Print Project Proposal

For my print project, I am thinking about somehow studying how cultural influences affect different language wikipedias.

As you may know, Wikipedia has different sets of pages according to particular languages. In fact, there are currently 318 active wikipedia editions in foreign languages, such as French or Hindi. Interestingly enough, Wikipedia decided to make different pages for each language rather than simply translating the English page into the other languages, which means they have slight differences and discrepancies.

Studying the differences in accuracy would be interesting enough, but what I would like to research and write about is how the cultural background of the languages have actively caused foundational differences in their respective wikipedias.

For example, after some admittedly anecdotal research, cultural elements commonly associated with particular languages appear in their language wikipedias. On Spanish Wikipedia, it is far more common to find tabs that describe the subject’s religion. On Chinese Wikipedias, it is normal to have much more information on family histories and trees and such.

Researching this topic would be a bit complicated, as I would need to establish criteria to look for before I begin my search. Further, actually researching this criteria could be difficult without resorting to confirmation bias.

To some extent I would be required to rely on some preconceived notions about particular cultures and their affiliated language wikipedia, if only because that is what I have noticed when searching the different pages. While it is true that I have noticed that religion appears more frequently and more structurally in the Spanish Wikipedia than in the English Wikipedia, it would need to be conceded that I noticed because I knew the culture associated with Spanish to be more religious and interested in religious matters than English is.

This concession of course also extends to the Chinese Wikipedia example. However, I would not say that the research will be totally subjective: it would not be difficult to quickly research the same pages through different languages to get some sort of quantitative data on the prevalence of cultural factors. Checking 20 wikipedia pages of famous people past or present in English and in Spanish would yield measurable differences, and if the religious hypothesis was correct, the data would bear that out.

The paper itself would analyze this sort of research that combines quantitative study of wikipedia pages with qualitative hypotheses that are based on the underlying factors that form wikipedia pages. Indeed, it has already been mentioned many times in class and in readings that Wikipedia is itself aware that it is biased towards its contributors, who of course skew to be young, male, and frequently online. I would want to extend this commentary onto the foreign language wikipedias.

Because this is a history class, the study would be focused on the history aspects of wikipedia and how the cultural influences could continue to affect how modern readers of wikipedia perceive individuals and events in the past. It would be fascinating to study how a culture’s proclivity into particular attributes would shape how people understand the past.

2 Replies to “Print Project Proposal”

  1. Hi Andy! I think this is a really interesting topic for research. I have also found interesting differences between how Wikipedia pages are delineated. I think another important consideration for your research, beyond language, might be how the subjects of the pages you are looking at fit within the culture. For example, within spanish pages, is a professional athlete more likely to have a section on religion than a singer? How are pages for historical events different than that of current pop culture? Overall, I think this could be really illuminating and I’m excited to see what you find.

  2. Hi Andy,

    This is a solid concept. I think your idea of looking at some specific set of pages in say English and Spanish on the same historical topics and seeing how coverage of the topics is similar or different is a great way to approach this. Related to that, I think it would also be great to use the talk pages for each of those pages and to look a bit at the version history of them to see how the topics grew and developed over time.

    I think a potentially interesting question in this is to see the extent to which there are common differences across the pages by language or if a lot of the differences are driven by the idiosyncrasies of who the primary authors of the pages are. That is, to what extent are the different levels of focus in various pages the result of the personal interests and inclinations of individual Wikipedians and to what extent are they the result of broader cultural differences.

    Given that you would want to focus on historical topics in particular, I think it could be interesting to select pages that you think are likely to have potentially different framing. For example, the pages on the Spanish American War, or the History of the Philippines, or the History of Cuba. In any event, I think this is a really smart idea and I think you would likely end up with some interesting results if you were to work up a paper based on this idea.

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