25 March 2009

Wikiproblems with Hammerschmidt-Hummel

Sometimes Wikipedia aggravates me to an extraordinary degree.  For all of its usefulness on mundane or objective information, it seems as though the more obscure a topic is then the more nonsense one will find.  Take, for example, the article on Hildegard Hammerschmidt-Hummel.

Now, a scholar on Shakespeare or anyone who just keeps up with the journals knows that H-H is a bit flashy.  She makes outrageous claims on scanty evidence, wildly extrapolating precious little evidence into big claims.  She made the news recently for "proving" that Shakespeare was Catholic and for "proving" that a certain famous Gheeraerts portrait was Shakespeare's famous and anonymous Dark Lady from his sonnets, as well as deciding that all four of the most famous illustrations of Shakespeare are authentic.  The only problem is that she is either making unjustified claims or is just plain wrong, a lot of the time.

For example, her basis of deciding the Gheeraerts portrait was the Dark Lady is based on analysis of a sonnet inscribed on it that she claims was intended to be the concluding sonnet of the series - even though the portrait was a wedding portrait!  Are we to believe that this woman permitted Shakespeare (a man who apparently was hurt and infatuated) to write her more love poetry on the painting commemorating her marriage to another man (whom by all accounts she did love?)  Further, H-H declined to use any of the most accepted methods of establishing authorship, such as rare vocabulary analysis (looking for unusual phrases or words in common).  It's wholly specious, and just makes a pretty story.

Another example might be her "authentication" of the Shakespeare images.  Amusingly, a few years after she did this, a forensic expert was brought in who immediately determined from a chemical analysis that the painting was a 19th century fake.  Her response was to declare that the painting must have been stolen and replaced by a fake in the interim!

So it was with sadness that I noted that H-H's entire Wikipedia entry read like a set of love sonnets in her favor.  Without any mitigation, it declared all of her discoveries to be the unqualified truth and heaped praise upon her.  Actually, given the preponderance of a single contributor to the article, I have to kind of suspect that someone with a personal stake has been at work on it.  Until I began to offer some kind of balance and perspective, the main contributor to the love-feast has been one Snemelc.  Out of 190 edits, 129 have been made by this one editor.  They edit virtually no other articles, except to also add H-H to the main Shakespeare article for "Further Reading."  Another single-subject editor, Sanobb, made almost all other edits (37).

I am not accusing her of fluffing herself.  But it does seem awful suspicious given her recent book releases, and perhaps someone close to her or with some other personal interest is at work.  Regardless, it perfectly illustrates one of the main flaws of Wikipedia: used as a resource on any subject beyond the most mainstream, it suffers from a serious lack of scrutiny.  I suppose it's my own fault for looking up some Bard-related articles after finishing Bill Bryson's Shakespeare.  Never wikipedia anything you love.

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