Community mourns passing of Adrianne Wadewitz
Special Report: Community mourns passing of Adrianne Wadewitz
The Wikimedia community has been shocked by the death of Adrianne Wadewitz on 8 April from injuries suffered during a rock-climbing fall on 28 March. Adrianne was a well-known and popular editor on the English Wikipedia, where she authored 36 featured articles and organized edit-a-thons in Los Angeles. She served on the board of the Wiki Education Foundation, and was a vocal public Wikipedia advocate on HASTAC, an online group that works with scholars in the humanities, arts, and sciences on innovative collaborations on new modes of learning and research in higher education.
Adrianne was born on 6 January 1977, and graduated from high school in North Platte, Nebraska, a railroad town of about 25,000 people. She attended college at Columbia University, a prestigious institution in the heart of New York City, and graduated in English with the honor of magna cum laude. After receiving a PhD in British literature from Indiana University, in 2013 she took up a Mellon Post-Doctoral Fellowship at Occidental College in Los Angeles. She had recently accepted a position at nearby Whittier College where she was recruited to help "develop their digital liberal arts program".
Adrianne took up rock climbing last summer, and she blogged about how it changed her:
"For me, one of the most empowering outcomes of my year of climbing has been the new narrative I can tell about myself. I am no longer 'Adrianne: scholar, book lover, pianist, and Wikipedian'. I am now 'Adrianne: scholar, book lover, pianist, Wikipedian, and rock climber'. This was brought home most vividly to me one day when I was climbing outdoors here in Los Angeles and people on the beach were marveling at those of us climbing. Suddenly I realized, I used to be the person saying how crazy or impossible such feats were and now I was the one doing them. I had radically switched subject positions in a way I did not think possible for myself. That, I realized, is what I want my students to experience—that radical switch and growth. It is an enormous goal and I would love to hear how others work at achieving it with their students."
A memorial service in Adrianne's honor will take place at Occidental College on 14 April, and in Indiana on 26 April.
On the English Wikipedia
On Wikipedia, Adrianne was one of the early editors; she registered on July 18, 2004 as "Awadewit" when she was attending graduate school. She wrote quite a few articles, but zeroed in on her favorite, Mary Wollstonecraft, an 18th-century English writer and women's rights advocate. Over the course of a year, Adrianne wrote most of the entry and shepherded it through several reviews until it became one of Wikipedia's then 1700 featured articles. She worked on an entire series about the author, including all of Wollstonecraft's major works and a timeline of her life. In 2008, Adrianne spoke to the Signpost about Wollstonecraft: "When I first looked at the Mary Wollstonecraft article on Wikipedia, one of the subjects of my dissertation, it looked something like this. I was appalled! One of the first feminists! Dissertations tend to make a person think a topic is the most important thing ever, so, of course, I thought it was a travesty that Wollstonecraft's biography was reduced to this bland recitation of a few facts. I resolved to change that."
Adrianne received high praise from Wikipedia editors for her work on the article. Qp10qp, for example, wrote: "It adds up to a colossal achievement—I mean, what we have here is the equivalent of a book. The thoroughness, attention to detail and discerning study of the best sources simply takes my breath away. Any student of Wollstonecraft who clicks Wikipedia will hardly believe their luck in striking this treasure trove. Wikipedia at its finest." More recently, Liam Wyatt related his belief that the Wollstonecraft articles made Adrianne "the single most cited/read Wollstonecraft scholar ever".
Shortly after Wollstonecraft received its featured status, she agreed to be interviewed on episode 35 of the Wikipedia Weekly podcast by Liam Wyatt. It was titled "Secretly Famous", as it described her as an editor "who has to hide her activities [on Wikipedia] for fear of jeopardizing her career":
- Wyatt: So you're worried that if you publicize ... your interest and experience on Wikipedia, that you won't get a job because you'll be laughed out of town?
- Wadewitz: I'm very concerned, actually. ... I'm concerned that people will think that perhaps I've wasted time that I could have spent on my dissertation, time I could have spent publishing articles.
- Wyatt: That's truly sad.
