Wikifeminists Reclaim History

Lucy Gellman PhotoHistory shortchanged Marta Kuzma. Until Wednesday night, when she was put back in the public record. 

Kuzma is the first female dean of the Yale School of Art, a position to which she was appointed in February. Until Wednesday, her Wikipedia record was two sentences long, and didn’t include that fact. Then Haas Arts Library Director Heather Gendron took action.

Wednesday night, Gendron was one of around 14 women and one man to attend the second annual Yale Art+Feminism Wikipedia Training and Edit-a-thon, sponsored by the Yale chapter of the national Art + Feminism initiative. The event was timed for International Women’s Day, celebrated worldwide on March 8.

Held at libraries, museums, universities, artist’s studios and in offices around the country, the Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon’s goal is twofold. First, said arts librarian and facilitator Danielle Reay, it seeks to correct and expand information on women artists, whose records still lag behind those of their male counterparts. Second, it seeks to increase female editorship on Wikipedia, empowering authors and editors who have not always been at the forefront of public data projects. 

Reay added that participants in the Edit-a-thon were welcome to work on any record they found incomplete or lacking, as long as it would enhance Wikipedia, or rectify a mistake in the database.  Still, she pointed participants to a suggested list of editing tasks on the group’s meetup page that focuses on women artists. That’s owing to a statistical imbalance: 51 percent of current art is made by women, but only 28 percent of it gets major museum exhibitions. 

Gendron is one of the people working to change that. As other participants got a crash course in editing from Reay and Wikidata volunteer/editor Kat Thornton, she dove into Wikipedia page for Marta Kuzma Wiki entry, her face lit by the glow of her laptop as she worked.

Gendron was one of the instigators of last year’s Edit-a-Thon, which she first encountered in a previous job at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Now, she said, she’s edited several records, and has noticed a difference as her peers in libraries and museums do the same. When she finished Kuzma’s record, she said, she was planning on looking at the record for Deborah Berke, first female dean of the Yale School of Architecture.

“It can become a hobby!” she said with a laugh as she clicked on the “edit” tab, and a clicker on the page sprang to life. She said that editing in the system used to be much more complicated—there was a little bit of coding involved, and Wikipedia could be fussy. Now she could just make the changes, add necessary citations, and leave the record more detailed than she found it. If other users catch a discrepancy, they can trace the edit back to her, and change it accordingly.

That was a double-edged sword, said Thornton—sometimes she or colleagues put hours of work into a record, only to see their edits undone by a different user. But it’s the peril of working “on the honor system” by which Wikipedia and its public editors operate.

That risk didn’t deter Christine Costantino, instructional technologist at Yale’s Center for Teaching and Learning. She’d heard about the Edit-a-Thon through a colleague and thought that it could be a chance to flex her technological muscles. A Wiki novice, she was using the three-hour event to start a record on photographer Endia Beal, a Yale School of Art graduate.     

“I’m interested in art, and I use Wikipedia a lot,” she said. She also noted that she’d found the site useful in looking up information.

She’d started her research Wednesday night by going to Beal’s website—where she knows that the information is correct.

That was also the case for Denis Tse, a Yale sophomore considering history and anthropology majors. While “I really didn’t know anything coming in [to the Edit-a-Thon],” he was already editing half an hour in, working on a record for Denise Ho, a singer from Hong-Kong who is performing at Yale later this year. In his edit, he said, he was thinking back on something Reay had mentioned earlier in the evening, while teaching the group how to edit, source material, and save work correctly. 

“These are small but important interventions,” she said.

The Yale Art + Feminism Wikipedia Meetup is a publicly available resource that includes records still in need of creation and editing. Anyone, Reay said, is welcome to access and use it remotely. 

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