While Wikipedia is often the first site many internet users visit when looking up a celebrity or historical event, those who are searching specifically for topics related to Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders often find the online encyclopedia lacking.
“It’s one of those things Wikipedia is trying to tackle,” Andrew Lih, a professor of journalism at American University and a longtime Wikipedia contributor, told NBC News.
“When it comes to pop culture and things like Pokemon and manga, it’s actually very good. As for Asian Americans, [the lack of articles] reflect the state of Asian-American history in schools.”
The author of the book “The Wikipedia Revolution: How A Bunch of Nobodies Created The World’s Greatest Encyclopedia,” Lih said that while he believes Wikipedia has been more inclusive than the Encyclopedia Britannica and other storied encyclopedias, “It’s still quite short of where it should be. It’s is still written by mainly Western male contributors.”
Lih noted that while there are some areas in which Wikipedia editors create articles related to Asian topics that informative and accurate, there are blind spots.
“When it comes to pop culture and things like Pokemon and manga, it’s actually very good,” he said. “As for Asian Americans, [the lack of articles] reflect the state of Asian-American history in schools.”
When the average American high school or college graduate does not have a strong background in Asian-American topics, Lih explained, those gaps are reflected on Wikipedia.
“There’s no original research on Wikipedia. You have to link to an original source,” he said. “Encyclopedias always summarize what is out there and there are some Wikipedia entries that source 200 to 300 articles at the bottom. If you don’t have the scholarship online, you can’t do that.”
One way scholars and organizations are trying to ensure Wikipedia includes information on Asian-American and Pacific Islander topics is by hosting "edit-a-thons," inviting community members to help fill in gaps by teaching them how to create pages and format articles correctly.
“In fields that were nuanced like Asian-American art and Asian-American poetry, figures considered notable may not be considered so on Wikipedia.”
A curator for the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, Adriel Luis said he noticed a gap between the art world and what was reflected on Wikipedia.
“In fields that were nuanced like Asian-American art and Asian-American poetry, figures considered notable may not be considered so on Wikipedia,” Luis told NBC News. “When it came to Wikipedia, [those entries] either would not exist or if they did pop up they would be flagged for things like the sources not being cited properly.”
Those reasons were a big part of the reason the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center hosted a series of edit-a-thons in 2015 and created a guide for users interested in organizing their own.
“They were really successful,” Luis recalled. “We’d work with organizations and museums across the country and including places in Asia. I learned more about Asian-American artists that I didn’t know about before.”
Luis added that the Smithsonian is planning to eventually host more edit-a-thons in the future and is also examining other ways “Asian Americans don’t have the right amount of visibility on the Internet.”
“We are looking at things like metadata,” he said. “How can you search for ‘Asian-American art’ and get a more representative response? It’s not just about Wikipedia, so the Wikipedia Edit-A-Thons were just the beginning.”
Thinking of becoming a Wikipedia editor? Below is a small selection of notable Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who do not currently have Wikipedia pages:
Li Ling-Ai: The Chinese-American film producer’s work on the Oscar-winning 1941 World War II documentary Kukan was deliberately uncredited by her fellow filmmakers. Li's life and career is the subject of the new documentary “Finding Kukan.”
Rachel Kealaonapua O'Sullivan: At the age of 17, Rachel Kealaonapua O'Sullivan took home the Bronze medal in the three-meter board diving event at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. She also became the first Hawaiian athlete to medal in diving in the process, according to the Hawaii Sports Hall of Hame.
Shih-Chun Wang: The late Chinese-American neuroscientist made several critical discoveries that lead to our current understanding of motion sickness and drugs that prevent vomiting and other related illnesses.
Takashi “Halo” Hirose: A Japanese-American swimmer, Hirose was a considered an athletic superstar in the 1930s and was preparing for the eventually cancelled 1940 Olympics when World War II began.
Emerick K. Ishikawa: A weightlifter from Hawaii, Ishikawa reportedly stunned the crowd at the 1944 U.S. National Weightlifting Championships in Chattanooga, Tennessee, when he set a world record in the Bantamweight Class, according to the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame.
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