On Wednesday 28th January, 2015, we ran the first editathon in Wales organised to improve articles on women on Wikipedia. The day was focussed on reducing the Gender Gap on Wikipedia both in terms of increasing content about medieval and early modern women, and getting more women involved as editors. (A report on the editathon on Wikimedia blog appears here: https://blog.wikimedia.org/2015/03/12/medieval-women-edit-a-thon/)
The idea for the event came out of a conversation with Robin Owain of Wikimedia UK on how to raise the profile of Welsh women on Wikipedia. Robin had seen us interviewed about the project on BBC Wales Today, and thought our research would be a good fit for a women's history editathon.
We are interested in improving content about any notable women in history, but we focused on Welsh and Irish women because they are the subjects of our own research. Preparing for the day was an eye-opener, and we realised that many key women had no articles at all. We were surprised that Jane Dee, wife of the infamous Elizabethan natural philosopher, and Senana ferch Caradog, wife of Gruffudd ap Llywelyn Fawr, did not have their own entries, even though they were notable in their own right, and their husbands had well-developed, extensive articles written about them. On the other hand, it was very heartening to see how many excellent articles there were for some medieval Irish and Welsh women. Some articles, like that of Gormflaith ingen Murchada, were the products of other editathons, and some were the work of dedicated solo editors.
As it was the first time we had arranged such an event, we decided to start with the staff & students connected to our own College of Arts & Humanities at Swansea. We were soon joined by four researchers from Trinity College, Dublin, who were keen to update material on Irish women. They focussed on Alice Kyteler and Petronella de Meath, her servant, who were the first women to be tried for witchcraft in medieval Ireland (Alice escaped her sentence of death by fire; Petronella sadly did not). We also had remote interest from independent researchers in the US. We hadn't been aware of how much scope there was for remote participation in the editathon, but in future events, this is definitely something to pursue, as the technology ensures that anyone, anywhere in the world can be part of the group and could take part in training and discussions as well as the editing itself.
The day in Swansea began with tea and coffee, and the group assembled. It was a mix of undergraduates, postgraduates, academic researchers, and librarians, most of whom did not have a Wikipedia account and had never edited before. We started the training off by signing people up and Robin from Wikimedia UK guided them through the basics of editing on Wikipedia. Jason Evans, the recently employed Wikipedian in Residence at the National Library of Wales, and Marc Haynes, former Wikipedian in Residence at Coleg Cymraeg, also helped people get comfortable with the formatting.
There wasn't just formatting to learn however. Some of the guidelines for writing on Wikipedia are quite different to academic writing, and many of us had to modify our writing styles accordingly. The policy on avoiding plagiarism and using proper citations made us, as academics, feel right at home, but the neutral point of view, making sure not to make an argument in our articles, and the "no original research" guidelines were less natural for many of us. However, the exercise of writing in this style and making sure that our articles were written clearly and in as factual a manner as possible was enjoyable and we succeeded (we think!) in keeping our personal opinions out of it. Of course, as we got used to encyclopaedic writing style, we also became accustomed to the very liberating thing about the Wikipedia format - that we can change articles easily as new information comes to light and as other editors in the community comment on it.
After completing our hour or so of training, it was time to get down to the actual editing. Our participating editors worked in groups and singly, on a variety of different women from Wales and Ireland from c.1000-1600. Some editors worked on subjects of their own personal research and others on suggested women that we identified before the editathon as crying out for their own new page or serious edits to their existing article. We had a line open to the Dublin team and Robin was able to troubleshoot their formatting queries. Over the day, as a group, we created six new pages, four in English, one in Welsh, and one in Greek. They can be viewed here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Whistlaw/Jan_28_Editathon
The Greek and Welsh pages were particularly interesting, since we had realised with Robin that there was a great deal to be done adding content from English language articles to those in other languages (and vice versa). For those with adequate language skills, there is a chance to make a huge contribution using information that is already on Wikipedia.
We also made significant changes to a further ten pages, again, here under "major edits": http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Whistlaw/Jan_28_Editathon
We stayed editing until 5pm (with a break for lunch!) and had a really enjoyable day. Our new editors reported that they found the training and editing interesting and fun and that many were interested in participating in more editathons in the future to keep working to close that Gender Gap.
And now that we have a core of enthusiastic editors, we know that while this was the first editathon in Swansea University, it won't be the last.