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Monthly Archives: 04/2015

Down the Rabbit Hole: (Miss)Adventures in Wikipedia

Posted on by Emily Vigor

Last month, the EDA participated in #wikiD, an event that coincided with International Women’s Day (March 8) to help write women designers, architects, and all those involved in the creation of the built environment into Wikipedia. We heard about the event through ArchiteXX, which sought to increase an internationally diverse listing of women on Wikipedia. This inaugural event was spurred by Despina Stratigakos’s Places essay, “Unforgetting Women Architects: From the Pritzker to Wikipedia,” which pushes for the importance of ensuring the presence of women architects in online histories – and the challenges in making this happen.

Mai Arbegast, Maggie Baylis, Alice Carey
Mai Arbegast, Maggie Baylis, Alice Carey

Though Wikipedia may seem an unauthorized resource for promoting these women, it is often the top listed link for a Google search and one that is clicked on frequently. This site has become important for public awareness, especially for minorities and underrepresented populations. In her article, Stratigakos comments on the importance of the internet for preserving the cultural record. She quotes Mia Ridge “A historian might spend decades undertaking research in archives and writing up discoveries in scholarly journals, but if the work does not have a presence online — and, specifically, a presence that is not behind a paywall — it is all but invisible outside academia.  As Ridge states, ‘If it’s not Googleable, it doesn’t exist.’ And because Wikipedia articles usually show up first in Google search rankings, intervening on the site is especially important in establishing online visibility.”

 In the archives world, we often “crawl” websites to capture and preserve the information published at a given time. When certain voices aren’t seen or readily accessible at the top of a Google search (and let’s face it, we’re all guilty of only paying attention to the first items listed in our own Google searches), it underlines the assumption that certain groups have not participated in the profession, especially among a younger generation that relies heavily on the internet for research.

The EDA has published pages for our collections on Wikipedia before, and have found it to be a useful tool in reaching more diverse populations. I’ve published several in my 2 years at the archives – however, they’ve all been for men. The process is fairly strait forward: you write about a person’s life, and supply references to back up your statements in an attempt to make the published article verifiable; you load an image of the person, and maybe a few for their projects to add a visual element to the page; and you submit it for editing and publication. In the past, my articles have all passed Wikipedia’s editing and publishing review that occurs after the initial submission.

This was not the case with the three articles the EDA tried to publish for Mai Arbegast, Maggie Baylis, and Alice Carey. Cailin, Chris and I each took on the responsibility of creating a Wikipedia entry for these women, starting at the beginning of March to coincide with Women’s History Month. After reading Stratigakos’s article, we were prepared for the very likely possibility that our entries would be rejected or questioned. In other women’s history events, editors found that new entries on women were questioned more frequently for the sources referenced and the significance of the topic than those of their male counterparts.

Each of us experienced a variety of issues in getting our submissions published: the significance of these women was questioned, as were the resources referenced; the image copyright needed to be verified through a formal letter to Wikipedia; and even when published, certain pages retain a disclaimer at the top warning the reader that the article is written in a manner which “promotes the subject in a subjective manner.” These hurdles were new to us, and were not something we had ever encountered when submitting articles to Wikipedia for men in our collections. While we attempted to work with Wikipedia to revise our articles to fit their guidelines for publication, our drafts were repeatedly rejected. It was only after each of us had revised our articles 3+ times, and in one case contacted Wikipedia to work with their live help desk, that we started to see progress in our articles going live. As of this writing, all three articles have been approved though it took a month to do so – a hindrance that could deter other users from continuing to push for publication.

Above: Donald Olsen's Wikipedia page (not submitted by EDA) with one paragraph and resource, and no image. Below: Mai Arbegast's Wikipedia page with disclaimer, despite the longer article with numerous references and images.

The real issue at hand is that we want to utilize as many resources as possible to reach the broadest community possible, and Wikipedia is one of the main ways to do this. It's also an important way to expand awareness of underrepresented groups of people and increase their presence online. We strive to promote a diverse and accurate portrayal of the participation of all groups in the field of architecture, and want to be accurate in the broader world of the internet as well. While this process has been rife with frustration, we will continue to submit to Wikipedia but with an increased awareness of what it means to click that top link in our next Google search.