Project Showcase: Hoosier Women in STEM Wikipedia edit-a-thon

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Indiana University students at work during the Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon. Photo Credit: Sam Opsahl.

In October 2017, historians, librarians, scientists, and members of the general public gathered at the Indiana State Library in Indianapolis for the Hoosier Women in STEM Wikipedia edit-a-thon. Hoosiers are inventors, creators and innovators. From the development of TV to the first person on the moon to the earliest video game console, Indiana’s scientists, engineers, doctors, and entrepreneurs have led the way. Yet histories of STEM and innovation in Indiana have either overlooked or poorly represented women’s stories. Teaming up to improve the Hoosier historical record on Wikipedia, Indiana Humanities, the Indiana Historical Bureau, the Indiana Historical Society, the Indiana State Library, and the Indiana Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology hosted the edit-a-thon as part of Indiana Humanities’ Quantum Leap initiative.

The participants tackled the project with enthusiasm. Forty-two attendees contributed to 870 edits of 99 articles, adding 35,500 words to Wikipedia. As the first-ever edit-a-thon hosted by the participating organizations, it was a happy surprise that at least three groups of participants left the event with the intention of hosting future edit-a-thons at their home institutions. Thanks to the success of the experiment, it looks likely that another Hoosier Women Edit-a-thon will be held in 2018 with a different theme.

Attendees improved articles on cryptanalyst Elizebeth Smith Friedman and ichthyologist Rosa Smith Eigenmann. The edit-a-thon also created new pages highlighting the achievements of cardiologist Suzanne Knoebel and physician Beulah Wright Porter, just to name a few. Check out #QLeditathon on Twitter for a peek into our day of research, writing, and fellowship.

It might seem a little odd to have a bunch of historians promoting Wikipedia. After all, many historians do not hold Wikipedia in the highest regard. Due to its ubiquity and accessibility, however, thoughtful engagement with the platform benefits a wide audience. In addition, Wikipedia’s content gender gap and editorial gender gap are serious problems. Any attempt to tackle these issues is a worthy application of a public historian’s skill set. The edit-a-thon also sought to attract people that do not normally attend history events. With careful outreach targeting women in science groups, the sponsors achieved that goal.

Interested in seeing how Wikipedia can bring together an audience beyond the usual suspects? Consider hosting an edit-a-thon at your institution!

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