PhD dissertation on Collective Memories in Wikipedia

March 5, 2013 § Leave a comment

Graduation ceremony at CIMeC 7 December 2012

Finally, on December 7 I defended my PhD dissertation on Collective Memories in Wikipedia… Of course I was thrilled: my time as a PhD student at CIMeC had come to an end and I had to wrap up all the work made in these three years in front of the evaluating committee. In summary, I showed that:

  • Wikipedia can be the right playground for quantitative and longitudinal studies on collective memory practices, because it encompasses the most important functions of collective memory building;
  • Articles about different types of traumatic events, such as natural and human-made disasters, are characterized by specific patterns of emotional language, and more specifically by a higher presence of words related to sadness for the former and higher percentages of words associated to anger and anxiety for the latter; moreover, traumatic events with human causes are also characterized by an increased presence of language related to cognitive activity and to social processes, showing that the need for a comprehensive explanation may be more pressing for human accidents and validating pevious research about the consequences of traumatic events.
  • Different linguistic patterns related to affective, cognitive and social processes can be tracked in the Wikipedia talk pages about two specific traumatic events  – the London bombings of 2005 and the Egyptian revolution of 2011 – and show an interesting temporal co-evolution. In particular, while affective language and words related to social processes (like words referring to friends and human beings, or suggesting increased communicative interactions) were significantly higher in the immediate aftermath of the London bombings and during on of the most heated days of the Egyptian revolution, the Battle of the Camel. On the contrary, the results regarding to the temporal evolution of the language associated to cognitive activity were quite unexpected but consistent across the two studies: instead of a parallel evolution of words related to cognitive and emotional processes (as in Cohn, Mehl, & Pennebaker, 2004) results showed that the language related to cognitive processes was higher when the emotional language was lower and viceversa. A possible explanation of this specular temporal evolution could be the social context of Wikipedia talk pages, which unlike the individual environments studied by Cohn and colleagues (online personal diaries), is purposefully designed to foster social interactions and communication, influencing the co-evolution of affective and cognitive processes.

After the defence, we had a CIMeC lunch with graduating students, professors and advisors, and in the afternoon there was the graduation and commencement ceremony with Christiane D. Fellbaum as the keynote speaker.

My presentation is on slideshare:

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