Friday, July 10, 2015

Hacking the Humanities - Before Wikipedia

Last spring, I taught a literature seminar called “Before Wikipedia.” The subject was the history of encyclopedic writing, from ancient times to the present day. We read excerpts of Isidore of Seville’s “Etymologies” and Diderot’s “Encyclopédie” alongside works by Calvino, Sebald, and Flaubert.

The word “Wikipedia” in the course title seemed to attract an unusual preponderance of science majors for a seminar in comparative literature. There were physicists and mathematicians, a cluster of coders, an engineer, a neuroscience major. I teach at Brown, which has an open curriculum that encourages diverse course enrollments, but I’d never found myself in a room with so many young scientists patiently waiting for me to begin a lecture that I wasn’t planning to give.

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