Black History Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon Placement at York University

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Editor’s Note: This is piece is written from two perspectives to reflect on a collaborative public history placement at York University in Toronto, Canada. The authors, Alanna Brown and Leena Hussein, are profiled at the end of the piece.

Wikipedia screenshot with heading: History of Caribana

Screenshot from the Wikipedia “History of Caribana” page edited as a part of the Black History edit-a-thon that the authors participated in during their public history placement at York University. Screenshot courtesy of Adina Langer.


Credible sources are essential to improving both the reliability and credibility of Wikipedia as an academic resource. During the Wiki Edit-a-Thon at York University, we worked under the supervision of York University Data Visualization and Analytics Librarian Alexandra Wong as placement students in HIST 4840: Public History, taught by Professor Jennifer Bonnell. The edit-a-thon followed the theme of Black joy and love, which was a shift from Canadian Black history programs that often center around enslavement. Through the placement, we were finally able to engage with Wikipedia academically.

During our placement [similar to an internship in the U.S.], it surprised us to discover how severely underrepresented the Black community was in Wikipedia’s U.S. editor population. Black and African-American editors accounted for only 0.5% of Wikipedia’s editors in 2021, noted LiAnna Davis in a post for Wiki Education. From this, I also questioned how much of that 0.5% were Black-identifying women or non-binary individuals. It is apparent that Wikipedia is aware of its bias, as seen in Wikipedia articles such as Wikipedia: Systemic bias and Racial bias. According to the Systemic bias Wikipedia page, the “average” Wikipedia user is described as “white, male, technically inclined, formally educated, speaks English, aged 15-49, from a developed, Christian dominated country, from the Northern Hemisphere, and is enrolled as a student or a white collar worker.” From this, we concluded that the lack of diversity on Wikipedia likely leads to a lack of diverse articles on the platform.

Alanna’s Perspective:

This discourse of diversity and inclusion on Wikipedia became my central focus for the Edit-a-thon and our placement. I questioned how I could be an active contributor to Wikipedia as I wanted to bring more visibility toward the public history of the Black community in Canada and focus on Black excellence and agency. With this goal, I decided to edit the History of Caribana Wikipedia page. I was drawn to the idea of researching Caribana (an annual Caribbean festival from July to August that includes a street parade and exhibits Caribbean food and culture) as Toronto has a big, diverse Caribbean population, and I felt that more historical analysis could be paid to the community. In other words, my goal was to counteract the erasure of the Caribbean Canadian community. The History of Caribana page only included information on the festival’s history between 1967-1971. Thus, I focused on the origins of the festival and how it evolved between 1972-1992. There was an abundance of Caribana archival material in York University’s Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections, such as documents from the Kenneth Shah fonds [records]. I also took advantage of historical newspapers that covered Caribana events through this twenty-year era such as The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail and Share. At first, I was concerned with how Wikipedia might react to these primary sources I included, as citations in Wikipedia articles are often from secondary research. However, I concluded that my research only allows the article to develop into a more enhanced Wikipedia article with reliable primary sources–something that is not often seen in Wikipedia articles.

Leena’s Perspective: 

As a student I was taught to look for biases within articles; however, I had not considered that biases could go beyond the actual language of the piece. Wikipedia’s lack of Black editors shocked me but also explained the lack of visibility for many Black public figures and Black-owned businesses. This brought into question the meaning of diversity as I realized it was more than the images on my screen but also the teams that brought these images to life.

To explore the themes of Black Love and Joy, I worked on elevating The Congress of Black Women of Canada. Otherwise known as the CBWC, they are a non-profit organization dedicated to the safety and betterment of Black women. It was through browsing the fonds collection of Jean Augustine, the former CBWC president, that I learned of the Congress of Black Women of Canada. I tasked myself with taking notes and researching further to add more context to the Wikipedia page. Initially, the page only had two lines that explained its conception as well as Jean Augustine’s former role as president of the Toronto chapter. The work involved with my research felt rewarding, as I mapped out how I could bring it to the Congress’s Wikipedia page. Over time, I added a significant amount of information to the page and made sure to cross-reference when I could to ensure accurate information and to lead more readers to discover the article through interacting with related articles. Wikipedia’s database felt like a spider web of sorts, as it allowed me to string along other aspects from other articles using hyperlinks. This increased the visibility of the page by providing it with more legitimacy. However, this work also left me quite disheartened at times as it forced me to realize just how many important Black Canadian women are left out of history.

Many of these women did not have pre-existing articles so I could not link to their pages. In fact, doing so would have created red highlighted hyperlinks, which would have risked the legitimacy of the page. The work took a great emotional toll, but it did not deter me from completing what I was set to do. I managed to incorporate a fair amount of historical context to the article with the assistance of Jean Augustine’s fonds and cross-referencing my findings with articles from the Globe and Mail as well as the Congress’ own website. It felt like a healing process as I put together the pieces from various sources to portray the history of the organization.


Our work in the Public History placement taught us that despite the invisibility that Black Canadians are faced with, information is out there. Black history is present and can be active so long as we are willing to find it. The Edit-a-thon and the changes we made to our chosen Wikipedia pages allowed us to acknowledge that Wikipedia can be used as a space to preserve public history. It has also granted me (Leena) the confidence to pursue a future in Information Studies. I know now that not only does my voice matter but that I can uplift others in even the smallest of ways. To learn in a classroom is a great privilege. However, having hands-on experience is invaluable.

~Alanna Brown (she/her) is a Jamaican-Canadian Bachelor of Arts History graduate from York University. She is interested in diversity & inclusion in GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums), along with Canadian feminist movements and Black Canadian/Caribbean Canadian history.

Social media: @rootedinnoire on Instagram

~Leena Hussein (she/her) is a Sudanese-Canadian student with a strong passion for Black
history across the African diaspora. She graduated from York University with a
Bachelor of Arts degree in English and History, and is a student in the University of Toronto’s Master’s of Information program.

Social media, Instagram username: Leena.tahirr

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