Bringing scholarship on pre-modern European art to Wikipedia

In fall 2023, 20 esteemed experts in art history joined Wiki Education for a special ten-week Wiki Scholars course funded by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation. Designed to train experts to edit articles about European art and architecture from antiquity to the early 19th century, the course demonstrated the incredible impact a small group of professionals can create through Wikipedia – nearly 3 million views and counting! 

Collectively, the course participants contributed more than 900 total edits in more than 100 Wikipedia articles, adding almost 50,000 words and 718 references. The course not only yielded a substantial number of article edits, but it also resulted in a marked increase in the quality of articles. The work from the course raised the scores of 31 articles by at least five ORES points, a measurement Wikipedia uses to help rank the completeness of an article. The ORES score is determined by several variables, including article size, number of sections, references, and images. 

While Wikipedia encourages anyone to make edits to pages, regardless of background or experience, professional expertise – including knowledge of and access to high-quality sources – proves invaluable in enhancing and expanding the content of articles. 

“Contributing to Wikipedia aligns with a core professional goal I have: to democratize knowledge,” said participant Anne McClanan, art history professor at Portland State University. “The Wiki Education course empowered art history professors to contribute, ensuring that scholarly expertise is accessible to a wider audience, breaking down barriers to information.” 

McClanan, a Byzantine art historian, improved several articles including Byzantine silver (explore her changes inspired by a specific thesis), as well as the Wikipedia article about the Byzantine Empire. McClanan’s improvements of the Byzantine Empire article are particularly noteworthy, as the text was already considered one of the highest quality articles on Wikipedia, indicating the comprehensive and robust nature of its information and sources. Using her deep understanding of the subject area and related sources, McClanan was able to add small yet key pieces of information to the article, filling in content gaps previously unaddressed by editors. This article has been viewed 250,000 times in the past month alone and continues to be regarded as one of Wikipedia’s best articles.

Like McClanan, the other subject-area experts in the course sought to improve articles related to their own unique interests and professional backgrounds. James Clifton, Director of the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, focused on the article about Bernardo de’ Dominici, an Italian art historian and minor landscape and genre painter. James not only crafted a detailed section about one of his works, but he also improved the article lead, cleaned up a long list of works, and polished the article’s overview of his life. Take a look at the Bernado de’ Dominici article in “the visual editor” mode – this view shows Clifton’s additions (in green) and text he removed (in red), edits which enhanced the overall quality of the article. 

For Clifton, the importance and impact of Wikipedia for both scholars and the general public cannot be underestimated.

James Clifton, director of the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
James Clifton, director of the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Image in public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

“I use Wikipedia frequently,” said Clifton. “It is the quickest path to at least superficial – and often profound – information on countless subjects.  As such, its importance as a widespread source of information is incalculable, and it behooves those who contribute to it to make it as accurate and accessible as possible. The Wikipedia editing course taught me to do that in my own small corner of the world.”

As the scale and detail of Wikipedia more than eclipse that of every encyclopedia which preceded it, Wikipedia can often feel expansive and even complete. However, as these courses demonstrate, no knowledge system is immune to content gaps and systemic bias. Wiki Education courses provide experts with support to leverage a global platform and share their knowledge, research, and passion with the world. And in the process, they make this vast source of information a little more complete for all. 

This year, our courses will bring together groups including medical professionals, political scientists, and climate change scholars (just to name a few!), creating a bridge between their professional expertise and the information accessible to everyone through Wikipedia – making a great thing even better. 

Interested in learning more about the work of this course and its reach on Wikipedia? Visit our open-access Course Dashboard, and be sure to explore our upcoming courses for subject-area experts provided by Wiki Education.

Wiki Education thanks the Samuel H. Kress Foundation for their generous support of the fall 2023 Art History Wiki Scholars course.

Course participants:

  • Paul Albert, Scholar, George Mason University
  • Anne McClanan, PhD, Art History Professor, Portland State University
  • James Clifton, Director, Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation, Curator, Renaissance and Baroque Painting, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
  • Margaret Ann Zaho, PhD, Associate Professor of Art History, University of Central Florida
  • Kate Dimitrova, PhD, Lecturer, Department of Art, Architecture + Art History, University of San Diego
  • Maria Ketcham, Director, Research Library, Archives & Collections Information, Detroit Museum of Art
  • Jessica Allison, Collections Database Manager, Detroit Museum of Art
  • Maura Wilson, Department Assistant, University of San Francisco
  • Elizabeth Macaulay, DPhil, Associate Professor, Graduate Center, CUNY
  • Anne Betty Weinshenker, PhD, Professor Emerita of Art History, Montclair State University
  • John Hagood, Librarian, National Gallery of Art
  • Susanna Caroselli, PhD, Professor Emerita of Art HIstory, Messiah University
  • Casey Long, Head of Research & Instruction, Agnes Scott College
  • Lalaine Bangilan, PhD, Gallery Director and Adjunct Professor of Fine Arts, Misericordia University
  • Zoe Kobs, Student, University of San Diego
  • Daniel Maze, PhD, Associate Professor, Head of Art History, University of Iowa
  • Shirley Schwarz, PhD, Professor Emerita, Assistant Teaching Professor, University of Evansville
  • Lindsay Cook, PhD, Assistant Teaching Professor, Penn State University
  • Joy Kearney, PhD Candidate, Royal Netherlands Military Academy
  • Eelco Nagelsmit, PhD, Lecturer, Leiden University
  • Emily Everhart, PhD, Assistant Professor, Chair of Liberal Arts, Art Academy of Cincinnati
  • Daniella Berman, PhD, Project Manager & Researcher, The Drawing Foundation
  • Christina Tatum, Instruction & Outreach Librarian, Agnes Scott College


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