The BSHS Ayrton prize recognises outstanding web projects and digital engagement in the history of science, technology and medicine (HSTM). The prize name was chosen to recognize the major contributions of Hertha Ayrton (1854-1923) to numerous scientific fields, especially electrical engineering and mathematics, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The prize is awarded once every two years.
Given the remarkable strength of the field, they decided to supplement the main Prize with a Highly Commended category, to be awarded to two further projects.
I’m delighted to say that our University of Edinburgh Wikipedia project “Changing the ways the stories are told” is one of the two Highly Commended projects! The judging panel were particularly impressed with the initiative’s track record of contributions to the infrastructure of knowledge on which research and public engagement in the history of science depend.
‘Changing the ways the stories are told’: Engaging staff and students in improving the Wikipedia content about women in the history of science, technology and medicine in Scotland.
This project began 5 years ago and has been delivering more and more each year with wider reach, large engagement numbers and considerable impact in terms of public engagement and media coverage. This project is supported by University of Edinburgh and we work in partnership with science, engineering and heritage organisations in Edinburgh to run events to edit and improve Wikipedia content of topics specifically related to the history of women in science.
Our mission is to work with staff, students and members of the public to support them in developing the digital skills they need to engage in writing and publishing new articles on Wikipedia. We have a specific focus on the history of women in science and medicine. Our first ‘edit-a-thon’ in 2015 was based on ‘The Edinburgh Seven’- the first women to study medicine and our most recent was in conjunction with Young Academy Scotland at the Royal Society of Edinburgh. This work towards getting all students and staff in the university to be active contributors is unique in the sector.
The audience for our content includes any members of the public who look at HSTM articles on Wikipedia. The audience for our skills development training are staff and students who learn about how historical information can be brought out of the university (and other) archives to illustrate, enhance and improve the stories of historic development of science, technology and medicine. We work closely with librarians, archivists and academic researchers to bring their hidden content into the most modern digital platforms and give it new relevance for the public today.
Edinburgh staff and students have created 476 new articles, in a variety of languages on a huge range of topics and significantly improved or translated 1950 more. These articles have been consumed by millions of readers. All editors are supported to understand the impact and reach of their work, to find the analytics and reports which show how their contribution is immediately useful to a wide range of audiences.
By working closely with HSTM scholars, digital librarians and archivists we ensure that our staff and students learn the best practice in using digital platforms for public engagement. We ensure that information is accessible and navigable and make best use of both the archives and the new technology. Images released from our archive collections and added to Wikipedia as part of this project have now been viewed 28,755,106 times.
As well as learning the skills of editing, referencing and science communication, we are ensuring that many more of our staff and students learn about how information is created, shared and contested online. We work specifically to address gaps in coverage and improve information where it is poor.
We address the gender gap amongst Wikipedia editors by training large numbers of female students and staff and empower them to edit on whatever topics they choose and thus engaging in the use of digital platforms for their own study and work.
The University of Edinburgh is the first UK university to engage a Wikimedian in Residence to focus entirely on developing student and staff skills. The project fits with our missions for teaching, research and public engagement as well as the embedding of technology in our activities to engage in digital citizenship and crowd-sourced sharing.
The most innovative part of the project has been to work closely with academic colleagues to embed Wikimedia tasks in the curriculum so that students work on topics which have direct relevance to their studies. One example where we work with the students on the MSc Reproductive Biomedicine is now in its fourth year. The students are assessed and gain credit for the work they do in improving content of Wikipedia.
Five years on from our original work in changing the way the story of the Edinburgh Seven is told, the University gave posthumous degrees to the women who had struggled as pioneers in this area. The degree ceremony in 2019 marked 150 years since the Surgeons Hall riots and this new, updated history of women in science and medicine gained considerable media coverage and impact in Scotland and beyond.
We ensure the sustainability of this project by making it part of the ongoing digital skills and digital literacy training programme delivered to staff and students in the University of Edinburgh and we hold public engagement events alongside our partners in library, heritage and science organisations in the city.
The Wikipedia platform is maintained by the Wikimedia UK foundation and our contributions to improving the public facing content on that platform is part of ensuring that it is a sustainable, growing, open, relevant and useful resource for everyone. Working directly with the Wikipedia platform to add content ensures that we do not take on the long term costs of hosting such a platform for our selves, thus the work of training editors and contributing content can continue as long as the platform is an appropriate place to do it.
Last year this work won a Herald Higher Education Award for innovation in technology and we are expanding our skills training team in the coming year to ensure that we can meet the demand from academic colleagues and students to be trained as editors and as contributors to Wikidata and similar sister projects.
This project represents a clear statement by the University that we want to enable our staff and students to engage in becoming active citizens in the digital world.