Wednesday 25 January 2017

Women's Classical Committee Wikipedia Editathon - 23 January 2017

My most recent (but not so recent) blog post, you may remember, was to do with the Women's Classical Committee. It's an organisation of recent standing which does marvellous work in pursuit of admirable aims, with the heartening support of all possible genders. Though I'm not good enough with crowds and unfamiliar places to have felt comfortable joining the Women's March in London this Saturday just past, I like to think I made a small gesture, but a practical as well as a symbolic one, towards equal representation by attending the WCC's all-day Wikipedia editathon at Senate House in London.

The idea was to go some way towards redressing the gender imbalance in notable classicists' Wikipedia profiles: before Monday, about 20 out of 200 biographical pages were of women. During the event, each of us picked an un- or underrepresented woman (**) to work on that afternoon after the morning's training, so that by the end of the day we'd added 12, which is around 6%. A small but significant jump. You can find the project page here.

(** by 'under' I mean either already existing as a stub or as a 'red link' on another page, which is a passing mention without a page of one's own)

The lady I chose was Dr Miriam Tamara Griffin, because she's a great classical scholar (of Nero, the Julio-Claudians more generally, and Seneca -- as well as various other things) who on Wikipedia was no more than a dead link in her famous classics professor husband's profile. Now in her early eighties, she was also real Oxford trailblazer in terms of being a female academic in classics. She deserves recognition for both her scholarly output and the trailblazing! You can find the page I made here.

And here's a video of Dr Ellie Mackin (Twitter @EllieMackin) of Leicester and me, discussing why the event felt so valuable for us and how we see it impacting on what we might do in the future:

To round off, therefore, a big and well-deserved shout out to the organisers of the event, Claire Millington (Twitter @Claire_M) at KCL and Emma Bridges of the Open University (Twitter @emmabridges), as well as to the Wikimedia UK paid staff (Richard Nevell and somebody called John whose surname I unfortunately didn't catch), ably supported by volunteers Roberta, Kelly and Andrew, for the training and support provided. Wikipedia has more procedural and content rules than you would imagine, so the guidance is not only welcome but even to this fairly technically literate person seemed welcome. Personally I love a bit of low-level coding, and Wikipedia's is so low you probably can't even call it that, but for those who don't there is a visual editor that looks a little like a word processing programme to help you write and mark up your post (not unlike Blogger, in which I am writing this post, in fact). No, the real challenge is what you can and can't say, how you can or can't say it, and what counts as sufficient evidence to back it up. For photographs, you get into the territory of licensing arrangements, and that can get tricky too. Dr Griffin was kind enough to email me a photograph to put up on her Wikipedia page, so you'd think this would be an easy one, but this too seems to come with its own set of problems, which I am still trying to work out how to solve. Or more accurately: the uploading itself will be simple, but assuring Wikipedia and its real and bot-shaped editors that it's ok for the photo to be up there will be a different matter. Watch not this space, therefore, but this one.

And finally, a postscript, for those not yet bored of reading... I'm including this because I'm as happy to expose what I think is male bias, however unconscious, as I am to expose myself to the disagreement of others on this matter. On the very day of my Wikipedia initiation, I also made my first foray into the territory of 'edit wars' (or at least, the temptation to start one...). By the time I had travelled from the pub near Russell Square to the coach stop at Baker Street, I already had a notification from Wikipedia that my profile had been 'checked', and approved by someone, subject to some edits. These edits were: the removal of the word 'distinguished' in the introductory sentence, which had said 'Miriam Tamara Griffin is a distinguished American classical scholar', as well as the removal of the words 'long and distinguished' from a sentence talking about the Festschrift she had dedicated to her in 2002 in recognition of her, indeed, long and distinguished career. In both cases the adjectives were removed as being 'subjective'. In view of Wikipedia's criteria of notability for academics, this felt to me as if she passed the notability test but I wasn't allowed to say so. (Incidentally, in the case of the subjects we worked on on Monday, the notability test is in itself arguably sexist: much is made of named professorships, international awards, chairmanships of organisations, etc., exactly the sorts of posts from which these first-wave 20th century female scholars were habitually excluded for a long time. I know they've listed other reasons, and you only need one, but the list seems to be made without any awareness of this historical background for academics specifically.) More importantly, though, I was amazed that a demonstrable career of 50+ years which the article was obviously outlining could not be called objectively 'long', and that the dedicatee of a Festschrift with Oxford University Press could not objectively said to have had a distinguished career. A Festschrift is, surely, by its very nature, a recognition of someone's.... long and distinguished career! But ho hum. That's by the by...

1 comment:

  1. Good blog post. Is there a quote from the Festschrift we can use to describe Dr Griffin's career? Uploading other people's images can be tricky but if you email me about it I'll try to lend a hand.