Death, politics, and Vincent van Gogh: 2016 as seen through the lens of Wikipedia

Painting by Vincent van Gogh, public domain/CC0.
Photo by Zarateman, CC BY-SA 4.0.
Photo by Zarateman, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Anecdotally, 2016 was a year of transition and change in much of the western world. Some events could be described as tragedy, others as cause for celebration.

Regardless of how you feel about this year, Wikipedia editors were there to help you understand what happened in 2016 and then some. Here is 2016 as seen through the most-edited articles on the English Wikipedia, both for the full year and by month.

As might be expected, politics features heavily—given the vote on ‘Brexit’, which seems likely to end in the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union, and the United States’ presidential campaign between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Four of the top five most-edited articles related to the American election.

Photo by Talmoryair, CC BY-SA 3.0.
Photo by Talmoryair, CC BY-SA 3.0.

A number of celebrities, politicians, and household names passed away, like David Bowie, Prince, politician Jo Cox, Cuban leader Fidel Castro, boxer Muhammad Ali, and singer Christina Grimmie. All showed up in either the full list of most-edited by year/by month breakdowns, but are dwarfed by the article on deaths in 2016. Similar to last year, it was by far the most-edited of the year.[1]

Terror attacks struck Brussels, Belgium; Nice, France; Munich, Germany; Istanbul, Turkey; and many other locations. Violence and war in Syria continued to rage, leading Wikipedia editor Małgorzata Kulbaczewska-Figat to ensure that the Polish Wikipedia had “a decent, up-to-date, balanced article” on the Battle of Aleppo (pl).

And the 11.5 million documents in the Panama Papers revealed global corruption on an unimagined scale.

“Wikipedia has become a place people turn to for breaking news,” Dan Gillmor, a news media expert and professor at Arizona State University’s Cronkite School of Journalism, told us last year.

Wikipedia editors do not appear to be immune to that phenomenon; they consume, edit, and expand upon the information available. When these events strike close to home, one editor suggested that editing can have a cathartic effect. René Pigier helped chronicle last year’s Paris terror attacks on the French Wikipedia. “Creating and copyediting those articles helped me to heal,” he said, “by doing some rational thinking and gathering potentially interesting information.”

Photo by Arturo Pardavila III, CC BY 2.0.
Photo by Arturo Pardavila III, CC BY 2.0.

But amid the dark, there is also light. The Chicago Cubs’ victory in the World Series, their first championship in 108 years, shows up at eleventh in October. The films Deadpool, Jungle Book, Ghostbusters, and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the mobile phenomenon Pokémon Go, and the albums Views and The Life of Pablo were all released to the joy of millions. 2016 in South Korean music was updated so frequently as to be the tenth most-edited article for the year.

From sports, the Cubs had their history-breaking win, and a slew of Olympics-related articles virtually took over the month of August, including a medal table, chronological summary, and several country-based lists. Tennis’ Australian and French Opens were updated often during the months they were held, suggesting a sort of second screen effect.

And there’s always science to look to. There’s still a hypothesized ninth planet in the far outer Solar System, and the first observation of gravitational waves was announced in February.

We also found that Wikipedians’ drive to share free knowledge brought topics outside the time span of this year back to the forefront. Bailando 2015, an Argentinian dance show where dancers compete on live television, and the Beverly Gray mystery stories, published from 1934–55, were numbers ten and eleven on the year-long list (respectively).

Painting by Vincent van Gogh, public domain/CC0.
Painting by Vincent van Gogh, public domain/CC0.

Others reached back a bit farther into history. Four Wikipedia editors collaborated to rewrite the article on Vincent van Gogh, one of the most well-known painters in Western art, and brought it to ‘featured‘ status, a quality marker awarded only after an extensive peer review process by fellow Wikipedia editors.

The effort required to rewrite van Gogh’s article was “enormous,” Wikipedia editor Victoriaearle told us, due to the amount of research, reading, and writing required. This shows up in the number of edits made by the four, which put it at the twentieth-most-edited article in the entire year. But having the help of others made it easier, fellow editor Ceoil said, as working “with others is always the most satisfying way to work through an article.” On their motivation for taking on such a task, Modernist told us:

[van Gogh was] historically one of the most intense, psychologically coherent, intuitive, emotional, expressive, and aesthetic visual communicators in the history of western painting. An artist misunderstood for decades, constantly being misinterpreted, re-interpreted, studied, re-studied, yet seemingly always escaping a clear understanding of his true nature. Van Gogh is both compelling and somewhat mysterious, and yet he is considered universally to be a great artist; certainly worth studying, reading about and writing about as well.

More surprise contenders from centuries ago were two articles related to early Irish Christianity, which took several spots on the most edited list by month. Archdeacon of Kells was the seventh-most-edited article in September, and Manchán of Mohill, a Christian saint in Ireland nearly five hundred years ago, pops up at number eight in October and November.

