Edit-a-thon March 8 raises profile of women and the arts on Wikipedia

A 1926 self-portrait of artist Alison Mason Kingsbury is one of the images representing “Missing” women on Wikipedia in promotional materials for the fourth annual Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon at Cornell. The editing session, on International Women’s Day, March 8, meets from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the seventh floor of Olin Library.

Alison Mason Kingsbury's self-portrait on a card promoting Cornell's Art + Feminism Edit-a-Thon.

Kingsbury, who created murals in the Willard Straight Hall lobby and on West Campus from 1925-30, is no longer missing from the online encyclopedia. Editors at Cornell have produced several new pages in previous edit-a-thons, for her and Cornellians such as Olive Tjaden, art historian Claire Holt and artist Clara Seley. Many other artists, and notable women in all fields, wait in the wings.

First-time and experienced editors can sign up online to participate; attend a free workshop on March 6 for an introduction to the project and Wikipedia basics, and then walk into Olin with a laptop next Friday and dive in.

“Give us 30 minutes and we’ll get you started,” said Susette Newberry, director of research and learning services at Olin and Uris libraries.

Cornell University Library has a comprehensive guide to the edit-a-thon, including lists of articles to improve and pages to create, many of them suggested by the Ithaca community; and links to related Wikipedia projects such as Women in Red.

There is a need for translations and new articles on international artists and women, “who are even more underrepresented on both English and non-English-language areas of Wikipedia,” Newberry said, adding that the expertise and resources of the Cornell community can help.

“We have loads of language dictionaries available, and will have language materials and a lot of books brought in from the annex,” she said.

Cornell University Library has been organizing campus participation in the edit-a-thon since 2016. The first year, 43 editors joined the Cornell event; there were 51 in 2017 and 41 in 2018. Beyond the one-day editing session, all pages created, edits made and citations added during the month of March are counted as contributions to the project.

Wikipedia-related assignments also bring in students in writing seminars, including an art history class on “Dangerous Women” in 2016.

“This year, they’ve got an assignment to write a Wikipedia article and are required to do some form of editing as part of that,” Newberry said. “For artists that are underrepresented, I point them to stub-class articles to improve.”

The value, she said, includes “teaching them to write in a different style and to contribute to public knowledge.”

Edit-a-thon co-organizers are Newberry; Marsha Taichman, visual resources and public services librarian at the Fine Arts Library; Brittany Rubin, print room curatorial assistant at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art; and Julie McLean, coordinator of public programs at the museum.

Susette Newberry leads a recent Wikipedia editing workshop in the Olin Library classroom.

Artists in the museum’s collection are a particular focus, and two student interns at the museum “have been doing a lot of Wikipedia recon” in advance, Rubin said. “They’ve been going through and picking out those artists that need more of a well-developed page, especially those which can be improved easily.”

“The smallest edits can sometimes contribute the most to a page,” she said. “Having a citation added can help immensely.”

Seeking to address obvious gaps in content and editor demographics, the Wikipedia community organized the first worldwide art and feminism edit-a-thon in February 2014. The editing continues because the gender gap was extremely wide to begin with; the Wikimedia Foundation reports that editorship remains 90 percent male, according to one survey.

An analysis in 2014 showed that only 15 percent of all the biographies on English Wikipedia were about women. More than 86,000 new articles later, that figure was near 18 percent by late 2017. Meanwhile, the project has introduced thousands of new editors and micro-communities of Wikipedians with a sense of purpose to make the site more inclusive and equitable.

It’s a democratic endeavor with a multitude of topics, such as gender issues in STEM, women’s health, music, poetry and literature.

“Anyone can participate, even someone who is not in a related discipline,” Taichman said.

The organizers have individual projects themselves. Taichman is working on a new page for contemporary Canadian photographer Marisa Portolese. Newberry has started a page for botanical illustrator Nancy Anne Kingsbury Wollstonecraft, whose 1826 manuscript on plants native to Cuba was discovered in the library’s Rare and Manuscript Collections and is being published.

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Gillian Smith