Supporting the University of Edinburgh's commitments to digital skills, information literacy, and sharing knowledge openly

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Wikimedia and the Diversity of Languages online – Guest post by Clea Strathmann

Globally, over 7,000 languages are spoken – only around 4% of people are native English speakers. Despite this, English holds the title of the “Language of the internet”.  It dominates with Chinese almost 50% of global web traffic with the top ten languages accounting for 76.9 percent of global internet users. The majority of African and Indigenous languages are not recognised by Google’s search engine. 

When an English speaker searches for something on Google, a Wikipedia article typically appears as a top hit, often as a convenient infobox at the side of the browser. This is because English Wikipedia has over 6 million articles. Wikipedias in other languages are more limited – only two other Wikipedias (Cebuano and Swedish) have over 3 million articles, and the 20 largest Wikipedias have around 1 million entries each. Many of these articles are comparatively shorter than those in English Wikipedia. 

Percentage of Wikipedia articles in each language group – Western European language groups dominate Wikipedia.

This lack of diversity restricts a significant portion of the world from access to knowledge that is readily-available to English speakers, and disproportionately affects those who live in less-developed regions who may not speak any of the internet’s other dominant languages. Access to knowledge is vital for bridging the understanding between languages and cultures. 

Knowledge creates understanding – understanding is sorely lacking in today’s world. – Katherine Maher, Executive Director Wikimedia Foundation. 

The United Nations has, as part of their sustainable development goals, emphasised a need for equitable education and lifelong learning. To enable this, resources of knowledge must be available in all languages. But alongside access to knowledge, the lack of linguistic diversity is a pressing issue for smaller languages, including indigenous languages which are dying out at a rate of two languages per month. For speakers of these languages, their extinction may also reflect the extinction of their culture and identity. 

Watch Dr. Sara Thomas speak about Scots Wikipedia at the Arctic Knot.

The role of Wikimedia in improving linguistic diversity 

Wikipedia is attempting to increase global access to knowledge, and it is one of the aims of The Wikimedia Foundation to ensure that knowledge is diverse, inclusive, and accessible to all. When considering linguistic diversity, the aim is for the number of Wikipedia articles to be evenly distributed across languages. Theoretically, this could be done by simply translating articles from one language Wikipedia into another. 

However, translating Wikipedia would not be enough to create linguistic diversity. Take the Game of Thrones article on Welsh “Wicipedia”, for instance, which highlights the similarity of the fictional languages in the series to Welsh and emphasises its Welsh actors. This demonstrates the impact of culture on what is important, or not, to the readers of Wikipedia. The relationship between the language and culture is heavily-entangled, and makes it even more important that these are represented and preserved online. 

Watch the opening speeches by Aili Keskitalo, President of the Sámi Parliament of Norway and Guri Melby, Minister of Education Norway at the Arctic Knot 2021

One of the best ways that we can support linguistic diversity is through collaborative efforts with Wikipedia projects. In 2017, The University of Edinburgh and Wikimedia UK started the ‘Celtic Knot’ Wikipedia Language conference, which aims to bring together smaller language communities to collaborate on ideas for how to improve the Wikipedia content in these languages and to increase their linguistic presence across other language Wikipedias. The Celtic Knot also developed into the Arctic Knot conference, hosted by Wikimedia Norway this year, which aims to improve the visibility of indigenous arctic languages. These conferences allow speakers to address the importance of engaging with their language, and provide practical resources for encouraging contributions to Wikipedia. The Toolkit for language activism, for instance, supports the creation of digital skills and written language skills which can help people who speak minority languages to contribute to Wikipedia. Through such projects, people are encouraged to contribute to Wikipedia to improve both representation and usability of languages. 

Using Wikidata to build linguistic diversity online 

From the collaborative efforts of dedicated Wikimedians, communities are already seeing successes in increasing the presence of their languages. But for smaller languages, including many indigenous languages, writing entire Wikipedia articles is challenging and time-consuming. This is where Wikipedia’s sister project – Wikidata – has proven to be an important contributor to improving language diversity online.

This chart, made using Wikidata, shows the amount of Wikipedia articles about Greek citizens that are available on English Wikipedia but not on Greek Wikipedia. The majority are sports players, but it also includes a number of artists and academics.

