke from home with CBC Radio's "All Points West" afternoon program and various other media outlets about what the new role at UVic means to him and why it matters for the academic community.

Wikipedia as meeting place

He told CBC listeners that "professors have a responsibility toward the public good" and in advocating for Wikipedia as a collaborative research tool, he added, "Even the first edition of the Britannica in 1772 had many articles that were very stupid, like on the use of tobacco."

He believes that Wikipedia is a meeting place and that scholars and instructors have an ethical imperative to participate in Wikipedia and ensure the information presented is as accurate and comprehensive as possible. On Jan. 23, he arrived in person at UVic to present his keynote address, "Wikipedia and the Ivory Tower," for the four-hour Wikipedia edit-a-thon hosted by UVic Libraries and the Electronic Textual Cultures Lab (ETCL), a UVic digital humanities initiative.

Five days later, he was keynote speaker at a gathering in Whistler organized by Implementing New Knowledge Environments (INKE), another digital humanities initiative.

"Creating and sharing knowledge is something in which we're all invested, and from which we all benefit immeasurably," says Dr. Ray Siemens, Canada Research Chair in Humanities Computing and a professor in UVic's Faculty of Humanities (English, with a cross-appointment in Computer Science). "Based at UVic, the INKE project is founded on this principle, and Christian's presence as Honorary Resident Wikipedian gives action to it-building bridges between knowledge communities on campus and between campus knowledge communities and the constituencies they serve."

Hyperlinked in meaningful ways

Now a professor emeritus of the University of Ottawa after 20 years specializing in grammar and semiotics in the D&e#180;partement de Français, Vandendorpe is an expert on the historical role of encyclopedias and on Wikipedia in the context of peer-reviewed scholarship versus open access.

"The whole spectrum of text productions from the last five millennia could become readable and hyperlinked in meaningful ways," he says. Vandendorpe was first drawn to the subject because, having been chosen as director of the University of Ottawa's Writing Centre, he decided to create a French grammar on CD-ROM for the students, which led him to reflect on the transition from paper to screen-based material-reflections that took the form of the essay "From Papyrus to Hypertext" (first published in French in 1999). Since then, he followed with great interest the growth of Wikipedia and defended this project as a modern development in digital mode of the encyclopedic effort.

Virtually speaking, at UVic

He will be situated within the ETCL and UVic Libraries, as well as the INKE research group with which he has been associated since 2005. Specifically, he will work with UVic researchers and students on Wikipedia pages within his areas of expertise with a focus on social knowledge creation, the history of knowledge, the history and future of the book, electronic publishing and open access. He will also demonstrate Wikipedia's importance-as the contemporary record of public knowledge-for students, staff, and faculty at UVic.

Role of an honorary wikipedian

Vandendorpe will not explicitly work on UVic Wikipedia pages in his honorary role at UVic, although the university's Internet Strategies team has consulted with him on questions of the university's Wikipedia presence.

In general terms (not within the honorific context), a Wikipedian-in-Residence is a Wikipedia editor hired by a particular institution to improve its Wikipedia pages and these have included such leading institutions as the British Museum; the Smithsonian; the Palace of Versailles in France; the Museu Picasso in Spain; the National Library of Norway; and the Federal Archives of Switzerland.

ETCL, UVic Libraries and the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences have supported this appointment, which is also sponsored by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council-funded INKE project.

Read the UVic release


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Keywords: wikipedia, research, history

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