Comparison of the English and German Wikipedia articles about the Renaissance

For our blog post, we compared the articles about “The Renaissance” versus “Die Renaissance” in the English and German Wikipedia. Both articles were created separately instead of one being the translation of the other. They both were released in their first versions in September and October 2001. Since then, they both have developed from single sentences into “good articles” but not yet “featured articles”. Taking a closer look at the articles’ history reveals the genesis of good articles: Numerous people worked together to improve the articles from short and rather incomplete first versions (German and English first article) to good articles (see current German and English version of the articles). People edited the articles over years, some coming up with additional content, others just changing single words for reasons of style or orthography. The two articles are good examples of people working together in order to advance the encyclopedia because they have been revised in that manner almost every month since their release date (see history of the German and English version). Very conspicuous, however, was one edition of the German article in March 2014: 36,186 words were deleted by one single user when the article fell victim to vandalism.

Both articles have many similarities but there are also some interesting differences. Having a look at the structure and length of the articles, it is obvious that the English article is much longer; it contains almost 10,000 words while its German equivalent only consists of about 3,000 words. The fact that the English article is longer can also be seen in the number of pictures that were used to illustrate the articles. The English version makes use of 28 graphics while the German version only contains nine images. Two of the images are used in the English as well as the German version – Da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man” and Michelangelo’s “David”. There is no big difference in the licenses of the pictures used in the English and German version; both articles contain pictures with a “Common domain” and a “CC-by-SA” license, in both articles there are more pictures with “Common domain” license.

The most obvious differences between the articles are their structures, the two table of contents show a different underlying structure. Here, to us the English version of the article seems to have a more coherent structure since the sequence of headings and sub-headings is tidier. In the German version, some sub-headings (e.g. the sub-headings “Antikische, klassizistische Renaissance”, “Analogische Renaissance“, and “Renaissance-Gotik oder auch Nachgotik” under the heading “Architektur”) seem to be out of place in a general overview over the Renaissance and perhaps could have profited from being hyperlinked to a new article instead.

While the German article only deals with the Renaissance in Germany, the English article dedicates a rather large amount of space to the spread of the Renaissance in various European countries. Having contemplated the reason for this difference, we came to the following assumption: In the English Wikipedia, people from all over the world contribute to Wikipedia, while in the German Wikipedia mainly German-speaking people contribute to articles. We assumed if that was the case, there had to be much more secondary sources in foreign languages in the English article than in the German one. This suspicion was confirmed when we had a look at the references: in the English article 111 references are named, amongst them six articles in five different languages, while in the German article 14 references are named; with only one reference in a language other than German or English (a French source).

Whereas the German article makes use of two tables in order to present the Renaissance’s most important writers and artists, the English version does not have this feature at all. We thought the tables to be quite useful because they organize the hyperlinks to the most influential personalities of the Renaissance in an orderly manner whereas the reader has to pick the hyperlinks out of the running text in the English version of the article.

This comparison makes clear that both articles have been developed independently and that both versions have advantages and disadvantages. We think that this comparison could be used to improve the articles by transferring the advantages of one article to the other, thus creating two even more neat and efficient articles.

Blog article by Anja Schmelzle and Karina von Graevenitz

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