Wikipedia received the Erasmus Prize because it has promoted the dissemination of knowledge through a comprehensive and universally accessible encyclopaedia. To achieve that, the initiators of Wikipedia have designed a new and effective democratic platform. The prize specifically recognised Wikipedia as a community — a shared project that involves tens of thousands of volunteers around the world who help shape this initiative.

By distributing knowledge to places where it was previously unavailable, Wikipedia also plays an important role in countries where neutrality and open information are not taken for granted. With its worldwide reach and social impact, Wikipedia does justice to the idea of a single yet diverse world. It is a digital reference work available in various languages, undergoing permanent development. Through its open character, Wikipedia highlights how sources of knowledge are not neutral and must always be weighed. With its critical attention to text, sources and the expansion of knowledge, Wikipedia reflects the ideas of Erasmus, the world citizen after whom the prize is named.

The prize was awarded to representatives of the Wikipedia community on Wednesday 25 November 2015. On behalf of the community, the prize was accepted by three young representatives of remarkable initiatives within Wikipedia: Phoebe Ayers (MIT Libraries), Lodewijk Gelauff (Wiki Loves Monuments) and Adele Vrana (Wikipedia Zero).


Article 2 of the Constitution of the Praemium Erasmianum Foundation reads as follows:

Within the context of the cultural traditions of Europe in general and the ideas of Erasmus in particular, the aim of the Foundation is to enhance the position of the humanities, social sciences and the arts. The emphasis lies on tolerance, cultural diversity and non-dogmatic, critical thinking. The Foundation tries to achieve this aim by awarding prizes and by other means. A cash prize is awarded under the name of the ‘Erasmus Prize’.

In accordance with this article, the Board of the Foundation has decided to award the Erasmus Prize 2015 to the Wikipedia Community. The Prize is being awarded to Wikipedia for the following reasons:

  • Wikipedia has given a fabulous impulse to the use of digital media for science and culture.
  • Wikipedia is built on the efforts, the intrinsic motivation and drive of thousands of volunteers, making up the Wikipedia community. Collectively, they have created a new, non-hierarchical, collaborative system for the collection and global distribution of knowledge.
  • Wikipedia projects such as Wikipedia Zero have contributed to make information freely available for people who until recently did not have access, or limited access, to these sources of knowledge.
  • By structuring the process of information gathering for the encyclopedia, Wikipedia has transformed and democratized the way in which we assemble knowledge.
  • Finally, Wikipedia has stimulated critical discourse and drawn new attention to fundamental questions of finding the truth and to the need to critically examine one’s sources.


Your Majesties, Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Since the industrial revolution, no scientific innovation has had such a profound impact on our lives as digital technology. The Internet has changed human relations and cultures. Zeroes and ones have become the underlying grid of our existence and have transformed our ways of thinking and getting things done. Networked communication - the exchange of information through nodes and switches - has become the essential characteristic of our times. It has turned economic and political landscapes upside-down, making the Whole Wide World one.

With global connectivity and interdependence being ‘the new normal’, we can now speak of a truly Digital Culture, which continues to evolve rapidly. But whom may we credit with creating it? It’s hard to put a finger on individuals since networked collaboration and exchange have been its essential elements over the last two decades.

The Board of the Erasmus Prize Foundation wanted to honor a visionary thinker or a pioneering institution that recognized the democratic and cultural potential of digital media at an early stage, and has used it effectively to contribute to the advancement of science and culture.

We have concluded that Wikipedia is such an organization. Born to the successful marriage of a creative vision shared by many and solid, collaborative implementation to make it real and lasting, Wikipedia offers an entirely new model for global knowledge production and dissemination – with openness, transparency, and non-commercially. Wikipedia is now the only not-for-profit among the top ten most-visited Internet domains in the world.

So, exceptionally, we have decided to award the Erasmus Prize not to one person, but to the community of Wikipedians, who - as a non-hierarchical global forum - embody the values and ideals of democratic knowledge production. Practically, they also function as a network of dedicated individuals, who keep the People’s Encyclopedia alive and further develop it through their infinite anonymous and unpaid contributions. It is only thanks to their idealism, perseverance, independent spirit and commitment to the common good that the body of knowledge embedded in Wikipedia keeps growing, improving and spreading throughout the world.

