WikiProject Women’s History: the first week

2011 February 11

It’s hard to believe that it’s only been a week since I started WikiProject Women’s History. Initially, I did it on a lark, but then I blogged about it and passed the link around. I started this project because I thought it was important, but I didn’t realize how much fun it could be.

Here’s a little secret, for those of you who may feel like you don’t know enough about Wikipedia to contribute: when I started WP:WMNHIST, I didn’t either. Seriously, the only Wikipedia editing I’d done was substantial edits to about 3 pages, and those were only because Tona pointed out serious gaps in entries I knew something about. A few procrastination-fueled late nights later,1 I realized how many erroneous, incomplete, or just plain bad Wikipedia entries on women’s lives and history there really were, and I decided to do something about it.

WWI telephone operators, aka 'Hello Girls'

US bilingual telephone operators from WWI, aka 'Hello Girls'.

Gaining Steam

Rather than trying to drink the Mississippi River with a teacup, I decided to find some help, and it’s appeared almost overnight.

Penny Richards, a historian who’s worked on 2 scholarly encyclopedias before, bravely jumped in early on. Skud, an experienced Wikipedian and geek-of-all-trades, signed on early and helped to rectify some of my novice missteps. Collaborative knowledge projects are almost always full of unwritten social practices, and Skud’s spent years working on community-building in other projects. She pulled in a few more experienced Wikipedians (FloNight and SlimVirgin), which was really useful for getting a critical mass of people participating. I posted the link to H-WOMEN, the largest scholarly email list on women’s history, which drove lots of traffic to my introductory blog post, and people passed the link around on Twitter.

We’ve now got over a dozen people who’ve signed the Members page to indicate their interest, and the Contributors list for the main project page lists 18 user accounts and 2 anonymous IP addresses as having helped out. For those of you who haven’t signed the Members page, please do, so we know who to credit.

Thanks to all who’ve volunteered and passed the word around about the project. Please continue to do so.

Major achievements

Assessment banner and criteria

Because of lots of work by various collaborators, we’ve now got a banner template with assessment criteria built into it. This helps us mark what entries relate to our project– an easy task which many people have helped with– so that our “big list of entries” can be auto-generated instead of hand-maintained.

The assessment banner template also lets us auto-generate a grid of article assessments by importance and quality. That grid can help you figure out how you want to help; maybe you’d like to use our assessment standards to rate some unassessed women’s history articles, or maybe you’d like to expand a stub-class or start-class article on our list, or maybe you’re just interested in refining some already pretty decent articles. There’s a discussion about our assessment criteria active on the talk page.

Priorities and Politics

Discussions about the global coverage goals of the project quickly showed up, as the early entry suggestions were mostly about women from English-speaking countries and Western Europe. There’s an active conversation going on about priorities: improving coverage of non-Western women’s history first, or putting more detail into the existing entries? (Wikipedia’s benevolent-anarchy principles being what they are, no one’s going to tell you what to work on, but that discussion should give some idea of the sentiments of other project contributors.)

We started a list of tips for new Wikipedia contributors, which spawned a conversation about maiden names.

We’ve also already hit our first major run-in with the politics of women’s history on Wikipedia– an allegation of “banner spamming,” that is, marking too many entries as relevant to our work. See the previous link for the discussion on our talk page, sparked by Penny’s wide-ranging edits. All I can say is that when we’re paying enough attention to women’s history that someone thinks there’s too much of it, we’re on our way to success. ;-)

Focused subprojects

Yesterday, Skud started the project’s first task force, about women in/around World War I, which you can read more about at her task force page.

Also, PKM suggests that the “Did you Know?” (DYK) section on the Wikipedia homepage is a great way to promote our work and recruit editors. She’s set up a page about DYK for WP:WMNHIST and would be happy to advise people about helping with that.

How you can help

For people who’ve been looking for a chance to help but haven’t found their niche yet, a few suggestions:

  • Read the project’s ongoing How you can help list, which is updated more frequently than this entry will be, and ask questions on the talk page.
  • More work on entries about women’s history outside the US and Commonwealth countries— especially the global South— would be extremely welcome.
  • Start a task force or subproject on your interests; see the existing ones for examples. (For example, I get the sense that we’ve got a good number of editors with interests covering women in classical antiquity and the medieval world. With the 150-year anniversary of the US Civil War going on, a task force on women’s role in it would be very timely.)
  • Tagging untagged but relevant articles with our template is easy and useful.
  • Most of the entries we’ve marked as relevant are biographical in nature. Those are important, but it would also be great to have more topical items about women’s organizations, law/policy issues, and events relevant to women’s history.
  • If you’re experienced in traditional scholarly encyclopedia writing or editing, make yourself known. I’m sure that Penny isn’t the only interested person who’s done this before in print. Your skills and experience with large-scale cat-herding would be very helpful.
  • If you’re a librarian with expertise about name authorities and want to weigh in on the maiden names and entry titles discussion, that might also be useful.

As always, Wikipedia runs on the work of lots of volunteers. Thanks to all who’ve made this project successful so far!

A note about yours truly, and a plea for leadership

Due to professional good fortune, my dissertation-completion process is being kicked into high gear, and the next 3 months are likely to be a whirlwind for me. I very likely may need to take weeklong internet diets/vacations, and my email response times may be slow. I’m not at all interested in “running” this project actively (as if anyone can “manage” anything on Wikipedia.) I got things started with this project, but I don’t have time to play an active role right now.

Some ways to play a leadership role might include:

  • If you’re participating heavily (or watching!) and want to write a roundup blog post every so often– what we’re doing this week and how new editors can help– that would be great. Post links to those below here, so people can find them.
  • Those of you who participate in scholarly email lists like H-WOMEN should feel free to cross-post links to discussions we’re having at the talk page, or to roundup posts like this one, as a way of pulling in professional historians.
  • Promoting our project on Twitter is also a really good idea and can pull people in fairly fast, as we’ve already seen.

Thanks again to everyone who’s helped out so far and who’s beginning to participate. Let’s keep the ball rolling.

  1. Those of you who’ve written dissertations may understand.