Friday, May 24, 2013

#MHOL a wikipedia revision project

UPDATE,  I'm organizing an online editathon for March 2015 Write Women into History on Wikipedia sign ups here 

May 2014 UPDATE I'm organizing an online editathon for March 2014 Write Women into History on Wikipedia sign ups here 

May 2013
As a professor at a small liberal arts college, I’ve been searching for a DH project that would meet the following criteria:
1.     work for gender/women’s studies and history courses
2.     allow students to present the results of historical research
3.     give students transferable skills
4.     not require project management
I've also been itching to continue the work I did in my anthology Motherhood Online.  The publishers want a second edition, but I don’t feel like taking that on.   I considered doing a web update, but again, too much work distracting me to dive into a project of that size.
So yesterday, while poking about on the interwebs, I happened on the Wikipedia page for Perry Anderson, and noticed, with some chagrin, that while his patrilineage appeared, no information on his mother appeared. A quick google search got me her name and I edited my first Wikipedia page
As I sat well pleased with myself, it occurred to me that the absence of matrilineage might be a common feature of many Wikipedia entries.  I searched for another famous historian named Perry, Perry Miller. Hmmm no parental information listed, which candidly, I feel is as it should be, so I left it alone. Perry Anderson’ familial history is only of interest to anyone because of his blue blood.  I then clicked on Bernard Bailyn, again no family history.  Fine by me.  Clicked on Peter H. Wood, and again “son of” like this was Genesis, so I googled a bit until I found his mother (part of me is now wondering if the more subversive thing is to delete the patrilineal info.  Wood’s father for example has an extremely storied past though no one has linked his name to the page and I sure wasn’t going to, it does seem a bit strange to include on someone’s wiki. However from reading about feminist attempts to revise wikipedia it seemed adding information would probably be easier than attempting to systemically eradicate information).
I got curious about famous dead people? How about their mothers?  Tried an old standby, presidents, John Quincy Adams, yes of course Abigail gets a shout out,  but Wikipedia asked if I’d like to see his grandson John Quincy Adams II and sure enough again a series of male begetters in the Old Testament tradition.  Clicking on his father’s name led to me a Wikipedia page that indeed named his mother.  I inserted her and this time I grabbed a link to a book that at least had a little information about her.  

I then began to think bigger. What about historical concepts such as republican motherhood?  Yes, an entry, which cheered me greatly, although the historiography section is weak. Then I tried some feminist theory, Of Woman Born -no entry. Just a mention in Adrienne Rich’s wikipedia page.  That should be fixed.  The black matriarchy page needs some serious editing.   Betye Saar’s art piece Liberation of Aunt Jemima needs editing or a separate entry of its own, not sure.  The entry for Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo needs more citations.

Then I realized there is no page for MOTHERHOOD which instead redirects to “mother.” A full entry that explains motherhood as an institution/social group with disambiguating links to mother should be created.

The Motherhood Online (#MHOL) project is simple, write mothers (back) into Wikipedia, everything from very small edits (inserting mothers) to much bigger projects such as editing existing entries substantially or creating entries, or very very big projects, convincingly asserting that motherhood and mother are not the same.

I'll begin this work in the fall with students of in the history of childbirth class, but I hope other people will participate.

Thanks to Megan Brett for drawing my attention to wives as well!  

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