Visualizing Comics Using Wikidata

I’m mindful that the summer is time for “academic” rest. This is to say, a lot of work is done that could not be done during the academic year. However, it is also a time to call attention to those meaningful partnerships and collaborations that made the year worthwhile. I’m especially pleased that the Graphic Possibilities Research Workshop (GPRW) in the Department of English at MSU completed a Wikidata project inspired by Comics as Data North America (CaDNA). CaDNA began in 2018 as a project bringing together faculty, librarians, and digital humanists to explore MSU libraries’ (MSUL) Comic Art Collection metadata. The initial project’s completion created the CaDNA dataset, which is publicly available for research. Building on the finding from the initial stages of the project, the GPRW is engaging with Wikidata, furthering an established consideration of comics, digital humanities, and teaching. I serve as the faculty lead for GPRW alongside my graduate co-leads, Justin Wigard and Nicole Huff. In addition, our colleague Kate Topham from MSUL Digital Scholarship Lab works with us on this project. The workshops we designed for Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 sought to call attention to the ways our dataset can address omissions in Wikidata, the structured data backbone for Wikimedia projects such as Wikipedia, Wikivoyage, Wiktionary, and Wikisource.

To facilitate this process, we designed a year-long engagement using Wikidata edit-a-thons designed to clean, organize, and integrate comic book data from MSUL with Wikidata. Our workshops in the Fall and Spring provided a vital understanding of what Wikidata is and the implications of its use. We were helped a great deal by presentations from Will Kent from the Wiki Education Foundation during both of these events. In the end, we were able to highlight the impact of the MSUL Comics Art Collection as a source of knowledge about comics and popular culture while hopefully building a community that can further the discussion. As is the way of digital humanities, we felt it was important to create something tangible based on this work.  We accomplished this visible outcome by creating a gallery using visualization generated by workshop participants that can be viewed online. This project lives on our website and I urge you to visit the gallery. These visualizations, built with Wikidata visualization tools, are interactive and open the door to meaningful reflection. 

I am grateful for my colleagues at MSU and those colleagues that joined us from other institutions. We have learned much from each other at the most difficult moment I can imagine.  At the same time, our established focus on digital humanities and comics that we pursued in partnership with the MSUL through creating the Graphic Possibilities OER research guide AY2019-2020 has been enhanced in a meaningful way. In the end, while the changes created by the pandemic shaped our thinking, we see the value of continuing to integrate digital humanities methodology into our efforts.