In April 2021 I was invited to give a talk at the Graphic Possibilities Research Workshop (GPRW) in the Department of English at Michigan State University. The GPRW has an extensive collection of comic books, with more than 50,000 records starting in 1888. The aim of this workshop is to engage subject area experts with the goal of uploading collection data to Wikidata for research, sharing, and encouraging more editing around comic book and graphic novel data.
With a large dataset like this, this workshop aimed to answer some of the following prompts:
- How can you best share a collection like this?
- How can you encourage new engagement with this collection?
- How can you fill in gaps in the data?
- What insights can researchers gather from this data?
How do you begin answering these questions about a collection of comics? Easy! Wikidata.
As with any artistic work, there is a team of people who contribute to it — writers, creators, artists, illustrators, publishers, among others. Capturing this data through Wikidata can offer a whole new way of understanding these works and the people involved with them. You can see collaboration, concurrency, and connections that were more difficult to see before. Not only is it interesting to learn about these relationships, but these connections also complement and enhance other extant connections on Wikidata.
This workshop engaged experts and newcomers alike, encouraging them to take data from MSU’s local collection and share it on Wikidata. Another benefit of Wikidata is the built in data visualization tools through its query service. The findings, accessible here, are clear visualizations, showing the relationships between different entities within the comic world. Not only is this a good exercise in working with authority records (standardized data about works and creators), but it also reveals history about publisher affiliation, order of publication, and collaboration connections. The visualization can demonstrate complex relationships that might be harder to share if this data were not linked and structured through Wikidata.
This kind of data is useful for research and storytelling. In aggregate it is significant for collection development, preservation, and demographic data about those involved. To improve representation within collections, we must know how representative a collection is. In addition to representation, these kinds of projects can reveal gaps or inconsistencies within any given data set — missing dates, author information, overlooked editions, etc. It sets the stage for improving quality collection-wide.
From a Wikidata perspective, having events like this where subject area experts contribute high quality today enriches Wikidata as a whole. As great as Wikidata is, there are still gigantic content gaps. Filling those is one thing, but having well-versed content experts as active Wikidata contributors is wonderful for helping to establish data models, articulate relationships between things, and critically think about how to best represent their collections as linked data.
What isn’t yet captured from this event is how much data will continue to be added to these items. As collections grow and research continues, having this baseline data on Wikidata will only continue to improve as more material surfaces. These data will provide a more definitive understanding of comics and those involved in that community.
Events like this one the GPRW has facilitated are important to the continued health of Wikidata and its data. Expanding the Wikidata community through new data and new research will only make it a more indispensable stop for academics. As participants like the ones who attended reveal new understanding of these cultural artifacts, research, critical studies, and digital humanities will benefit from it. Who knows what new insights we will discover through these new forms of analysis? Continuing to contribute and explore is what Wikidata encourages.
If you’re curious about seeing the results of the event, you can read a round up of what happened from this excellent Graphic Possibilities blog post by Justin Wigard. If you would like to explore the data yourself, check out their complete dataset here.
A big thank you to Kate Topham, Nicole Huff, Justin Wigard, and Julian Chambliss for leading such a wonderful event.
If you want to learn more about Wikidata or how your institution can contribute, sign up for one of our Wikidata courses at wikiedu.org/wikidata.
Image credit: Mitch Rosen focusmitch, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons