What Is WikiLoot?
We recently announced a new initiative to crowd-source the study of the black market in looted antiquities. We’re calling it WikiLoot.
[For recent updates on the project see here.]
The idea behind WikiLoot is simple:
1. Build a collaborative web platform for the publication and analysis of primary source records and photographs documenting the illicit trade in looted antiquities.
2. Use social media and other tools to engage a broad, international network of contributors — experts, curators, journalists, investigators, academics and curious citizens — in the tagging, linking and analysis of that material.
3. With these tools, develop an authoritative public database of the illicit trade that can be used to further the public’s understanding of the scope of looting.
The inspiration for WikiLoot is the vast amount of documentation of the trade that has surfaced in recent years, particularly involving Classical antiquities looted from Italy and Greece. European investigators have seized several key archives from middlemen in the trade, including business records, journals, correspondence and thousands of photographs of recently looted objects. We’ve obtained some of these archives, along with thousands of internal records from the Getty and other American museums. Over time, we’re confident that court records, open-source information and other caches of documents will help extend the scope of the project far beyond Classical antiquities and American museums.
Taken together, these records offer a unique window into a global black market whose scope remains poorly understood. Yet much of the information remains frustratingly out of reach, and its analysis has often been slow and fragmented. WikiLoot hopes to change that.
The project will engage two primary audiences. The general public will be able to discover the hidden history behind objects at their local museum, explore the illicit trade through data visualizations, and contribute — for example, by taking and uploading photos of antiquities with unclear ownership histories. Experts and researchers, meanwhile, will have back-end access to the site for uploads, identification, tagging and collaborative analysis. (In this sense, WikiLoot will structurally emulate sites like Wikipedia, the crowd-sourced encyclopedia that engages both the general public and, via the edit panel, a community of contributors.) Finally, WikiLoot will be anchored by a home page blog will keep the community apprised of recent developments and on-going cases, much as ChasingAphrodite.com does now.
For the moment, the project is still embryonic — we’re consulting with open-source web developers on the best way to structure the site; with lawyers about the legal issues involved; and with social media and marketing experts on how to engage the broader public in the effort. We’re also considering concerns about this release of information will effect existing collections and the “grey market” in antiquities with unclear ownership histories.
The next phase, which has already begun, involves finding a non-profit to act as fiscal sponsor for the project; developing grant proposals and a budget ; and raising start-up money for the development phase. Our hope is to complete this phase by the end of 2012, at which point actual web development can begin.
Join the Conversation
Collaboration is at the heart of this project, and we’re eager to hear your ideas during this development stage of WikiLoot. To that end we’ve created an open group on Facebook to exchange ideas about the potential (and pitfalls) of WikiLoot. If you’re interested in supporting the project, becoming a partner or participating in its development, we encourage you to join the conversation:
- Join the WikiLoot Facebook Development Group
You’re also welcome to submit public comments at the bottom of this page, which we’ll update with new information as things develop. (We’ve received some great comments on our initial post here.)
If you’d like to contact us privately, do so via email:
- Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for your interest and support. We look forward to hearing your thoughts on WikiLoot as we move forward.