The Art of the Wikipedia Editathon

Media curator, Michael Mansfield leads tour of Watch This.

Wikipedia has become a part of our daily lives. The popular online encyclopedia—written and maintained entirely by volunteers—is incredibly useful, accessible, and completely free to be used by anyone, around the globe.

However, for all of its virtues, Wikipedia also has some well-documented flaws. Important topics don't always get equal coverage. Many articles lack authoritative citations verifying the facts asserted within. Women are systemically underrepresented, both as article subjects and as participants in the community of volunteer contributors. Of particular concern to those of us at the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM), high-quality information about the visual arts is usually far less robust and reliable than information about other topics such as science, sports, or popular culture.

On July 25, two dozen volunteers spent their whole Saturday at SAAM working together on addressing some of these gaps. With help from the Tech Lady Mafia and Wikimedia D.C., the museum brought together a group that included a mix of experienced Wikipedians and first-time editors, most of them women. After an exclusive before-hours tour of Watch This! Revelations in Media Art, led by curator Michael Mansfield, the group got down to work improving Wikipedia around topics related to media art, technology, and women.

SAAM has hosted a number of Wikipedia editathons over the years, but I think this one was especially successful. The energy level was high, the topic and tour were engaging, and the hands-on learning was fuelled by plenty of food and caffeine (important!). At one point in the afternoon, I saw a museum studies educator high-fiving a longtime Wikipedian as she exclaimed "I did it! My first edit!" The joy and the empowerment that she and the other attendees expressed was contagious, and we all went home that evening in great mood.

So, you can see why I can't wait for our next editathon! Luckily, it is coming up, on Friday, September 4, when we team up with the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center for the second annual #WikiAPA meetup series.

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