Without a doubt, Wikipedia has had a huge impact on society and has outgrown most people’s wildest fantasies. Today, most school children in the world cannot imagine learning without Wikipedia. And many of them may contribute to it when they grow up.

Wikipedia has shaken the world of knowledge by giving a new meaning to the idea of a comprehensive encyclopedia, accessible to all. Everywhere, but especially in countries where open access to reliable information is not a matter of course, Wikipedia plays an important role in public education.

Wikipedia works as a self-governing community with explicit principles. It has developed new critical instruments to ensure that sources can be traced - and that there is arbitration in the case of conflicts. With its open character, Wikipedia nurtures the awareness that sources of information are not neutral. They have to be weighed. By making visible who has contributed to the subjects and what changes have been made over the course of time, Wikipedia strives for optimal transparency.

The attention to text and original sources, and the separation between facts and interpretation, are cornerstones of the Wikipedia concept and key values in an open information society. Our name-giver Erasmus has always emphasized the importance of going back ad fontes: to the sources; and of enabling knowledge to flow. Erasmus probably would have loved Wikipedia.

Wikipedia is the world’s most popular reference work. But it is not just an encyclopedia; it is a phenomenon: it’s a forum for dialogue; a source of dispute around opinions and facts, accuracy and advocacy; it is a collaborative tool; a delicate instrument for truth-making that, rather than hide the complexity of knowledge-production, emphasizes it. So Wikipedia is not only a work of reference, but also a site of contestation, where meaning is always under construction.

Since 2001, tens of thousands of editors have contributed to Wikipedia. Distinctly global in its aspirations, Wikipedia operates in more than 250 languages. Sensitive subjects are treated differently in different cultural and linguistic areas. Wikipedia has opened up new avenues for active learning and teaching, unsettling old notions of authority and coming up with new concepts for dealing with claims to authority. It is a ‘gesammt kunstwerk’, an all-embracing information art work, continuously evolving and very much alive.

While formally a Foundation, Wikipedia should first be regarded as a Community, a joint enterprise shaped by tens of thousands of volunteers, working as editors, authors or project collaborators. These are the ‘Wikipedians’  and they form the heart and soul of the entire project.  Whenever the Board of the Wikipedia Foundation make a decision, the Wikipedian Community is carefully watching them… Openness, independence and democratic decision-making are the core values. And although many have tried, a favorable lemma in Wikipedia cannot be bought.

Ladies and gentlemen, Jimmy Wales is co-founder of Wikipedia. He is the man who, some 15 years back, had a vision of a world-wide, freely accessible encyclopedia as a collaborative project. We owe him great respect and admiration for what he has achieved. He travels the world as an ambassador of Wikipedia and we are delighted that he is here with us today.

We have agreed with him that, today, we will honor not one person, but the entire Wikipedia community. So we have decided to entrust the token of the Prize to three representatives of the community. They each embody a specific project within Wikipedia. Together, they symbolize three key aspects of Wikipedia: its significance for the dissemination of knowledge; the global emancipatory character of Wikipedia; and the importance of Wikipedia for the arts, culture and cultural heritage.

Let me introduce them briefly.

Phoebe Ayers has been a member of the Board of Trustees of the Wikimedia Foundation. She is a science and engineering reference librarian at MIT. Since 2003, she has been editor and organizer of many projects in the field of libraries, education, dissemination of knowledge, open access and wikis.

The second person is Lodewijk Gelauff. Working in The Netherlands as a Wikipedia volunteer he has initiated the successful Wiki Loves Monuments project, by now the largest photography contest of the world, producing photos of monumental buildings across the world.

The third is Adele Vrana. Based at Wikimedia headquarters in San Francisco, Adele leads the mobile partnerships for the Wikimedia Foundation and Wikipedia Zero, a project through which mobile operators will waive data-fees for Wikipedia so, ultimately, all will be able to access knowledge on their cell phones, regardless of whether or not they can afford mobile-data charges.

