Why a Wiki?


Over the past couple of weeks, the DRC fellows have been discussing the #DRCwiki they are starting to build to contribute to the field’s history and prepare for Computers and Writing 2014.  We wanted to share our email thread in hopes of furthering our conversation about wikis, histories, forms, and gestures.  Below, we’ve included screenshots of our emails, fleshed out with our collaborative annotations. As you can see, we were working through these questions:

  • What does it mean to write a history for a discipline as diverse as ours? How do we decide what to include, and how do our inclusions and exclusions shape this history?
  • What are the affordances and drawbacks of using a wiki as a resource? How can we represent the ongoing history of our discipline using wikis or other digital tools?
  • How do we represent a non-linear history?
  • How do we begin to build in spaces where others can continue building this history? How do we encourage others to build on, correct, and amend the decisions we make in the initial draft?

We hope you’ll add your thoughts to our conversation.  Join the fun.  Help us create a history.  Help us innovate the field.

The Initial Email, from Lindsey

Lindsey sent the group this email one day, initiating a discussion about the wiki space we’ve been working to build together. In it, she troubles the genre of the wiki as a space for developing a history of digital rhetoric/rhetoric and composition/teaching and learning/digital humanities/computers and writing. She wonders if a wiki can do the work of capturing all of the many small, potent gestures of a field — gestures that come from all of us and sometimes (often?) go unnoticed or, if noticed, unacknowledged.

wiki email 1

Lindsey’s email of course got all of us thinking. Why are we making a wiki? Because it seemed like the best genre at the time? Because wikis were popular once? Because wikis were familiar and easy-to-use? Because wikis can be collaborative? Because wikis can be multivocal? Becca jumped in first.

First Response, from Becca

wiki email 2

Lindsey and Becca challenged us to think about how the wiki’s conventions might be stretched, made more flexible, or even altered by our project, and how our conceptualization and organization of the wiki might have been initially limited…

A Lens for Linking, from Lindsey

wiki email 3

At this point Brenta weighed in, with a number of reasons “why a wiki,” citing a recent conversation in which she needed to articulate the wiki choice to one of her colleagues. She notes features of the wiki that are particularly appropriate for compiling a history or tracking the evolution of a field of scholarship, among them the “messiness” and the “never-endingness” of a wiki.

Why a Wiki, from Brenta

wiki email 4

Lindsey challenged the notion of wikis as “messy,” arguing they can also operate as “clean” spaces, where a messy topic or set of concepts gets cleaned up, reorganized, or given a sense of order. Here, we’re thinking about our task (building a history) in the wiki space, and what it is we’re doing (are we making a mess, or cleaning one up, so to speak?). Does our genre fit with our task? In what ways?

Messy or Clean? from Lindsey

wiki email 5

Liz had been silently following the conversation as it evolved, contemplating her own struggles with wikis as an instructor, researcher, and Sweetland fellow. She takes the conversation in another direction, asking whether wikis (or other digital spaces) can do the work of “defining a field.” She wonders what it means to try to define a field, and what the consequences of that definition might be, ultimately leaving us all with more questions than answers (ahhh scholarship).

Defining a Field, from Liz

wiki email 6

This is as far as our musings have taken us, as we have worked to hash out our purposes, our goals, and the role of all those “small gestures” in our field(s). In a way, this thread and the questions it generated are our own small, potentially potent, gesture to the field; we hope that from here, we can foster a conversation about (and on) the wiki about its rhetorical purpose, its appropriateness for particular tasks, or ways in which we might go about mapping the history of field which, like all academic fields, has blurry and at times invisible boundaries.

It is at this point that we part by asking for your help and input. Leave a comment, tweet a response, or share feedback on our forum. What purposes have Wikis served for your own research or organization? What affordances and limitations did you face by using the Wiki genre? What other general thoughts and suggestions do you have? We’d love to hear from you.


  • Lindsey Harding

    Lindsey Harding graduated from the University of Georgia in May 2015 with her Ph.D. in English. She is now the Assistant Director of the Writing Intensive Program at UGA. Her research and writing interests include composition and rhetoric, creative writing, and digital humanities. In May 2011, she graduated from Sewanee University’s School of Letters with her M.F.A. in creative writing. She earned her B.A. from Columbia University in 2004. She lives in Athens, Georgia, with her husband and three small children.

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