- Wadewitz: It is, because I really view that the time I have spent working on things for Wikipedia, which is really just what I'm studying, as sort of public service, as part of being a public intellectual, because I'm often engaged in conversations with people on Wikipedia where I feel like I'm explaining what it means to be a scholar, and I'm explaining even down to the level of well, here's how you write a paragraph, or here where you write a sentence. Right? Is that a waste of time? No. I don't think so. Because that's what I do all the time.
- —Liam Wyatt and Adrianne Wadewitz, Wikipedia Weekly, episode 35, 8:33 (condensed)
It was after this interview that Adrianne became a high-profile member and advocate for Wikipedia in scholarly circles. Liam Wyatt reflected on the 2007 interview in a tribute on Adrianne's talk page, reminiscing that "Not long after [the interview,] you 'came out' and made your wiki-work a core part of your career—using it ... to bolster your academic CV." She would later attend Wikimania 2008 to give a presentation about her use of Wikipedia in the classroom.
Adrianne wrote several articles for the Signpost in 2008 and 2009, focusing on how to find reliable sources, a review of Lazy Virtues: Teaching Writing in the Age of Wikipedia, reviewing featured pictures, the 2009 Wikipedia Academy at the National Institute of Health, the 2010 Museums and the web conference, and a controversial article titled "Let's get serious about plagiarism", a problem Wikipedia still wrestles with today.
Aside from her prolific article writing, Adrianne was a champion for Wikipedia's use in the digital humanities, believing it offers one of the best places for research that will have an impact on the public.
Adrianne became a prominent voice in the academic community. The Wiki Education Foundation said in a statement that "Her pathbreaking essay on teaching with Wikipedia, "Wiki-hacking: Opening up the academy with Wikipedia", served as the basis for the preliminary pilot of the program", the Public Policy Initiative. They continued: "Adrianne was one of the first people to volunteer to help support university instructors looking to incorporate Wikipedia as a teaching tool in their classrooms; over the last four years, Adrianne has supported more than 20 courses as a Wikipedia Ambassador as well as teaching two courses herself." She later became a founding board member for the fledgling WEF.
Perhaps even more importantly, she became the face of Wikipedia editing (literally) when her photo was featured on the cover of the first printed "Editing Wikipedia" brochure put out by the Wikimedia Foundation.
She related how her Wikipedia work had benefits in the classroom: "My 'coolness factor' as a teacher has risen. I frequently use Wikipedia as a teaching tool in an effort to explain what a reliable web source is and to teach basic copyediting skills. While discussing these rather mundane topics, I often tell little Wikipedia stories. That I write Wikipedia articles is apparently 'awesome'. I also dramatically rose in my students' estimation when w:Mary Shelley appeared on the main page on 30 October 2008."
Adrianne's HASTAC blog became a prominent voice in communicating and encouraging academic involvement in Wikipedia. An example of her work there comes from just under a year ago, when she responded to the sexist "American Novelists" category: "If only there were more women on Wikipedia, the argument goes, this would not have happened. But no one has talked to the women who actually are on Wikipedia." In addition to the active public voice she offered, she actively researched the place of humanities method and process within Wikipedia, a product of her extensive collaborations with a number of Wikimedians and academics. Indeed, this underlines the fact that Adrianne was one of the strongest proponents of Wikipedia's efforts to attract more female editors—her wish to enable better communication of underrepresented minority-related content.
"I toast you tonight. I will toast you in LA. And I will toast you in Bloomington. I will toast you on mountain high and every time I write a new women's biography. Climb high and climb wild, climb proud and climb free. Oh, Adrianne." -- Sarah Stierch
As befitting the large number of people she touched both on- and off-wiki, tributes to Adrianne poured in from around the world. Sage Ross blogged: "I remember, for a long time before I met her, wondering what “a wade wit” meant. I remember a Skype conversation, years ago. Adrianne, Phoebe, SJ and I talked for probably three hours about the gender gap on Wikipedia, late into the night. Then and always, she was relentlessly thoughtful and incredibly sharp. As superb as she was in writing, she was even better in live conversation and debate. ... I remember her unfailing kindness and generosity, indomitable work ethic, and voracious appetite for knowledge. She made me proud to call myself a fellow Wikipedian." On Facebook, Wikipedian and personal friend Sarah Stierch said "My heart hurts. Adrianne was a leading voice—and her legacy still is—in the work we have been doing to get more women and more diverse peoples contributing to Wikipedia. ... [She was a] sarcastic, feminist, smart, brilliant, to the point delivery type of academic genius". LiAnna Davis, who worked with Adrianne in the various education programs, commented that "If you've ever read a well-written article about 18th century British literature on Wikipedia, chances are it was that high of quality thanks to Adrianne Wadewitz."
