This page discusses my experience as a Wikipedia contributor but also as a user in class. I created articles on the history of Kanem-Borno based on my own academic research in order to show the depth of the history of the region to a wider public. I have asked some of my students to re-use some of their previous essays to 'improve' a selection of Wikipedia articles dealing with African History.
As I studied the last two hundred years of the history of Borno, I created a series of articles with the materials which I could not use in an academic publication but which correspond more to an encyclopedia. My aim is to communicate the results of my research in an accessible manner for all those who have an Internet access and/or who cannot afford to read articles behind a paywall.
For example, my series of short articles on the House of Kanemi shows how the first Shehus of Borno gradually became the sole leaders of Borno in the nineteenth century. I have added maps that I created myself, photographs which I took while in Borno and edited the bibliography for places such as Dikwa. I also travelled to places where not many Wikipedia editors have been and have updated the geographic coordinates of some villages where needed. I am hoping that other contributors will complete them.
The idea of improving Wikipedia in class is far from being new. My main interest was to improve articles dealing with African History as many of them can be incomplete or simply inaccurate. For example, I asked my students to use some of their essays to improve the Wikipedia section on the different theories on ethnicity. By giving an overview of the different schools of thought with precise references, they had to summarise diverging theories in a few paragraphs.
They also created an article on the reasons behind the end of the apartheid regime in South Africa and, very interestingly, this article became debated by Wikipedia editors. First, the article in question was integrated within the 'apartheid' article. Some editors who disagreed with the possible factors responsible for the fall of the apartheid regime refused to validate some parts of the text. Depending sometimes on the editor's political opinion, the 'internal contradictions' behind the fall of apartheid were emphasised whereas other 'external factors' (pressure from neighbours or end of communism) were neglected. Or vice-versa. The current section of the 'apartheid' article on the final years of the regime is thus the result of a long discussion.