The  token of the prize this year consists of three colourful tubes, and was designed by Bruno Ninaber and Reynoud Homan. Each tube is a kind of baton that can be passed on, like in a relay-race, to those who come after us. Engraved on the batons is a quote from one of Erasmus’s  letters:  ‘All, according to their own style and ability, should try to make a useful contribution to the education of all’. Together they read Honos Praemium Virtutis: (Honour is Virtue’s Reward), which has been our Foundation’s motto since 1958. It seems to us that it applies perfectly to the spirit and ideals of the Wikipedia Community.

Phoebe, Adele and Lodewijk: we would like to present the prize to you three as representatives of the entire Wikipedia community.

Acceptance Speeches

Phoebe Ayers:

Your Majesties, your Royal Highnesses, distinguished members of the Erasmus Prize Foundation, ladies and gentlemen, and fellow Wikimedians: thank you for this award, on behalf of the tens of thousands of people around the globe who contribute to Wikipedia. It is a great honor and privilege for us to be here in such distinguished company and in this beautiful building, and it is a great honor for our project to join the extraordinary company of past prize winners.

And in thinking about that past, I’d like to begin with a little history.

Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus, 28 October 1466 – 12 July 1536, known as Erasmus of Rotterdam, or simply Erasmus, was a Dutch Renaissance humanist, Catholic priest, social critic, teacher, and theologian.

That is the first sentence of the Wikipedia article in English about Erasmus. The article goes on for 30 more pages to describe his life, work and legacy. It is illustrated by paintings and reproductions of manuscripts; there are footnotes and scholarly sources, and an extensive bibliography. And remarkably, you can also learn about Erasmus in 73 other languages, ranging from Indonesian to Italian, Arabic to Norwegian, Swahili to Dutch, and even Latin.

But none of these things are the most astonishing part about this encyclopedia article. The most astonishing part is that it was begun almost exactly fourteen years ago, on 29 November 2001, by one anonymous person. This person visited what was at the time a nearly-unknown website, wrote one sentence about “Erasmus of Rotterdam”, and then clicked “save” for the world to see. And then, over the course of the next fourteen years, over 1.700 different people would contribute to the article to make it what it is today. Some of the changes they made were small -- formatting, making a sentence easier to read. Some changes were big: adding new paragraphs, researching sources, taking pictures of commemorative sculptures. These editors used the wiki technology to collaborate on writing the article, but they probably did not know each other’s real names, professions, or countries.  But nonetheless Wikipedia’s editors formed a community and built an encyclopedia. They developed structures and guidelines, they argued over what should be in it, and they shared in one great passion: to make the encyclopedia as good as it possibly could be, and to build a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge.

What the story of this article also tells us is that, in addition to being the most accessed reference work in the world, Wikipedia is also a deeply scholarly work. Many libraries, archives and museums have understood this and have developed innovative programs that share their scholarly expertise and unique collections with Wikipedia. These institutions recognize that Wikipedia’s editors don’t just use their own knowledge to write articles; they are also skilled researchers.

But to be a good researcher, you must have access to research. Open access to scholarly research is crucial because so many Wikipedia editors and readers around the globe don’t have access to great libraries. I want to live in a world where my neighbor and I can both look at the same Wikipedia article, and both get access to the sources cited in it, even though I work for one of the world’s great universities and she does not. And, I want the Wikipedia editors who write that article — the editors in Bangladesh, in Argentina, in Amsterdam — to also have access to that research.

Libraries, museums and Wikipedia have a lot in common. We are all committed to preserving our cultural heritage and knowledge and sharing it widely. And for Wikipedia, this means sharing with the world.

When I look at a Wikipedia article, whether it is long or short, I don’t just see a useful summary of some topic of interest. I see the people behind it, our global community of passionate, quirky, scholarly people who believe that free information for everyone is worth working for. This is the community that we are accepting this award on behalf of, and the community that we are proud to be a part of. Thank you.

Lodewijk Gelauff:

Almost fifteen years ago, a crazy idea was born. Bringing people from all over the world together to create an encyclopedia that anyone can read, edit or re-use at will, and all that without compensation. It seemed impossible. And yet, it worked.

For those who find it hard to grasp the sheer magnitude of that much collected knowledge, printing the English Wikipedia alone, without any images, would allow you to fill 110 meters of bookshelves in your library.