Wikidata is a free and open knowledge base of machine-readable facts. Each data item has  a unique identifier (a ‘Q’ number). The label, description and all of the statements within each data item can be labelled in any language and, because of this, the data can be instantly transformed into any language. This means that any search can make this knowledge both discoverable and understandable in any language. Items from Wikidata are important for modern technologies such as Amazon’s Alexa and Siri, which use Wikidata’s machine-readable entries to answer questions – but, importantly, these can only provide responses in the languages it is labelled in, and the number of Wikidata language labels, beyond European languages, is scarce.

As an example, take disease and health data, which constitute vital information that needs to be easily-accessible. A search of diseases uploaded to Wikidata reveals over 13,000 diseases have been uploaded to the database, but around 5,000 of these entries are only labelled in 1 language. So whilst Wikidata is a useful tool to aid knowledge discovery, it will take the work of native language speakers from around the world to develop it into the linguistically diverse database that it has the potential to become. In growing both the number of items in Wikidata, and its language labels, technologies can become more accessible for different languages. Ultimately, this is crucial in enabling smaller languages to thrive, rather than just to survive. 

What can we do to promote linguistic diversity?

Governments have highlighted the importance of actively increasing linguistic diversity. UNESCO has produced a 10-year plan for the preservation of indigenous languages, referred to as the Decade of Indigenous Languages, which calls into action the human rights of Indigenous Peoples. A key part of the plan surrounds the use of technology to support access to Indigenous languages – this can involve the use of Wikipedia and Wikidata as impactful open platforms for building global understanding about different languages and, alongside this, different cultures. Encouraging people to contribute to Wikipedia may seem difficult, but events including the Celtic and Arctic Knot conferences, and outreach projects such as Indigenizing Wikipedia, have demonstrated how successfully Wikipedia can be used as a platform for language activism. 

By contributing to both Wikipedia and Wikidata, we can increase the use and representation of smaller languages, contributing to the preservation of the important cultures that are intertwined with them. 

Clea Strathmann, Open Data and Knowledge Equity intern

Watch the whole Arctic Knot conference on YouTube here.

Welsh Wikipedia Thinking Big – Keynote address by Jason Evans at the Celtic Knot

A state of the question – the Catalan language project – Àlex Hinojo, Executive Director, Amical Wikimedia

The Scottish Gaelic Uicipeid project – Susan Ross at the Celtic Knot

Celtic Knot – Panel discussion & closing plenary: The Politics of Language Online

Supporting Open Collections – Guest post by Wikisourceror intern, Erin Boyle

Figure 1: ‘Main Library Rainbow’, Stewart Lamb Cromar 2021 CC BY-SA, File:’Main Library Rainbow’ (2 3) (51239066072).jpg – Wikimedia Commons

I am now at the end of week four of my role as a Wikisourceror – Open Collections intern, and the learning process has continued; albeit now I am a bit more familiar with the world of Wiki! I have now created two new articles on Wikipedia (for Hannah Shields and Iona McGregor), and this week I uploaded some of Stewart Lamb Cromar’s (@stubot) Lego Library images to Wikimedia Commons. You can now find one of the Lego Library pictures on the Wikipedia page for the University of Edinburgh Main Library!

I also had the pleasure to attend the Arctic Knot – Wikipedia Language Conference last week, during which I listened to many incredibly interesting and insightful talks. This included several talks about Arctic languages and indigenous languages, digital language activism, and I participated in an Intro to Wikisource workshop led by Nicolas Vigneron; during which we proofread pages from a book in French Breton – it was a bit of a challenge! However, I am getting the hang of Wikisourcing a little more now.

I have also been playing around with the Wikidata query service; especially looking at interesting queries made by others, such as Martin Poulter. Some queries that I found really interesting were those to return items in particular galleries/libraries/museums, organisations founded by people born in Edinburgh, people who invented scientific instruments, and places of education of Members of Parliament of the United Kingdom. I really enjoyed looking at the several different ways of visualising the results of the query, such as plotting geocoordinates associated with the items on a map or making an interactive graph of connections between the items returned.

Over the past week or two I have been turning my attention to drafting content for the University’s Wikimedia website and corresponding resources (PDFs and videos) and laying the foundations for designing the workflows for library staff. This has involved looking at the website as it is currently and deciding where the content gaps are that need filled.

As I am planning content for the website, I am also investigating good examples of GLAM WikiProjects; especially those which involve working with Wikisource. Examples of best practice and advice will both help inform the resources that I am going to create, and demonstrate to people who are thinking about getting involved in Wikimedia (especially those working in Library & University Collections) that their contributions can have a positive impact; and that in the case of the Library they can use Wikimedia to significantly raise awareness and engagement with their collections both within the University, as well as nationally and globally. Institutions that I am investigating involve the Rijksmuseum, Europeana, Wellcome Library, National Library of Wales, The Smithsonian and more.

