Growing the representation of Australian Women in Religion through Wikidata

Wikidata Fellow Kerrie Burn on her project investigating Wikidata and data visualisation.
, Kerrie Burn.
Fellow Kerrie Burn

In 2022, Wikimedia Australia offered three $1000 (AUD) Wikidata Fellowships to curate a data set, develop a prototype or undertake an investigation using Wikidata supported by an experienced mentor. Fellow Kerrie Burn is a library manager and prolific Wikimedian focused on growing the number of women in religion on Wikipedia. Supported by mentors Alex Lum and Sam Wilson, Kerrie describes her journey visualising that work and expanding the representation of women in religion on Wikidata as well.

Since 2019 I’ve coordinated a group of editors who have been working together to grow the representation of women in religion on Wikipedia, creating and improving pages through regular edit-a-thons. So far we’ve created 136 Wikipedia articles.

Core to our project is a list of women whose life or work has been influenced in some way by a religious or spiritual tradition and who have made valuable contributions in the church, community and wider society, in diverse fields such as education, health, social welfare and philanthropy.

As an inaugural recipient of a Wikimedia Australia’s Wikidata Fellowship, I began to explore how I could expand the work of the Australian Women in Religion (AWR) WikiProject in Wikidata.

I wondered how Wikidata could be used to identify and fill gaps in our dataset to make it as comprehensive as possible, also exploring using the data analytics tool SPARQL to do some basic dataset analysis and experimenting with producing a variety of visualisations and other creative outputs. I began by completing a self-paced Wikidata primer course.

About the Australian Women in Religion WikiProject List

At the start of the fellowship the Australian Women in Religion WikiProject list included 573 women. They all had entries on Wikidata, and were included on our AWR WikiProject List by virtue of having the property Wikimedia Project property (P5008) and Australian Women in Religion QID (the unique identifier of a data item on Wikidata) (Q108581788) added to their Wikidata entry, e.g. Lucy Beeton.

The AWR WikiProject had already collated a large amount of biographical information, initially in an Excel spreadsheet, before it was loaded into Wikidata. Much of this was done in smaller batches using the QuickStatements tool.

As well as biographical properties, identifiers were added to each woman’s Wikidata entry (e.g. VIAF, ORCID), including those particularly relevant in the Australian context, (e.g. ADB (P1907), NLA Trove (P1315), Women Australia ID (P9244), and Australian Women’s Register ID (P4186). These identifiers can in themselves provide evidence of a woman’s notability and will automatically be included in the Authority control section of Wikipedia articles.

Increasing numbers and generating lists with Wikidata

We now have 650 names on the AWR WikiProject List, an increase of 77 names, and every woman had the following added to her Wikidata item, On focus list of Wikimedia project (P5008) that indicates an item is of particular interest for a Wikimedia project, and Australian Women in Religion WikiProject (Q108581788) to indicate which project they’re part of.

This enabled me to produce a table listing all of the women included in the project that was automatically generated from Wikidata, i.e. a list of all Wikidata items that include this property and QID.

I then created an AWR WikiProject Page that included an automatically generated list from Wikidata, and compared that with my Excel spreadsheet, my previous source of truth, making updates to both to ensure they were consistent.

One of the advantages of the automatically generated list is that it shows the names of women with existing Wikipedia articles as blue links and those without Wikipedia articles as red links.

It also helped me to identify gaps in the data. While this list on the AWR WikiProject Page now looks reasonably complete, it didn’t start that way. Gaps were identified and additional data was added in a number of fields such as missing family names (P734) and given names (P735). These were added to every woman’s Wikidata entry.

There were about 100 missing surnames at the start of the project, some just because the family name property hadn’t been added to the woman’s Wikidata entry, and some because the family name needed to be created before it could be added. I used Quick Statements to add a batch of family names that were not already on Wikidata, and then later also added some individually.

Other properties that I focussed on filling included occupation (P106) and religion or worldview (P140) (where the latter was readily identifiable), and religious order (P611) for any religious sisters and nuns.

I also added award details to Wikidata entries after my mentor Alex Lum provided me with a spreadsheet of names of women that had received Order of Australia awards filtered by words such as religion, theology, church, etc. Of the 362 names on this list, only 18 were already included on the AWR WikiProject List. I added the names of 36 new women to the list because I wanted to feel confident that the women would meet notability requirements for future Wikipedia articles.

Another goal of the wider Australian Women in Religion project is to increase diversity on the list. Some of the new names include six women from the Australian Baha’i community, a religious tradition that was not previously well represented on the list.

I also added two new publications to Wikidata, Wikipedia and to the AWR WikiProject list.  Women-Church was an Australian feminist theology journal and Magdalene was an early Christian feminist magazine. A number of women on the AWR WikiProject List had published in these titles and both had been recently digitised as part of the wider Australian Women in Religion WikiProject and the creation of the Australian Women in Religion Archive.

Using SPARQL – Initial Analysis of the Data

SPARQL is a programming language and protocol used for retrieving and manipulating data. It can be used for database analytics and creating graphs from multiple datasets.

The links below show a few examples of the initial queries done using SPARQL, and some of the options available for visualising results. All queries were run against the complete dataset for the Australian Women in Religion WikiProject (Q108581788):

All known religious affiliations - e.g. of Bubble chart view

All women born between 1825 and 1850 - e.g. of Timeline view

All women with place of birth - e.g. of Map view

All women with an image - e.g. of Image grid view


In completing this fellowship, I’ve created an Australian Women in Religion Dashboard in Wikidata, a useful tool that can be used to help identify gaps and explore information about all of the properties and QIDs that I had used in Wikidata to date. I hope that this might be useful for other Wikidata projects related to religion or biography, such as the Wikidata Religion & Theology Community of Practice, recently established by Atla, an association of librarians and information professionals committed to advancing the study of religion and theology.

That said, I realised it was difficult to focus on Wikidata without also working on the Wikipedia side of the AWR WikiProject. While not necessarily directly related to Wikidata, these additional activities, such as a summary of AWR Wikipedia articles by quality and importance and an AWR Project Template, did help improve the infrastructure for the wider project moving forward.

During this three-month fellowship, I have only just scratched the surface of what is possible with Wikidata. There is so much more work to do and so much more to learn.

It was a valuable initiative and I am thankful for the mentorship and support provided to me by Alex Lum, Sam Wilson and Caddie Brain.

Read more about the Wikidata Fellowship program and see stories from other Fellows here.

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