Read on for the lists of most edited articles, for the year and by month.

most-edited-enwp-articles-of-2016 Full year

  1. Deaths in 2016 (18230 edits)
  2. Donald Trump (8933)
  3. List of Hillary Clinton presidential campaign endorsements (6527)
  4. United States presidential election, 2016 (6162
  5. Republican Party presidential primaries, 2016 (5715)
  6. 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting (5540)
  7. Bailando 2015 (5342)
  8. Donald Trump presidential campaign endorsements, 2016   (5328)
  9. 2016 in sports (5277)
  10. 2016 in South Korean music  (5074)
  11. Beverly Gray (4957)
  12. Statewide opinion polling for the United States presidential election (4743)
  13. Panama Papers (4659)
  14. 2016 in Philippine television (4600)
  15. 2016 Pacific typhoon season (4244)
  16. 2016 Atlantic hurricane season (3874)
  17. Democratic Party presidential primaries, 2016 (3736)
  18. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (3593)
  19. The Life of Pablo (3574)
  20. Vincent van Gogh (3551)


  1. Occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge (2158)
  2. Deaths in 2016 (2014)
  3. Planet Nine (1319)
  4. 2016 Australian Open (1225)
  5. Jascha Spivakovsky (1175)
  6. David Bowie (1163)


  1. The Life of Pablo (1520)
  2. Deaths in 2016 (1470)
  3. Republican Party presidential primaries, 2016 (1149)
  4. 2016 Pakistan Super League (1101)
  5. American Idol (season 15) (1050)
  6. Deadpool (film) (919)


  1. Deaths in 2016 (2107)
  2. 2016 Brussels bombings (1896)
  3. Republican Party presidential primaries, 2016 (1638)
  4. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (1446)
  5. Flydubai Flight 981 (1316)
  6. The Voice (U.S. season 10) (1304)


  1. Panama Papers (3425)
  2. Beverly Gray (1630)
  3. Deaths in 2016 (1607)
  4. WrestleMania 32 (1539)
  5. Bailando 2015 (1412)
  6. 2016 World Snooker Championship (1347)


  1. EgyptAir Flight 804 (1626)
  2. Bailando 2015 (1507)
  3. Deaths in 2016 (1411)
  4. 2016 French Open (1082)
  5. Captain America: Civil War (1077)
  6. Republican Party presidential primaries, 2016 (1023)


  1. 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting (4430)
  2. Bailando 2015 (1597)
  3. Deaths in 2016 (1525)
  4. United Kingdom European Union membership referendum, 2016 (1506)
  5. Cary Grant (1460)
  6. Muhammad Ali (1322)


  1. 2016 Nice attack (2764)
  2. 2016 Turkish coup d’état attempt (1937)
  3. 2016 shooting of Dallas police officers (1756)
  4. Deaths in 2016 (1747)
  5. 2016 Munich shooting (1720)
  6. Pokémon Go (1428)
Helen Glover, gold medal winner, seen here in 2012. Photo by Thomaswwp, CC BY-SA 3.0.
Helen Glover, gold medal winner, seen here in 2012. Photo by Thomaswwp, CC BY-SA 3.0.


  1. Great Britain at the 2016 Summer Olympics (1578)
  2. 2016 Summer Olympics medal table (1500)
  3. United States at the 2016 Summer Olympics (1444)
  4. Chronological summary of the 2016 Summer Olympics (1434)
  5. Deaths in 2016 (1398)
  6. Vincent van Gogh (1095)


  1. Deaths in 2016 (1377)
  2. Great Britain at the 2016 Summer Paralympics (1293)
  3. 2016 New York and New Jersey bombings (1123)
  4. List of Hillary Clinton presidential campaign endorsements, 2016 (1014)
  5. RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars (season 2) (929)
  6. 2016 Pacific typhoon season (923)


  1. Newspaper endorsements in the United States presidential election, 2016 (1525)
  2. Donald Trump sexual misconduct allegations (1493)
  3. Hurricane Matthew (1424)
  4. Deaths in 2016 (1424)
  5. Statewide opinion polling for the United States presidential election, 2016 (1371)
  6. 2016 Atlantic hurricane season (1158)


  1. Protests against Donald Trump (1832)
  2. United States presidential election, 2016 (1749)
  3. Donald Trump (1475)
  4. Survivor Series (2016) (1446)
  5. Deaths in 2016 (1420)
  6. El Coyote (character) (1240)

December (complete through the fifteenth)

  1. Bigg Boss 10 (830)
  2. Fake news website (747)
  3. Deaths in 2016 (727)
  4. Aleppo offensive (November–December 2016) (678)
  5. 2016 United States election interference by Russia (641)
  6. 2016 Oakland warehouse fire (638)


[1] Wikipedians chronicle and sort these deaths by month, so starting in 2017 the page will redirect to a list of lists of deaths.

Ed Erhart, Editorial Associate
Samantha Lien, Communications Manager
Wikimedia Foundation

Our thanks go to the Wikimedia Foundation’s Aaron Halfaker for obtaining and tabulating the numbers. You can find more data like this on Meta.


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