All of this is the work of tens of thousands of volunteers who have dedicated their time and effort to this amazing project. Of course, the days when you could get up in the morning and start an article about "Africa" or "ollekebolleke" are behind us. For many years now, many Wikipedians have been working from lists of "wanted articles" in a specific field. I myself like to help completing the set of articles for all members of the Dutch parliament in the past 200 years – as a start. We Wikipedians love lists.

In 2008, a group of Dutch Wikipedia editors used one of these lists to write about windmills. It seems we have over a thousand of them still standing in the whole country, and the mission of these mill-lovers was to write an article with a photo of every single one of them. And they did.

And as things go in Wikipedia, one project inspired another and a new list emerged. The next goal? Collecting photos of all the national heritage buildings in the Netherlands. As it turns out, the Netherlands has about 60,000 national monuments. To even have a chance of completing this new task within a reasonable time, the group needed new ideas. Fortunately, enthusiasm is contagious.

More people began to take an interest and a photo competition to get more photos was born: Wiki Loves Monuments. Again, enthusiasm proved contagious. Just a few years later, we were organising the competition in more than 50 countries. Since 2011, Wiki Loves Monuments is recognised as the world’s largest photography competition.

To accomplish that, we had to work the specifics and challenges each country presents with the necessary local dedication, love and expertise. For example, did you know that Germany has an estimated 750.000 monuments? That India on the other hand only protects a few thousand? That in some countries, publishing your own photos of national cultural heritage may require permission from the architect or a government?

The core concepts of Wiki Loves Monuments remained the same: ask people to contribute to Wikipedia in a fun way, while discovering more about heritage in your direct environment. Thanks to the work of hundreds of volunteers across the world, Wiki Loves Monuments collected well over a million free images.

Collaboration through diversity of interests is a strength of Wikipedia – but at the same time a big challenge. I stand before you as the stereotypical average Wikipedian: a white male from Western Europe in his twenties, with a college degree. If you have met Wikipedians - and if you haven’t, I would encourage you to meet some later today - you will see that this of course is a simplification.

Nonetheless, the fact that our community is skewed, is the main challenge of Wikipedia today. Why don't we have an article about the Congolese city of Baraka, which has more than 100,000 inhabitants, about 'coconut soup' or about 'picking up', a technique in knitting? By the way: I secretly hope that some of you will quickly fill those gaps – but maybe don’t pull out your phones right now.

It is obvious that to fulfill our mission, to bring together the sum of all knowledge, we need a more diverse community. With so much information still to add, we need the help of more people - in the hope and expectation that they can contribute knowledge that we can’t. We should make newcomers feel welcome, embrace their enthusiasm to contribute more, and make them want to become a Wikipedian.

Adele Vrana:

Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet can freely share in the sum of all knowledge. That is the vision of the Wikimedia Foundation.

It is important that we say “share in” - because our movement depends on the generosity of people around the world to help reach this vision. Wikipedia editors, including the wonderful people in this room, have shared their free time to write and improve hundreds of thousands of articles. They help make Wikipedia the most comprehensive resource of the world’s knowledge, one with over 35 million articles across 291 languages.

However, we know that we still have far to go before we can reach every single person on the planet with free access to knowledge.

A few years ago, we started to think about how we could bring Wikipedia to more people around the world, in particular in non-Western regions. At the time, we knew that new users would not be accessing the internet and, therefore, Wikipedia from their desktop computers. It was just a matter of time to see new internet users coming online for the first time solely using their mobile phones.

Going mobile, however, was not enough to guarantee that people in emerging countries would be able to afford the expensive data charges to access Wikipedia. We quickly realized that if our intention was to enable the participation of new voices on Wikipedia, we also needed to remove the barrier of cost. This is how Wikipedia Zero came to life. From 2012, we have partnered with 72 mobile carriers in 64 countries across Africa, Asia, and Latin America to provide free access to Wikipedia. Together, we have been able to bring Wikipedia to over 600 million people.

It is an honor to have the accomplishments of Wikipedia Zero and the Wikimedia movement celebrated here today. We are proud that students from a township in South Africa decided to write a letter to all their mobile operators asking them to join our program and provide free access to Wikipedia; that we received a “thank you email” from a Wikipedia editor in Ghana saying that Wikipedia Zero will allow more Ghanaians to edit Wikipedia; and that some of our partners in Asia decided to support our communities and their outreach efforts, not because we asked them to but because they were impressed with our talented and passionate volunteer editors.

