English Heritage and the Archaeological Data Service: What does it mean to Wikipedia?

In October, English Heritage made 84 of their publications freely available online through the Archaeological Data Service. The ADS has been running since 1996 and it brings together a huge amount of information from archaeologists in the UK. Amongst the gems on the site you can find copies of unpublished fieldwork reports (known as grey literature) and copies of journals such as the Proceedings of the Antiquarian Society of Scotland. These resources are freely available online. The release of the monographs by English Heritage adds to the rich tapestry of information already available.

Digitisation is not universal. Many archaeological societies would like to digitise their publications, particularly those which are out of copyright, but time and money can be difficult to come by. But progress is being made, and the ADS is a valuable resource to researchers.

The release was so popular the ADS server struggled to keep up with the demand.

But what does this mean for Wikipedia? These books aren’t just reliable sources, they are written by some leading archaeologists, the likes of Philip Barker, Francis Pryor, and Timothy Darvill. In many cases, these are the definitive works on a particular subject. The 1990 survey and history of Carlisle Castle should be the starting place for anyone looking for detailed information on the site. The account of the excavations at Beeston Castle are the most detailed available.

The breadth and depth of these books is tremendous, and cover prehistory right up to the 20th century. It’s not hard to imagine how they could be used in Wikipedia. The pages on Acton Court (224 words) and Camber Castle (265 words) are both very short, yet have entire books written about them. Battle Abbey (686 words), Wroxeter Roman city (698 words), and Bodmin Moor (1,037 words) could be a lot more detailed and during November was read more than 1,000 times. Even sites as well known as Hadrian’s Wall which have lengthy articles could benefit from the quality of information available.

Wikipedia has an important role to play, not just in helping people discover this information but in accommodating a general audience. These monographs are often technical, and Wikipedia can be an easily accessible bridge. By using these sources to improve Wikipedia, editors are also helping English Heritage and ADS spread this information and making it more accessible.

Work has already begun: an IP has visited many of the relevant articles and added the publication available through ADS and English Heritage as a source, but there’s plenty still to do. So browse through the list and see if something catches your eye. Maybe you can be the one to make a difference to the reader.