Become a Wiki Scholar! Work with records from the National Archives to expand coverage of women’s suffrage in the United States in Wikipedia

Today’s post comes from Pamela Wright, Chief Innovation Officer.


At the National Archives, we are continually seeking new ways to share the wealth of history in our physical and digital holdings. Initiatives like our Citizen Archivist Dashboard create new opportunities and avenues for the public to engage with our records. We also take the heart of our mission, access to our records, into the important digital realm that is Wikipedia.

As the fifth most visited website worldwide, Wikipedia provides an opportunity to share our content more broadly and connect with people across the United States and the world. The volunteers who curate its information strive to make the site representative of all human knowledge. And as any archivist, citizen or otherwise, can understand — that work is never done. That’s why we are collaborating with Wiki Education to train Wiki Scholars how to incorporate records from the National Archives into Wikipedia.

When Archivist of the United States David Ferreiro called for scholars to embark upon this unique public scholarship task last August, we could only imagine the exciting ways Wiki Scholars would advance our mission to drive openness, cultivate public participation, and strengthen our nation’s democracy. In this initiative so far, close to 40 Wiki Scholars have worked collaboratively with each other across interests, institutions, and time zones to incorporate information from the records of the National Archives into Wikipedia articles. They’ve contributed 119,000 words to 116 articles and have reached more than 1 million readers. How better to foster openness and collaboration than to work together to make history accessible where the public is looking for it most.

On Wikipedia, the nation’s archival records take on new life. Dedicated historians, librarians, and citizen archivists have been contextualizing these primary source documents within their diverse historical narratives. Specifically, they’ve been expanding Wikipedia’s coverage of women’s suffrage in the United States. By telling the stories of the lesser-known heroes and the women who were disenfranchised even after the 19th amendment passed, Wiki Scholars are making the living archive that is Wikipedia more equitable.

A Wiki Scholar added this photo of the Woman Suffrage Parade of 1913 to the Wikipedia article. National Archives Identifier 24520426

This work is just in time for the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment. The upcoming exhibit at the National Archives Museum, Rightfully Hers: American Women and the Vote, commemorates the occasion by highlighting both the told and untold stories of this rich era of history. Wiki Scholars have been ensuring that topics represented in the exhibit are well-covered on Wikipedia for museum-goers to learn more beyond their visit. With additional information just a click away, visitors will be well equipped to understand voting rights history and how participation in democracy has been vital to its evolution.

Two Wiki Scholars significantly expanded Ida B. Wells’ biography, including information about the lynching in Memphis that led to Wells’ investigative journalism; her speaking tours in Britain; her anti-lynching organizing work in Chicago; and her role as a suffragist in mobilizing communities to elect African-American representatives.

Photo of: Ida B. Wells Barnett, c. 1893 (Public Domain)

Another expanded the Native American Civil Rights article, noting the restricted rights Native Americans faced even when the 19th Amendment passed.

Journalist, suffragist, and temperance worker Mary Birdsall’s Wikipedia biography is now triple the size it was before a Wiki Scholar started working on it. Notably, the number of citations in the article grew from only 5 to 69!

This photo shows a delegation of officers of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. A Wiki Scholar added a copy of it from the National Archives’ Catalog to the Wikipedia biography for suffrage advocate Rose Emmet Young, who stands on the top row, first from the left.

“Wiki Education offers a compelling model for how historians can engage with the public,” historian and Wiki Scholar Dr. Rachel Boyle reflects. “I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to be a student again, and benefited greatly from the excellent facilitation by Wiki Education staff and thoughtful conversations with fellow Wiki Scholars.”

There are always more stories to tell. Join us in telling them! The next cohort of Wiki Scholars will learn how to leverage National Archives resources on Wikipedia beginning the week of June 3, 2019. The registration window closes May 17, 2019. For course information and how to register, visit Wiki Education’s site.

In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, the National Archives latest exhibition, Rightfully Hers: American Women and the Vote, will open in the Lawrence O’Brien Gallery on May 10. The exhibit highlights the relentless struggle of diverse activists throughout U.S. history to secure voting rights for all American women. Learn more at archives.gov/women

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