Wikipedia and History

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Wikipedia and History was the theme of the Making Public Histories seminar held at the Old Treasury Building, Melbourne on Tuesday 12 June 2018. Pru Mitchell chaired a panel of researchers whose work on making public histories includes Wikipedia.

Dr Mary Tomsic, The University of Melbourne spoke to the topic that Who writes public history matters, and why they write, matters. Dr Tomsic discussed the motivation and goals of the university’s ResearcHERs Wikipedia edit-a-thon and ongoing editing community of practice focussed on social and cultural diversity. Her message was that: "As people who care about history we have an obligation to be active in the well-used popular public space of Wikipedia."

Justine Clarke is a co-founder of Parlour; women, equity, architecture. She spoke about how the Parlour team took on Wikipedia in their advocacy work on women, equity and architecture in Australia. Their WikiD project has made major contributions including their set of Wikipedia editing guides and the 70 (and growing) articles on Australian women architects categorised at Category:Women_architects_by_nationality.

Associate Professor Murray Phillips from The University Queensland reported on the digital research project, Creating Histories of the Australian Paralympic Movement which uses Wikipedia as a platform. The presentation celebrated the 987 Wikipedia articles have been created as part of this project, and outlined how Wikipedia is employed as a part of a larger, integrated history making venture. While the project demonstrates our capacity to bring together individuals, institutions and promote an understanding of diversity through disability, he acknowledged that the cultural practices of Wikipedia raise some challenges for historians. Following the presentations there was a sustained discussion between panellists and the audience, which was made up of both experienced local Wikipedia community members and public historians.


OUTCOMES

Partnerships The seminar was a partnership between Wikimedia Australia and History Council Victoria. It provided an opportunity to promote three of our existing partnerships with:

  • University of Melbourne Wikipedia editing community
  • Parlour's WikiD project
  • Australian Paralympic History Project

Participants

Overall, 98 bookings were received through the History Council Victoria website booking system. An estimated 56 people attended on the night. The audience included several Melbourne Wikimedia Australia members (4) and editors (approx 4).

Feedback There was some Twitter activity from the event: #makingpublichistories

The organiser thanked Wikimedia Australia for helping scope the key issues, for assembling such an interesting panel of speakers, and for facilitating the discussion so ably and honestly. The presenters shared their experiences and insights generously, and their openness and fascinating examples gave the audience a lot of confidence in asking questions. The seminar responded really well to the questions that, in planning, we hoped would be considered. Historians who aren't Wikimedians may well take up the challenge now to start contributing and editing. And the experienced Wikimedians in the audience seemed to gain a lot from the discussion as it unfolded, and from the presence of fresh viewpoints on their work.

Post-event media The Australian ran an article in its Higher Education section on 1 August 2018, based on interviews with panelists, Mary Tomsic and Justine Clarke, and with Tony Naar of the Australian History of Paralympics project.

Australian university groups organise Wikipedia editing sessions

This generated further Twitter and Facebook attention.