Local history on Wikipedia is full of ripe opportunities. The site is global in reach, but among its 5 million articles are many that cover the small, but significant, cities and towns that shape our history. Even if those towns don’t actually exist.
Take, for example, the town of Baring Cross, Arkansas. You won’t find it on any (contemporary) map, because the town merged into Little Rock after just a 10-year run. Student editors from Dr. Kristin Dutcher’s Community History course at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock added information about the life of that town’s first of just two mayors.
Students tackled plenty of history about the existing city of Little Rock, too, drawing on local historical writings and trade journals that often aren’t available to many Wikipedians. The students created an article on Verna Cook Garvan, one of the first women CEOs in the United States, and expanded Adolphine Fletcher Terry, an anti-lynching advocate.
Having access to the local archives of a university or college library is a privileged position for students. Drawing on those materials to create Wikipedia articles is a great public service. It gives local readers a better understanding of their own history, and it can provide other historians with information that may otherwise be inaccessible. It’s just one of the ways that students open access to knowledge when they write for Wikipedia. More than that, students also have a sense of contribution, and a deeper respect for the communities they’re serving.
If you’re interested in participating in a similar initiative, we’d love to hear from you. We can provide free tools to help you and your students get started on Wikipedia. This includes online trainings and free printed materials for your course. We’ll also help you design a course page to help track student work, laying out a scaffolding built from hundreds of class hours’ worth of experience.
Interested? Get in touch with us by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo: Crop of Foggy Hills in Arkansas by Ryan Wick, CC BY 2.0 via Flickr.