Announcing the First Ever Wikipedia Edit-a-thon at the Berkshire Conference

Announcing the First Ever Wikipedia Edit-a-thon at the Berkshire Conference

Last year I reported on the gender gap in Wikipedia and efforts by women’s historians and others to remedy it.  To recap:

Several years ago, the Wikimedia Foundation, the organization that runs Wikipedia, collaborated on a study of Wikipedia’s contributor base and found that less than 15 percent of its hundreds of thousands of contributors are women. These sobering statistics gained widespread publicity in a January 2011 New York Times article by Noam Cohen and an ensuing flurry of media coverage in various venues, including Mother Jones, the Atlantic, and NPR. Blogger Tenured Radical (aka Claire Potter) reported on gender bias in Wikipedia in an article titled “Prikipedia? Or, Looking for the Women on Wikipedia.”

Tenured Radical (TR) found it “a slightly dubious assumption that Wikipedia’s poor showing in the gender department simply reflects a computer world that is hostile to women.” After all, there are lots of female bloggers. TR refers to an article by Sarah Stierch, 2012 Wikipedian in residence at the Smithsonian, who finds that “the kinds of men who are motivated to write and edit articles want to maintain a traditional intellectual hierarchy that positions white men firmly at the center of world history. In ‘How Many Women Does It Take To Change Wikipedia?'(, April 4 2012), Stierch argued that the consensus view among male Wikipedians reflects a vestigial consensus within the historical profession itself: that the proper status of women in history is, to paraphrase Stokely Carmichael, prone.”

Mind the gap. Wikimedia

Before the 2011 Berkshire Conference on Women’s History, blogger Shane Landrum (who blogs under the name Cliotropic) launched a formal WikiProject to work on improving Wikipedia coverage of women’s history. True to the spirit of Wikipedia, Cliotropic invited anyone to join but was especially interested in getting more professional scholars involved. Cliotropic addressed the significant opposition to Wikipedia in academic quarters by arguing “that the information there isn’t going to get better unless people who actually know this stuff start pitching in.”

On my own blog, Knitting Clio, I agreed that it was a good idea for those of us who are professional women’s historians to think about investing our time in improving the representation of women’s history on Wikipedia.  Digital sources like Wikipedia, despite their flaws, are the point of entry for many young women interested in women’s history and feminism.

Contributors to Wikiproject Women’s History view our work as not only a scholarly enterprise but also a feminist act that seeks to remedy gender and racial bias in what “counts” as history on the Web. Historians of science, technology, and medicine have been especially active in the project. Last year, Sarah Stierch hosted “She Blinded Me With Science: Smithsonian Women in Science Edit-a-Thon,” that provided Wikipedians a chance to work with Smithsonian archivists to improve content on women in science. Similar edit-a-thons have been hosted by the Royal Society of London and the Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory (HASTAC).

At this year’s Berkshire Conference, Tenured Radical and I will host the conference’s first ever Wikipedia Hack-a-thon.  It will be held on Saturday from 2-5pm in the digital lab in the Gerstein Science Information Centre at the University of Toronto. No prior experience or advance registration is needed.  We will provide you with an introduction to the site, how to create an account, how to edit, insert images and citations, and other necessary skills.  Please bring a laptop or tablet.

Can’t attend the conference?  No problem!  Join us in cyberspace.  Here’s how to get started:

  • Sign up for a Wikipedia account (consider using a pseudonym at the outset, you can always change it once you’re comfortable)
  • Watch this video to learn just how to edit Wikipedia. Be sure to set aside some time for this video; it’s an hour long, and we recommend clicking on FLASH — it tends to play better that way. (Although, we will provide editing help at the edit-a-thon, if you don’t have time to do this.)
  • Read a bit about how to contribute to Wikipedia. Start with their page on your first article for the social conventions of “talk pages,” where discussion about individual articles and projects happens.
  • Further information on how to edit can be found in the help section, Wikipedia: The Missing Manual.

Keep in mind that Wikipedia is a social network. Before you start editing an entry make the editors aware of what you’re doing by explaining your intentions on the “talk” page of the article. For example, I posted the following at the entry on Margaret Sanger:

I showed this entry to my graduate students during our discussion of Ellen Chesler’s biography last night. There are a number of inaccuracies in this article, especially in the sections on eugenics and race. We would like to edit these sections but the entry is locked. Please advise as to how to proceed. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 19:15, 30 March 2012 (UTC)

The administrator replied:

The article is indeed locked for unregistered users. But because the article is controversial, the best way is to write a draft and publish it here on the talkpage. We can then discuss the draft and apply the beneficial parts onto the article. Your draft must be sourced. We will be looking forward for your draft and welcome you on Wikipedia!

For inspiration on what to do, go to the Wikipedia:WikiWomen’s History Month To-Do list. Use the hashtag #berks2014 so we can keep track of whose participating online.

Happy Editing!

Featured image caption: We can edit! Wikimedia

Heather Munro Prescott is Professor of History at Central Connecticut State University. She is the author of The Morning-After: A History of Emergency Contraception in the United States, New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2011.

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