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Adrianne Wadewitz: Seizing the power of Wikipedia

Adrianne Wadewitz died from injuries sustained in a rock climbing accident in Joshua Tree.Karen Sayre/Wikimedia Foundation

Scholar of British literature Adrianne Wadewitz never appeared on The New York Times bestseller list or on the talk-show circuit, but she probably did more to increase popular understanding of female writers than almost anyone else in her field. Wadewitz, 37, was about to take a position at Whittier College before she died last month in a rock climbing accident. But her influence was much greater outside academia — as a volunteer editor on Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia.

Wikipedia’s imperfections are well known: Because anyone can add to it, misinformation can creep in. Yet it’s still hugely popular and, as Wadewitz recognized, the involvement of experts can make it even more useful. Her contributions to the site were remarkable. Since 2006, she wrote or edited over 49,000 posts, mostly dealing with female authors such as Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Martha Sherwood. To preserve her credibility in academia, Wadewitz initially used a pseudonym for her Wikipedia work, but she rightly came to embrace her role. Her work will help ensure that information on women’s contributions to literature, philosophy, and even, in a piece she finished just before her death, rock climbing is at the world’s fingertips.