Wikipedia, Knowledge Equity, and Researching Herstories
You may have heard that last week the Library hosted its now-annual Wikipedia edit-a-thon, a gathering of editors and fans of this amazing online resource (side note: speaking as a librarian who was taught that since Wikipedia is crowd-sourced it’s unreliable, I can say I’ve come to a much more appreciative stance after learning about its culture of fact-checking and reference, and in fact using the reference lists in articles on many occasions). Wikipedia is central to our knowledge landscape, and the UC Berkeley Library’s edit-a-thons are held so that we can improve on this landscape in the areas of art + feminism, and race + justice.
This year, because the edit-a-thon was virtual, we organizers were able to present a fascinating two-hour keynote and workshop given by Dr. Alexandria Lockett, of Spelman College in Atlanta. Dr. Lockett is a long-time Wikipedian (she started editing in 2003) who incorporates Wikipedia in her teaching, and works to question the politics of citation practices, representation, and knowledge equity there (check out her recent book chapter, “Why Do I Have Authority to Edit the Page? The Politics of User Agency and Participation on Wikipedia”).
Her talk, “Research for Knowledge Equity” had important content for everyone attending, whatever their Wikipedia editing level or interest. Dr. Lockett focused on knowledge production, and how that can “marginalize Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) scholarship and media, LGBTQ persons, African scholarship and media, women scholars regardless of color, disabled scholars, etc.” (she noted that there are Wikipedia campaigns meeting this issue, particularly #CiteBlackWomen and “CiteaSista”). She then went on to outline methods and resources for doing herstorical research, particularly on the history of Black women. Bringing the perspectives of inclusive knowledge production and informed research strategies to our editing means that Wikipedia can start to become a force for change from within, moving towards knowledge equity. As Dr. Lockett notes, “This is intellectual labor, not just tacking on facts. It will change your perspectives on knowledge production.” Want to know more? Dr. Lockett has made her slides and her list of potential articles to edit available!
After the workshop, the edit-a-thon continued in its classic format, superimposed onto Zoom. We had an editing instruction session, a breakout room for one-on-one help, and one for open editing for those who wanted a collegial space in which to work. I, for one, felt fired up by what I’d heard from Dr. Lockett, and decided to see if I could improve an article on Carol Blanche Cotton (Bowie), a Black psychologist whose dissertation focused on cognitive testing of children with disabilities, and whose name was on a list of articles needing edits. Using my librarian super searching skills (AKA Google Scholar in this case), I found an online reference to her great grandmother, Rebecca Harris, in a 1983 article titled “The Antebellum ‘Talented Thousandth’: Black College Students at Oberlin Before the Civil War”. Once I did that, I was able to add the section circled in the image above to Dr. Cotton’s Wikipedia page. It felt so rewarding to connect Dr. Cotton to her ancestor, who believed so strongly in education that she moved her entire family to Oberlin, and along the way I learned more about two women—Dr. Cotton and Rebecca Harris—who I will never forget. I hope you, reader, will have the chance to get just as excited about learning and editing, in one of the many online editathons happening now, and also at our 2022 edit-a-thon—watch this space!