People of the Enlightenment: an opportunity for Wikipedians

  • September 22, 2017
Grandjean de Fouchy, who as yet does not have a Wikipedia page. Image CC BY SA via Commons.

By Dr Martin Poulter, Wikimedian in Residence, Bodleian Libraries Oxford

A major scholarly database is offering free access to selected Wikipedians, thanks to an arrangement with Oxford University Press.

Housed at the Bodleian Libraries, Electronic Enlightenment (EE) is is the most wide-ranging online collection of edited correspondence of the early modern period, linking people across Europe, the Americas and Asia from the early 17th to the mid-19th century. It gives access to thousands of short biographies and to 70,000 annotated pieces of correspondence.

EE is already available to many people via subscribing institutions that include universities and public libraries. Still, there are Wikipedians who do not have access but would benefit from it. As a result of the Wikimedian In Residence placement at the University of Oxford, they can now apply for free access through the Wikipedia Library (TWL). TWL is a Wikimedia Foundation program that supports Wikipedia’s volunteer editors by facilitating access donations for paywalled resources from leading publishers.

EE is now included in the Oxford University Press Scholarship accounts which also give free access to eight other online resources, including the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and American National Biography Online.

Wikipedians, usually with an active account and at least 500 edits, can apply through the Wikipedia Library Card Platform. The accounts last one year, but if you still need to use EE or the other Scholarship resources once the year has elapsed, you can apply again.

In another part of the collaboration, EE has shared a dataset with Wikidata covering more than three thousand individuals. This lets us explore those people’s representation on Wikipedia. Of this set, we have identified 2663 EE people who already have English Wikipedia biographies, 287 with no English Wikipedia article but an article in another language version, and 168 with no representation in Wikipedia at all. The latter two sets are listed on a project page. We welcome help in creating new articles for these people, filling in the story of the Enlightenment.

Through EE, I’ve learned about the early feminist Sarah Chapone, for whom I’ve created a Wikisource profile, and discovered my near-namesake Francois-Martin Poultier. It has confirmed that Clotworthy Rowley and Slingsby Bethell are not made-up names from the Goon Show but real British politicians. Like Wikipedia, it is a web of knowledge calling out to be explored.

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