Commemoration in Wikipedia

February 15, 2011 § Leave a comment

If we consider Wikipedia’s articles and talk pages about traumatic events, we can find signs of commemoration during anniversaries, not only in the comments posted by users, but also in their edit activity.
These graphs show the number of edits in time to the articles about September 11 attacks, 7 July 2005 London bombings, and Chernobyl disaster. We can see that the edit activity visibly increased during some anniversaries of these traumatic events.
Edit activity to the September 11 attacks article on Wikipedia

Number of edits per month over time to the article on September 11 attacks

Edit activity to the 7 July London Bombings article on Wikipedia

Number of edits per month over time to the article on 7 July 2005 London bombings.

Edit activity to the Chernobyl disaster article on Wikipedia

Number of edits per month over time to the articles on Chernobyl disaster.


Grief and mourning comments during anniversaries

February 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

In Memory of a Victim of September 11, 2001 te...

Image by Beverly & Pack via Flickr

If we consider Wikipedia as a place where memory is shaped (Pentzold, 2009), we can search for signs of commemoration in the articles and talk pages about traumatic events. For instance, these are some of the messages posted on 11 September 2006 (the fifth anniversary of the attacks) to the “September 11 attacks” talk page:

“Let us pray for the souls of the deceased instead of insulting their memory by not terming those who so cruelly killed thousands of fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, friends, as terrorists.” (11:08, 11 September 2006)

“Tonight in Australia is the 5 Year anniversary of the Sep 11 attacks. I lost my mum a few months before Sep 11 to cancer, and I know what grief is like. My prayers are with those who are related/friends with the dead of Sept 11.” (13:34, 11 September 2006)

“[…] my sympathy and prayers to those who mourn this day.” (14:08, 11 September 2006)

“Spare a thought for those whose lives were torn apart that day.” (14:39, 11 September 2006)

These comments represent grief and mourning, and they are meaningful pieces of collective memory building processes related to commemoration. It is also important to note that Wikipedia guidelines explicitly state that talk pages should be used to discuss improvements to the related article pages. However, when articles are about traumatic events that shock a community’s identity, we can find many signs of commemoration occurring around the anniversaries.

This video shows some pieces of comments posted during the fifth anniversary of September 11 attacks and during the first anniversary of the Virginia Tech massacre (occurred on 16 April 2007) on the related talk pages.

Wikipedia as a global memory place

February 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

Wikipedia is one of the first "user gener...

Image via Wikipedia

Christian Pentzold, in his article “Fixing the floating gap: The online encyclopaedia Wikipedia as a global memory place” (2009),  argued that the processes of article construction and discussions in Wikipedia can be seen as part of collective memory building. In particular, these processes can be seen as the passage from communicative memory (interactive, informal, non-specialized, reciprocal, disorganized and unstable) to cultural memory (formal, well organized and objective; Assmann, 1995).

From this point of view, we can see that memories in Wikipedia are formed through social interactions between users, and with the platform. In fact, technologies play a key role in shaping how memory is formed (see for example Bowker, 2005; Van House and Churchill, 2008; Garde-Hanse, Hoskins and Reading 2009).

In Wikipedia, there are a number of policies and guidelines which provide behavioral rules that influence the way articles are written and people interact. One of the most important is the “neutral point of view” (NPOV), which means that articles should be accurate, state verifiable information, provide authoritative references and be written proportionately and without biases. Moreover, since Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia, it doesn’t promote original research, advertising, personal opinions and memorials of deceased friends, acquaintances or relatives.

However, we can see that sometimes people make use of Wikipedia articles and talk pages also to express grief and mourning, making Wikipedia an interesting place for the study of memory building processes, possibly allowing for the first time the empirical study on a large scale of collective memory processes.

“[…] the online encyclopaedia is a global memory place where locally disconnected participants can express and debate divergent points of view and that this leads to the formation and ratification of shared knowledge that constitutes collective memory.” (Pentzold, 2009, p. 263)

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