Transcending Boundaries: International Relations and Wiki Projects

The field of International Relations (IR) has always been about transcending boundaries, whether physical or metaphorical. Unfortunately, as aptly stated by Oxford IR Professor Andrew Hurrell in his introduction of Anne-Marie Slaughter’s inaugural Distinguished Fulbright Lecture, there exists in IR academia a “Berlin Wall-like division between fields.” This division, in fact, exists in several disciplines, not just in IR. While there are several individuals across disciplines who work to break down these barriers, large-scale cross-disciplinary collaborations hardly ever exist. In today’s highly-connected world, enhancing global knowledge depends in part on fostering collaborations across fields and disciplines.

In a paper by Deana D. Pennington titled “Cross-Disciplinary Collaboration and Learning,” she argues not only that collaboration is important, but also that cross-disciplinary collaboration depends on having a “knowledge ecosystem” composed of individuals who use effective tools along with bodies of knowledge to foster successful collaboration.  The very collaborative nature of Wikis makes Wikipedia and its sister project one of the effective tools to build this “knowledge ecosystem.” The only thing necessary is a large number of people who bring their expert body of knowledge with them and use Wikis as a tool for effective collaboration.

While not a be-all end-all solution to the problem of sharp divisions between fields in International Relations and other disciplines, Wiki Projects have the potential for bringing together actors from across IR fields to collaborate and build a large body of knowledge that is available to millions of people across the world, particularly those who wouldn’t normally have any reason or incentive to interact with each other. This is not a foreign idea to IR scholars. In a recent survey of US scholars of International Relations and related fields by the Institute for the Theory and Practice of International Relations at the College of William and Mary, scholars were asked a number of questions about topics related to the scholarship and pedagogy of IR. One of the questions asked was whether they have used Wikis, such as Wikipedia, as a scholarship or teaching tool. Results showed that 52.36% of responders used Wikis as a teaching tool in the classroom, and 13.46% of responders used Wikis for scholarly purposes. Unfortunately, only 6.96% of responders said that they have edited a Wikipedia article in their area of expertise. Increasing the number of professionals who contribute in their field to Wikipedia articles and other Wiki Projects is an important goal for everyone in the Wiki movement and an essential step for turning Wiki Projects into the effective collaboration tool of the “knowledge ecosystem.” We at Wikimedia DC place particular emphasis on reaching out to professionals in our area for that purpose.

Many of the scholars surveyed are from Washington DC. In fact, four of the top ten schools of IR are based in DC: The Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University, and the School of International Service at American University. One of our goals at Wikimedia DC is to reach out to students and scholars at these schools and encourage them to add expert and professional contributions to various Wikipedia articles in their field. By engaging the professional IR community in the region, we are moving one step further toward ensuring that the expert knowledge of world’s top scholars in International Relations becomes available to people around the globe.

If you are a scholar or a student of International Relations based in the Washington DC area, we will be reaching out to you soon. But we invite you to also reach out to us. In the works, we have multiple projects dedicated to bringing together professionals from many disciplines, such as LibraryLab, Edit-a-thons, and our forthcoming Embassy Outreach Initiative and Wikis and Open Government Project. By working together, we can ensure that the vast intellectual capacity of the Washington DC region is shared with individuals across the world. In that way, Wiki Projects and Wikimedia DC, like the field of International Relations, transcend both physical and metaphorical boundaries to bring the international community together.

Image: Madonna des Kanonikus Georg van der Paele

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