Art + Feminism = Community in Wikipedia

Community Coach
Community Coach

What does COMMUNITY mean to you?

A community is a group of people whose experiences are clustered around a common theme. They can be in the same location in person or online, and each member can find a way to contribute to their shared interests. The best ones are those that welcome new members and appreciate how those formerly outside enrich the community through the breadth of the perspectives and experiences they bring. The best communities also encourage and support those members who connect with other communities. A community that is worth keeping is one that grows, is dynamic, and embraces change.


Are you a part of a community (Canvas, work, or neighborhood)? What brought you there, or how did you initially get connected?

I want each of my classes in Canvas to become a community, and a student in my fully online U.S. history class this semester inspired me to connect with other communities outside of the one we share.  It all began with a discussion assignment in which students compare how a particular topic is covered in our text with certain videos. One student compared how these two sources covered the experience of women during America's Revolutionary War, and another student's reply included a link to a Wikipedia article listing women who had dressed as men in order to fight. I use a grading rubric so typically my comments are brief. In my feedback to that second student I wrote, "Thank you for finding and sharing that list!"


That student wrote back to me, acknowledging how easy it was for me to write those words but also that those words had an effect: "It kickstarted my decision to take on the task of citing and editing, if necessary, the information on Wikipedia's 'List of wartime cross-dressers' page." This page would be the focus of the student's participation in a worldwide campaign that was held on March 15, the Art+Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon.


Fortunately there was a local event for the campaign hosted by a librarian and professor of art history at another college in our city. As a teacher I hope that my efforts, large and small, have a positive effect on my students, but it is a rare treat when I am told so clearly that they do. I saw that my student was inspired to join the community of Wikipedia editors, and I decided to do the same.


What motivates you to be an active participant in your community or group?


In my job as distance education coordinator I look for ways technology is used creatively to support student success, and a few years ago I explored bringing in Wikipedia editing to my history classes. I lacked confidence, largely because of my unguided practice, and this local event motivated me to participate in the type of thing I might try to support.


The purpose of the campaign is twofold: increase the diversity of Wikipedia editors and increase the diversity of topics that are covered well in Wikipedia articles. Along the axis of gender I do nothing to support the first goal, but anyone can support the second. The title of the campaign shows its focus within Wikipedia, so these were additional communities that I could join (art history) and become a more active participant in (feminism). It hurts a community if any of its members are discouraged from contributing to the interests shared by the community. My kind words played some small role in supporting my student to play an active role in these communities that I also value; her response motivated me as well.


How has your involvement impacted your life?

I'm writing this the evening after the event so it's a bit too soon to estimate its impact on my life. I saw my student at the event and hopefully my presence communicated validation and support. So the initial community within our Canvas class has been served, and I will likely post a follow-up announcement or perhaps ask the class if they have ever edited Wikipedia articles. I might even include an editing assignment in a future class.


I now have more confidence in the ease and importance of Wikipedia editing, as I have taken a few steps into that community. As a frequent Wikipedia user I have a deeper appreciation for the thousands of others who edit and create entries, and I hope that the few changes I made will make a positive difference to those I will never see on the People page in my Canvas course.


Do I feel more connected to the communities of art historians and feminists? That's harder to judge. Though I use art in my history classes I am not an art historian -- I know a lot more about what was going on outside the studio than inside at the time a piece was created. As a historian I teach about feminism and as a teacher I work hard to use an equity lens, but my use of art in the classroom reflects the gender bias of art history in sources like Wikipedia.


So heading into the event I had no ideas about the types of Wikipedia articles I would edit except that they would be about artists who happened to be women. Since I'm teaching a class this semester I figured I might find some pages related to upcoming topics in mid-nineteenth century America. In support of one community I was gearing up to become more active in two or three more.


But in my morning hustle and bustle I learned about a community on the other side of the world that is suffering, and I knew that editing Wikipedia articles about dead artists would not make much difference to them. I was not distraught but in sorrow and fearful that I would find it even more difficult to focus. Fortunately the organizers had some suggestions and materials to help us if we were stuck, including carts with books about art history. After a short presentation on how to edit Wikipedia articles, I walked back to the carts looking for inspiration. I found a book that allowed me to continue the day's task in a way that was meaningful given the day's news and would allow me in an indirect way to support a community I will likely never meet. It was a book about women artists in New Zealand.



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