Mission StatementEdit

Why?Edit

I began editing Wikipedia articles in 2004, and it rapidly became a persistent hobby of mine. As of late 2012, I have created 3,700+ articles in the English Wikipedia. Out of these, 381 have been featured in the "Did you know?" spot on the Wikipedia main page. I used to have as a target that at least 0.1% of all articles would be creations of mine, but in later stages I have shifted to a more qualitative line of work.

Sometimes friends and family ask me why I put time and energy into writing texts for which I'm not paid. The answer is quite simple: because I enjoy it. My focus lies in article creation. Researching sources and references is a bit of detective work, the key facts are often well hidden and difficult to access and decrypt. The greater the challenge, the greater the reward. Plus, it provides me with tons of anecdotal knowledge. Learning more about the history of the world helps one to understand the present better.

Purpose?Edit

Almost all of my article creations seek to counter systematic bias. Thus my mission at Wikipedia is a political and social act. But the goal is not to preach, but rather to display complexity. I try to highlight aspects of world history that are obscured in mainstream narratives. In doing so I hope to I contribute to a better understanding and explaining the current state of the world.

The newspaper Aththa did once redefine Sinhala-language journalism, but before 2012 Wikipedia provided no information at all about it. The protest song Fano tesemara was once the battle cry of a generation of Ethiopian students, and those who sung it are now at the helm of the country. The FNLPA was once the most important trade union in Somalia and it took part in shaping the country in the early period of independence. Today there are very few traces online of its existence and the organized Somali labour movement as a whole has ceased to function long time ago.

By creating articles like these, tiny pieces of the giant puzzle of the history of peoples are recovered.

How?Edit

A typical article of mine usually starts like this. I enter Google Books (or sometimes another search engine) and type a few sort of random words. I then begin to glance through various hits. Sometimes I come up with nothing. Sometimes I encounter a text that provides me with names of organizations, movements, people and features that lack articles of their own at Wikipedia. I then begin the process of cross-checking the information with other sources. Usually I will try not to create an article based on a single source. Generally I try to concentrate on articles that have a scope to reach the length required for a WP:DYK feature. Sometimes an article takes just a few minutes to complete, sometimes I work on a single article over several days (one example I'm quite proud of is the 1976 Conference of Communist and Workers Parties of Europe).

I look for what is obscure, but still notable. Features that were important in past epochs but forgotten in mainstream historical narratives or that lie beyond the reach for English-speaking readers.

A good example of an excellent source is Geschichte der sozialistischen arbeiter-internationale: 1923 – 1940 by Werner Kowalski. A quite dry book from the GDR, it systematically (in a very German way...) goes through the facts and data related to the labour parties in the years between the two great wars. Some of the material was already covered in existing Wikipedia articles, but it turned out to be a gold mine of information on the political parties and movements that ceased to exist as the Second World War evolved. In some cases the constituencies that these parties sought to govern had ceased to exist as well, such as in the cases of the Soc.-Dem Workers Party of Subcarpathian Rus' or the Hungarian-German Soc.-Dem. Party. Based on Kowalski's book roughly 55 Wikipedia articles were created. In the process I learned a lot about the history of labour movements, in particular in regards to the national question.

A more recent example is Nomenclature des journaux & revues en langue française du monde entier. It is an ambitious work from 1937, that tries to compile information on all French-language publications across the world. In the years before the World Wide Web such an endeavor would have been quite an undertaking. From this book I managed to pluck data that enabled the creation of 46 articles, such as la Verité (whose spicy reporting shook the corrupted elites in interbellum Shanghai), le Cuir (who knew there was a daily publication dedicated to leather?), l'Alba (a vulgar Italian fascist mouthpiece in Tunisia), la Presse Porto-Novienne (anti-colonial press in present-day Benin), l'Écho taurin (a pro-bullfighting advocacy organ) and Vozrojdénie (anti-Bolshevik Russian daily from Paris). Particularly interesting was the case of es-Sabah. Once a major publication but today the language it carried has died out. And the once vivid social and political current that it represented, Zionism in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world, is long gone.

Beyond fiction?Edit

I prefer researching history over reading fiction. The latter is a form of escapism, and in fact reality is often more challenging, emotional and brutal than our own imagination. In the process of research there is often a suspense, of not knowing what one will finally uncover. True tales of heroism, treachery, intrigues, despair and hope are unearthed.

In working on articles related to the 1965/1966 massacres in Indonesia horrific facts were revealed to me, some which I wished I had never learned. The account of how a random girl had been arrested and tortured to confess a fable that she was a subversive leader in Jakarta, the fate of Samikidin whose mutilated body was denied a funeral, how the children of Sarbuksi unionists continued to suffer discrimination for decades or how the currently tourist-populated beaches of Bali were scenes of mass executions are just some of the details of these events. In the end I chose not to mention every detail I encountered in the articles, my intention is not sensationalism but encouraging others to seek information by themselves.

Another case is Bauer und Arbeiter, a German-language newspaper in Soviet Azerbaijan. The publication experimented with novel forms of journalism and became increasingly popular in the German community in the Caucasus. But after a very short existence it was shut down, probably on political orders. I do not know what happened to its editors and workers during the subsequent purges, but adding one and one brings chilling assumptions. In writing the article, I felt somehow that it provided a fragment of a voice to those silenced in the grotesque machinery of human history.

Biographies of those who found themselves in the midst of history provide a special fascination. Ermenegildo Gasperoni went from being a political commissar in the Spanish Civil War to combining the duties of a government minister and auto mechanic. In contrast, Silvestre Savitski was not a particularly prominent figure in the October Revolution nor in the civil war that followed. In fact, he was but one individual in a mass of millions. The short article about him displays one of the many paradoxes of human condition, as bizarre circumstances brought him across the globe. There, the young man would become one of the pioneers of the socialist movement in Colombia. Likewise, the biography of Daniel Solod provides many question-marks. One does wonder what he discussed in meetings with Gamal Abdul Nasser in the midst of the Suez Crisis, as the future of the Middle East was debated and redefined. The evening in a moist Conakry, when armed men dragged the ambassador out from a cocktail reception to an uncertain fate could have fitted in a Hollywood script.

Or why has the life and adventures of Alejo Calatayud never been made into a movie or at least an HBO special? (maybe like a Bolivian Braveheart?) And what about the chilling morning of January 1, 1918 as the self-appointed People's Commissar Paul Wittich set foot to meet the Italian troops at the Pressburg railway station?

Not all serious?Edit

Once in a while, even a serious Wikipedian needs to lighten up and explore the more anecdotal sides of life. It is a minor part of my labour on the encyclopedia, but I also enjoy authoring articles on topics like failed 1950s pilot shows about robots, X-factor in South Sudan and weird Scandinavian jelly.

Lastly, I hope this mission statement is not perceived as boasting or bragging. Or at least not too much of it. Apart from writing in solitude I also enjoy the company of other Wikipedians, whose knowledge and insights teaches me a lot and corrects me when I've gone astray. Forums like the Humanities desk often provides fascinating lectures. And the end, the ever-expanding encyclopedia is a product of collective efforts out of which my contributions are but a minor fragment.