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The International Dunhuang Project group at the British Library, together with Andrew Gray, the Wikipedian in Residence, ran a multi-day, multi-language, editing programme during late October 2012. This was focused on the broad theme of Central Asian history and archaeology, as well as material specific to the Dunhuang collections worldwide. Participants were drawn from IDP staff and colleagues in other departments of the British Library, as well as volunteer Wikipedians, three groups of students, and a number of participants from external institutions.
During the week-long event, around fifty articles were improved, of which 35 were newly created or significantly expanded. Around a hundred images were uploaded to Wikimedia Commons, which are now used in sixty-four different articles across ten languages.
The event was sketched out in May, following the appointment of the BL's Wikipedian in Residence. The date of late October was settled on so as to fit with the run-up to the Archaeology of the Southern Taklamakan conference in early November. An October date also made it more practical to bring in student groups, as there would be time to organise it prior to the next academic year.
The details were settled in July, and a number of Wikipedia projects were notified about this (eg/ those dealing with Central Asia, China, archaeology, etc., as well as the UK mailing list.) Around this time, the IDP group reached out to a number of academic contacts to find those interested in bringing in students, as well as to investigate the possibility of overseas involvement.
By mid-September, we had some academic partners identified, and were working on arranging the logistics for the event, specifically ensuring sufficient wireless internet capacity in the room. A second round of advertising to Wikipedia contributors, including geographically targeted notices, went out during this period, and a workshop was held to ensure IDP staff were familiar with the practical aspects of editing Wikipedia.
The main work during late September and early October was to prepare the list of topics for editing. These were heavily focused on individual archaeologists\researchers and specific sites; where possible we extracted supporting data such as coordinates or contextual information. As the plan had originally been for significant international participation, some lists (such as that of people) were crossreferenced to non-English Wikipedias, specificially those in the core IDP languages (French, German, Chinese, etc.) This threw up a number of individuals covered in non-English languages only. The IDP imaging team also began to select suitable material for publication, and to check the metadata.
During October, the subject lists were finalised and a last call went out for volunteers from Wikipedia. The three student groups were contacted and a plan was organised; the two London groups would come to the BL for a practical workshop, while the group in Birmingham would have a session on-site arranged by Andy Mabbett.
The week began with a workshop on Monday 22nd at the University of Birmingham, where a group of students contributed material about Buddhist sites in Khotan, including Endere, Balawaste and Farhad-beg-yailaki.
On Tuesday 23rd, two Wikipedia contributors attended, and we began work on identifying and organising the various sites, pulling together the List of archaeological sites of the Taklamakan and Lop Desert in order to help identify existing coverage. One repeated problem was found to be the ambiguity over the scope of articles in this area - often a site would be bundled in with a nearby city or county of the same name.
On Wednesday 24th, three Wikipedia contributors attended, and in the afternoon a student group of around 15-20 MA students from the Silk Road course at SOAS. After an introductory talk, the students split into groups to work on topics they had selected from our overall worklists; some focused on factchecking, while others expanded specific articles with help from Wikipedians. Articles from this day included Rudolf Hoernlé (produced by a Wikipedia volunteer) and Mazar Tagh (from an IDP staffer)
On Thursday 25th, a student group from UCL visited in the morning, and stayed for around four hours. After a short seminar, the students produced several new articles, such as Domoko, and reworked others, such as Cities along the Silk Road. The group also wrote articles in Turkmen and Chinese as well as English.
Friday 26th, the final day of the workshop, was quieter. A large number of site images (both from recent expeditions and from the Stein publications) were uploaded, sorted, and added to articles, and staff and Wikipedia volunteers worked on completing some of the articles begun earlier in the week. Visitors on the Friday included curators from elsewhere in the BL and from the British Museum, home to some of the other IDP collections.
Problems and lessons learned
While the week went mostly smoothly and was quite productive, there were a few lessons learned for future sessions:
In order to handle a large number of IDP images efficiently, and build infrastructure for future projects, we developed an upload script which would extract metadata from a spreadsheet, pair it with an image file, and send the result to Wikimedia Commons. The first development work began on Wednesday, resulting in the upload of some test images that afternoon, and the first "live" IDP material on the 25th. Around half the desired material was uploaded on 26th, with the remainder following early in November; the software remains functional, and is expected to be used for a later bulk upload of BL-sourced material.
Plans are now underway for a second workshop at Birmingham early in 2013, and a session at the Dunhuang Project workshop in Nottingham in March.
Below is a representative list of articles edited, including most of the major contributions:
Many thanks to the British Library for hosting the sessions, and to the Dunhuang Project for organising it. Thanks also to the Wikipedia volunteers who came along to help out - Pigsonthewing, Maculosae tegmine lyncis, PatHadley, Charles Matthews, BabelStone, KTC, Tibetologist and Andrew Davidson.