“If students – and the wider world – don’t see stories about the lives and work of women, they will assume that women haven’t made substantial contributions to knowledge, or assume they don’t belong in certain industries, and continue to perpetuate systems that exclude women or keep them at the margins.” – former Wiki Scholars participant
To create a more equitable and just American society, the Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative will amplify American women’s accomplishments by adding their biographies to Wikipedia. In a 7-week training course, Wiki Education will guide Smithsonian Affiliate staff through the process of adding notable historical figures to Wikipedia. Our writing group will meet once per week via Zoom on Tuesdays from 11:00am–12:00pm Pacific (2:00–3:00pm Eastern). Join us as we increase the visibility of women’s accomplishments and inspire millions of Wikipedia’s readers.
The Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative is an ambitious undertaking to research, collect, document, display, and share the compelling story of women. The Smithsonian is working to create a more equitable and just American society, just as Wiki Education is working to create a more equitable Wikipedia.
In order to increase the visibility of women’s history, we’re hosting Wiki Scholars courses to train Smithsonian Affiliate staff how to add high-quality biographies of women to Wikipedia. Through this partnership, we will share women’s stories with millions of readers, all while preparing museum staff to join the Wikipedia community and continue amplifying their archives and research through Wikipedia well beyond the course.
Why Wikipedia biographies?
When you want to learn about an artist, educator, entertainer, scientist, or any historical figure, a quick Google search will probably take you to her Wikipedia biography. But what if she doesn’t have one?
Only 19% of Wikipedia biographies are about women, and even those don’t always tell the whole story. Sarah Emma Edmonds was a veteran of the 2nd Michigan Infantry during the American Civil War — in which she served as a man named Frank Thompson. Or did she? Until earlier this year, Wikipedia’s article on her had a warning banner indicating the article contained disputed information.
That made the article on Edmonds ripe for improvement from a subject matter expert. Enter Samantha Machalik, a registrar with the Kenosha Museum Campus in Wisconsin, a group of museums including the Dinosaur Discovery Museum, the Kenosha Public Museum, and, relevant for this story, the Civil War Museum.
“We talk a bit about Edmonds/Thompson at The Civil War Museum in the context of women soldiers, and so I wanted to edit and add to her article in order to get that banner removed,” Samantha says. “It’s unknown exactly how many women served in the Civil War, so, to me, it is important that we are able to share the stories of the veterans we do know.”
Thanks to Wiki Education’s instruction in the Smithsonian AWHI Wiki Scholars course, Samantha learned how to write for Wikipedia, learning about its sourcing requirements, tone, and just how much work goes into creating each article. She also found course sessions, held via Zoom, engaging, especially listening to other Smithsonian Affiliates present in the course sharing their experiences and asking interesting questions.
All her hard work paid off: Samantha more than doubled the article length, adding enough relevant citations to remove the warning banner. Now, the 20,000+ people who read that biography each year have a better picture of Edmonds’ life and the role women played during the Civil War.