February 9, 2010

Wikipedia Meets Bioarchaeology

In preparing my abstract for a conference on palaeodemography in Athens next month, I decided to check the Wikipedia entry for the term. It is short but decently written. As I scrolled through it, the reason that it sounded familiar finally clicked: the bibliography at the bottom, which consists of Larsen's Bioarchaeology and the chapter on palaeodemography in the older edition of the Katzenberg and Saunders book, were reading assignments in my Bioarchaeology class way back in the spring of 2006. Because students always want extra credit, I had decided to reward their writing short Wikipedia articles on all things bioarchaeological. Only two students ended up taking me up on this assignment. But a quick check of the history of the palaeodemography page confirmed that my student Cameron had written the first entry. It has since been updated, but most of his original article remains. The other article was on middle range theory, which has since become disambiguated into archaeology and sociology, and was written by my former-and-current student Lara. Almost all of the other words/terms that I suggested are still stubs in Wikipedia. The original assignment can be found here if anyone wants to issue a Wiki challenge to their osteo/bioarch students.

I don't think I had anticipated four years ago just how popular Wikipedia would be. It's my go-to site for quick-and-dirty information about a variety of topics. But I am surprised both that most of the terms in my original assignment are still undefined and that my students' work endures, albeit in a remodeled skeletal form apropos to the class in which they both did excellent work. This is definitely an assignment that I will resurrect in the future, as I strongly believe in both the duty of academics to share their knowledge with the public and the collective maintenance of freely available information online.


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