Many users have left thoughts on her English Wikipedia talk page. jbmurray worked with Adrianne on several education-related Wikipedia projects, including the smashing success that was his 2008 "Murder, Madness, and Mayhem: Latin American Literature in Translation" course at the University of British Columbia. He wrote that "I was pleased to meet her a few years ago in Bloomington. And I last saw her a couple of weeks back in LA, where she came across town to have lunch with me ... Adrianne was smart, thoughtful, funny, and a delight to know and work with in every way. She touched many people in many different contexts: teaching, online, rock-climbing ... This is a great loss."
Former Wikimedia Foundation board member Kat Walsh wrote: "Adrianne was one of the best contributors to and speakers about the projects, and her writing on and off the projects was among the best. I was always impressed with her ability to be sharply critical without losing motivation, and to be sharply insightful and intelligent while being approachable. This is a huge loss to all of us—and as a friend who did not see her nearly often enough, I will miss her."
Moni3, making her first edit in 2014, logged in to note how Adrianne made her a better writer: "I was a proficient writer when I wrote my first article here, Ann Bannon. Awadewit reviewed it, encouraged me to make it a Featured Article, then proceeded to block me at every turn so the article eventually became the most informative, authoritative account of Bannon's life available anywhere, in print or online. Awadewit blocked my first attempt to get To Kill A Mockingbird to FA status because the article just was not good enough. Harper Lee outlived Awadewit. Who could wrap their mind around such a thing?"
Wikimedian Alex Stinson, who considered Adrianne his mentor in thinking about Wikipedia's role in the digital humanities and co-wrote an academic paper with her, stated on his blog that "All day I have been shaking from the loss ... the common mission we shared bridging Wikipedia and Digital Humanities community has gotten unimaginably harder. Her contribution was tireless and compelling and finding anyone to fill her shoes will be nigh impossible. This loss seems keen for me: as an aspiring communicator of that space, Adrianne was an incredible mentor and model. She had incredible energy and voice, travelling across the United States and the World to spread that vision. She actively delivered incisive critiques of Wikipedia, the general response of scholars in shaping that space, and the need to place women, the humanities and the underprivileged into our public knowledge record.
HASTAC published an article from Cathy Davidson, a professor at Duke University:
"I woke up this morning to an email from HASTAC Scholars Director Fiona Barnett asking if I would write a blog about the incredibly generous, helpful, always useful blogs by former HASTAC Scholar Adrianne Wadewitz. I said of course. Without hesitation. It's the least I can do for this amazing human being—even though I've met her only briefly. I feel like I know her well.
Inevitably her posts on the HASTAC site are featured, as is one currently, on our homepage, because she has the incredible gift of not just pushing the boundaries of "the way we teach and learn" but communicating those ways in the most eloquent, humble, generous, useful way so that others can learn from her. She is a natural leader, an inspiration to us all. Just yesterday I had said she would be the ideal former HASTAC Scholar to be nominated to the Steering Committee of our organization. Adrianne Wadewitz exemplifies the early-career professional HASTAC Scholars is designed to mentor ... because she represents the best of academe. Adrianne Wadewitz is a model of the future we all want for our profession, for our students, for our society.
It was only then reading through the rest of the morning's emails on my phone that I found the crushed earlier email from Fiona informing me that this amazing person, our wonderful Adrianne Wadewitz, had died in a climbing accident. I hadn't realized that Fiona had been asking me to perform the very sad and necessary task of writing a memorial.
It does not seem possible."