This past weekend, I spend a rainy Saturday at the Barbican in Central London, at a Wikimania fringe event on Free Culture. The Barbican, for those who are unfamiliar, is the largest performing arts centre in Europe, as well as being part of the Barbican Estate, a futurist vision of Brutalist architecture which contains a public library, the City of London School for Girls, the Museum of London, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and a YMCA, and is a well-loved piece of the London skyline.
It was kind of apt that we were in such a mixed and eclectic venue, because the overwhelming feeling I had at the end of the day was that, in the open world, while we might all be involved in different things (data, licensing, creation, learning, open access, advocacy, research, science etc) we’re all under the same umbrella, and have the same objectives in mind – sharing more stuff, in better ways, for everyone’s benefit.
One of the projects discussed, which reminded me of this, was Histropedia, a project that makes you think about historic events in new and exciting ways. Pulling dates and other event data from Wikipedia and Wikidata, it’s a tool that allows you to create beautiful timelines on just about any topic. Like this one, of Ernest Hemingway novels, with battles from World War II layered over it (the most macho combination ever, right?)
This project got me to thinking about how a tool like this could be used for education – not just in terms of teaching “traditional” history, but sourcing new ways of thinking about topics. For example, a study of science-fiction literature might include a Histropedia visualisation of major publications in the genre. This would allow learners to see how books may have influenced each other. Add events for real inventions (the web, tablets, bitcoin, etc) and we might think very differently about how fiction influences fact…