A Call to Action for Scholars of American History: Contribute to Wikipedia

Our mission at the National Archives is to drive openness, cultivate public participation, and strengthen our nation’s democracy through public access to government records.  We are fast approaching the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, a hallmark of the expansion of democracy here in the United States. On March 8, we will open our exhibit, Rightfully Hers: American Women and the Vote, which celebrates its modern relevance through inclusive retelling of the women’s suffrage movement.

Photograph of suffrage parade
Photograph of Suffrage Parade, 1913. National Archives Identifier 593561

As the National Archives, along with many other organizations, prepares for the 19th Amendment’s centennial we are working hard to increase access to the records we hold around women’s suffrage. One way we are doing this is by collaborating with Wiki Education, a nonprofit focused on empowering people to expand and improve Wikipedia content for the benefit of all. Through this collaboration, Wiki Education is launching a new virtual, immersive training course designed to give participants the skills and practical experience necessary to improve Wikipedia coverage of the history of women’s voting rights in the United States.

Participants in this new course will have the privilege of working with NARA’s subject matter experts on documents related to women’s suffrage and will learn how to use National Archives records to improve Wikipedia’s coverage of this historic period in our nation’s history. For scholars with a passion for American history, this presents a chance to improve the content of Wikipedia and make it more representative, accurate, and complete using original source materials. Channeling NARA collections into Wikipedia is an opportunity to share our content more broadly and connect with people across the United States and around the world.

Wikimedians add and improve culture at the Proposed Amendments Edit-a-Thon at the National Archives, 2016

In keeping with our strategic goal to connect with our customers, this collaboration with Wiki Education will allow scholars to contextualize archival documents in relevant Wikipedia articles while expanding access to NARA holdings on Wikipedia. It is critical that NARA continues to grow and diversify our audience by connecting our collections with Wikipedia’s hundreds of millions of readers. This collaboration provides an opportunity to deepen our engagement with audiences as they take part in our mission and do meaningful service work on behalf of the country and fellow citizens.

I am proud that NARA can expand the reach of its materials and engage new avenues to directly improve public knowledge.

For more information about this program and Wiki Scholars visit https://wikiedu.org/national-archives-professional-development/

2 thoughts on “A Call to Action for Scholars of American History: Contribute to Wikipedia

  1. I’ve been both a Wiki reader as well as editor. I’ve been confused by a trend to write history in a slanted, politically motivated manner. For example, the wiki on San Francisco California, for a while contained a paragraph, crowing about how SF was voting Democrat (and by inference not Republican). Eventually this error was corrected, but as any and every person can add/delete what they want, wiki can be a highly unreliable source of facts. When I tried to edit the St. Louis Missouri page, by adding a quote from noted poet T.S. Elliot, I was constantly removed (edited) as that editor insisted that I was adding opinion. Quoting a prominent author is not adding opinion, but my “editor” could not grasp that simple idea. I like what you want to accomplish, I think you need to be able to lock your additions/edits to prevent vandalism, as it is called.

    1. Hi Mark,

      Thank you for your thoughts! I am the National Archives’ staff person that oversees our Wikipedia initiative. NARA recognizes Wikipedia’s importance and value for our work of increasing public access to records. However, like any resource, it is not perfect in every instance, and we are well aware that not all editing experiences are positive. The fact that anyone can edit is one of Wikipedia’s best principles, but it is also a double-edged sword, as you’ve seen. So, while I definitely hear what you’re saying, that is exactly the reason we are encouraging more information professionals and academics to get involved in editing—and working to give them the skills to do so productively—because the best way to improve it is to engage with Wikipedia’s community directly.

      Dominic Byrd-McDevitt
      Digital Public Access, Office of Innovation

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