Tuesday, September 24, 2013

From the Bottom to the Top

Many of my students use Wikipedia as a source for online discussions and even within their answers for quizzes, tests and exams.  I've given this mini-lecture on "From the Bottom to the Top – or how to read a Wikipedia Article." so many times, that I've decided to copy and paste a written version that I'd recently used as a response to a student who had copied and pasted from Wikipedia.  Fittingly, the article chosen was the article on 'Homage'.  So, I consider this a meta-homage to meta-homage; while at the same time being a light-hearted, pedantic "learning opportunity" for a new kind of digital hyperlinked style of education.  ...or perhaps something else altogether.

Good extrapolations. From your wikipedia quote: "a show or demonstration of respect or dedication to someone or something by simple declaration", but the quote continues: "but often by some more oblique reference, artistic or poetic."  And here's where things get complicated.  But we'll return to this 'problematization' in a while.  
I frequently say that the best way to read a Wikipedia article is from the bottom up.  You'll notice that at the very bottom of this article (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homage) lists the topic-structure that this article is organized withing: 

  • Above that you'll find a collapse-able table around a much more sophisticated study of this by amatuer and professionals in this field — particularly Art Historians:

If you click on that word 'Appropriation', you'll open up an amazing array of ideas that are very applicable to this course, which we will discuss when we begin critiqing your draft art reports.  Above that you'll find the most professional citation in the article, the References

References[edit source]

  1. Jump up^ "Homage"Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages 2
  2. Jump up^ Robin M. Derricourt, An author's guide to scholarly publishing
  3. Jump up^ Umberto Eco, The limits of interpretation
  4. Jump up^ John Shepherd, "Rock Homage"Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World
  5. Jump up^ Richard Grusin, Routledge encyclopedia of narrative theory

 Obviously, each hyperlink will take you to the full text of the referenced citation.  I've actually read a good portion of Umberto Eco'sThe Limits of Interpretation, and while it can get a little overwhelming, it's  a great primary resource for discussing the meaning of what's 'real' and what's 'fake' or 'a mere copy' in art and art history.  If you click on the links for references #1 and #4, you'll find that the majority of the content of the article is taken from the Encylopedia of the Middle Ages and Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World.  This allows us to track back your quote through the Wikipedia page to an earlier source.  The next section up from the bottom is similar to the 'categories' section, but was placed by several of the Wikipedians because there are very strong thematic links to three other articles on Wikipedia. 

See also[edit source]

How are these ideas similar and different from the idea of Homage?  Try clicking through to learn more about this idea.  These particular links are the most 'curated'.  By that, I mean that a series of Wikipedia authors have reached a consensus that these ideas are so interconnected that they deserve to be tied together by the very hyper-textual nature of Wikipedia.  Again, these authors are both professionals as well as amatuers (as well as fanatics and even occasionally vandals or hired P.R. hacks)  But over time, the most-trusted professionals decisions about content and links are the ones that remain.  All of this finally brings us to the least consequential part of the Wikipedia article, the part that sadly gets the most attention: the "content."  
Homage (/ˈhɒmɨ/ or /ˈɒmɨ/) is a show or demonstration of respect or dedication to someone or something, sometimes by simple declaration but often by some more oblique reference, artistic or poetic.
It was originally a declaration of fealty in the feudal system (see Homage (medieval))—swearing that one was the man (French: homme) of the feudal lord.[1] The concept then became used figuratively for an acknowledgement of quality or superiority. For example, a man might give homage to a lady, so honouring her beauty and other graces. In German scholarship, followers of a great scholar developed the custom of honouring their mentor by producing papers for a festschrift dedicated to him.[2]
The concept now often appears in the arts where one author shows respect to a topic by calling it a homage, such as Homage to Catalonia. Alternatively, creative artists may show respect to a veteran of the field or to an admired practitioner by alluding to their work.[3] In rock music this can take the form of a tribute album or of a sample.[4] As of 2010, the digital techniques used to generate many forms of media make it easy to borrow from other works and this remediation may be used in homage to them.[5]

Don't get me wrong, the "content" of this article is actually very good, and covers some of the very different meanings and contexts that both the word and its meanings have had across time.  Obvioulsy George Orwell and The Sugar Hill Gang were working in different media, times and contexts but both use the idea of Homage.  So there may be considerable confusion as to what this word means to begin with.  This brings us up to nearly the top of the page with a funny-sounding word. 

For other uses, see Homage (disambiguation).

Yes, it means to make-less-vague.  As we've noted many times during lectures, group discussions and quizzes, if you're so vague that you can't be wrong, you also can't be right.  So right at the top of the page, Wikipedia is giving you the tools you need to make sure that you're being precise with your language and your words.  If you were to click this link you would find a new page: 

Homage may mean:

So, yes, you did find the correct page.  All of the other pages are very specific uses of the word.  Which, of course is at the very top of the page.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

But wait!  There's some more stuff above that.  And this is actually the least-important for you as a consumer or Wikipedia, but very important to you as a professional (whether that's as a professional student, a professional art historian or professional acadmeic) 

You're currently looking at the 'Read' version of this article.  If you click the next link you enter the 'Edit' version of the article.  And yes, you can make changes.  In fact, if there's a minor error (e.g. typo, spacing problem, etc.) you're encouraged to fix it and click "minor edit".  In some upper-level courses in some universities, students are assigned to write articles for Wikipedia.  So you may get to know this function in the future.  Lastly, you can enter the 'History' version of the article and see all of the edits that have been made, and by whom.  This particular page has been edited over 500 times since 2003.  
So we see that Wikipedia is an evolving resource, not bound by the strictures of printing and distribution.  This doesn't make it any more or less valuable in terms of its content.  Like any secondary resource, you must be aware of the people who are writing and quoting to create it.  Where Wikipedia does excell is in linking ideas together, giving readers multiple pathways through ideas.  This is a big deal, and you can take advantage of this ability in a Wikipedia article if you learn to read each page from the bottom up.

Good luck!

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