Imagine a world in which every single person freely share in the sum of all knowledge. We know we’re not there yet, but it is this vision that unifies us. This is what drives us forward.

On behalf of our movement, the Wikimedia Foundation and the Wikipedia Zero program, thank you for sharing this honor with us. It only encourages us to share more with the world. After all, Wikipedia is not finished; it’s barely just begun.

Video Wikipedia, an introduction


Ter gelegenheid van de Erasmusprijs 2015 toont de UvA topstukken uit haar collectie historische encyclopedieën.

De Erasmusprijs 2015 is toegekend aan Wikipedia.

De Erasmusprijs 2015 is toegekend aan Wikipedia.

De Erasmusprijs 2015 is toegekend aan Wikipedia.

De Erasmusprijs 2015 is toegekend aan Wikipedia.

Bekendmaking Erasmusprijswinnaar 2015

De directeur van de Erasmusprijs Stichting maakt bekend dat de Erasmusprijs 2015 gaat naar de Wikipedia Community.

Bekendmaking Erasmusprijswinnaar 2015

Jimmy Wales, oprichter van Wikipedia, bij de bekendmaking van de Erasmusprijs 2015 tijdens het symposium in de KNAW.


Ter gelegenheid van de Erasmusprijs 2015 toont de UvA topstukken uit haar collectie historische encyclopedieën.


Ter gelegenheid van de Erasmusprijs 2015 toont de UvA topstukken uit haar collectie historische encyclopedieën.

Lezing Jimmy Wales Paradiso

Lezing door Jimmy Wales, oprichter van Wikipedia, over ‘Wikipedia and Governance’ in Paradiso op 25 november.

Internationale wetenschappelijke conferentie ‘Reading Wikipedia’

De internationale wetenschappelijke conferentie ‘Reading Wikipedia’ wordt gehouden in de KNAW op 23 november.

Wikipedia Lemma

De Erasmusprijs 2015 is toegekend aan Wikipedia.

Internationale wetenschappelijke conferentie ‘Reading Wikipedia’

De internationale wetenschappelijke conferentie ‘Reading Wikipedia’ wordt gehouden in de KNAW op 23 november.

Adele Vrana (Wikipedia Zero)

Adele Vrana (Wikipedia Zero) is een van de vertegenwoordigers van Wikipedia die de Erasmusprijs in ontvangst neemt.

Phoebe Ayers (Science and Engineering Library)

Phoebe Ayers is een van de vertegenwoordigers van de Wikipedia Community die de Erasmusprijs in ontvangst zal nemen.

Lodewijk Gelauff (Wiki Loves Monuments)

Lodewijk Gelauff is een van de vertegenwoordigers van de Wikipedia Community die de Erasmusprijs in ontvangst zal nemen.

Insignia Erasmusprijs 2015

De insignia van de Erasmusprijs 2015 bestaan uit drie kokers, ontworpen door Bruno Ninaber van Eyben en Reynoud Homan.

Erasmusprijsuitreiking 2015

De prijswinnaars bij de uitreiking van de Erasmusprijs aan de Wikipedia Community op 25 november 2015.

Erasmusprijsuitreiking 2015

De prijswinnaars bij de uitreiking van de Erasmusprijs aan de Wikipedia Community op 25 november 2015.

Erasmusprijsuitreiking 2015

De prijswinnaars bij de uitreiking van de Erasmusprijs aan de Wikipedia Community op 25 november 2015.

Erasmusprijsuitreiking 2015

De prijswinnaars bij de uitreiking van de Erasmusprijs aan de Wikipedia Community op 25 november 2015.

Erasmusprijsuitreiking 2015

Lodewijk Gelauff bij de uitreiking van de Erasmusprijs aan de Wikipedia Community op 25 november 2015.

Erasmusprijsuitreiking 2015

Phoebe Ayers bij de uitreiking van de Erasmusprijs aan de Wikipedia Community op 25 november 2015.

Erasmusprijsuitreiking 2015

Adele Vrana bij de uitreiking van de Erasmusprijs aan de Wikipedia Community op 25 november 2015.