Knowledge doesn’t belong in silos. The interlinking of the Wikimedia projects exemplified through Robert Louis Stevenson. Media files on Commons, his written works on Wikisource, machine-readable linked open data on Wikidata. All linked to from Wikipedia.

Whilst planning my content and resources, I needed to think a lot about what the needs and prior knowledge of the users would be. Thinking about potential barriers that people face when contributing content to the Wikimedia projects, many difficulties stem from a lack of accessible, easy-to-use documentation, and users not being aware of how to find resources easily or get started with the various platforms. Over the next couple of weeks, I will be having conversations with some members of staff at the university to find out about their previous experiences with the Wikimedia projects, what their feelings towards them are and how they could be better supported to feel able to contribute.

I am creating resources with a Library focus, meaning that for example, my Wikisource resources will focus more on guiding users on how to upload digitised texts to Wikimedia Commons, add structured data for the texts, and then set up the text for proofreading, validating and transcluding on Wikisource. I will also be creating a guide for making an author page on Wikisource and for showing users how they can link content across the Wikimedia projects: such as adding a template to an author’s Wikipedia page that will show an associated works box, so that users who are interested in an author can quickly and easily access their works.

The goal for this week is to begin creating the content that I have planned in my draft last week. This will involve preparing scripts for how-to videos and beginning to carve out some rough drafts for supporting PDF guides.

Updates to come soon!

Erin Boyle – Wikisourceror Open Collections intern

Open Data and Knowledge Equity – my first week by student intern, Clea Strathmann

Protest against the death penalty for LGBT+ people, Milan 2008. Photo taken by Giovanni Dall’Orto, available at Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY licence. 

Before I started this internship, I was an incredibly busy third-year Psychology student studying at the University of Edinburgh. Now, I’m spending my summer before my final year as an intern for the Information Services Group at the university. During my first week, I’ve had a lot of new information thrown at me about what Wikipedia and its sister project Wikidata are, why these are important, and how to use and edit them. Mostly, though, I’ve been learning a lot about what my internship is all about. 

When I got this role, my title of “Open Data and Knowledge Equity” intern left a lot of questions to be answered. I understood a little about open access information, but very little else. Knowledge equity, it turns out, was a term that would be thrown around a lot, so I really needed to understand what it meant. With a lot of reading around on the subject and a handful of meetings, I managed to develop a pretty good idea of this.

Knowledge equity refers to how knowledge should be fully inclusive. It should be able to be created by anybody, and consumed by anybody. In the world of Wikipedia, though, around 90% of editors are male, and there is substantial racial bias in the content and creation of Wikipedia articles. Considering that Wikipedia is one of the world’s most-viewed websites, it is incredibly important that it is a representative and diverse encyclopedia. The more I read up on the lack of diversity online, as well as in academia and the curriculum, the more I understood how important my role could be in contributing to the visibility of important role models online and on Wikipedia. 

All of this has been incredibly overwhelming – I really didn’t know how much I didn’t know until I started speaking to all of these people, but I’ve managed to get some sort of a grip on it all. With all this information about knowledge equity, open knowledge and Wikipedia, I had to put some of this information to practice, so I created my first ever Wikipedia article.

Thinking about my knowledge equity role, I chose to write a new Wikipedia article on Donna Hitchens, the first elected lesbian superior court judge in the USA. I was surprised to see that she didn’t have her own page already, despite being mentioned in a number of other articles for her work on LGBT+ legal rights. But it turns out that, whilst learning how to create Wiki articles wasn’t as difficult as I had expected, it was quite challenging to find reliable, impartial secondary sources to back up the articles.

It was even more difficult to hear that articles can be nominated for deletion if other Wikipedia editors do not deem the topics or individuals to be a notable based on available citations. This is quite hard-hitting when thinking about diversity and representation online – it’s not enough to just edit Wikipedia articles, and with a lack of reliable sources discussing important topics, there is a substantial scope for notable individuals to remain unseen. This is where my work with the university comes in. 

The university has commitments to equality, diversity and inclusion, and is in a position of privilege in that it contains over 35,000 students capable of writing content that can enable notable figures to be made visible online. Over my internship, I hope to be able to encourage the university to contribute to and engage with Wikipedia as a source of outreach and activism to support diversity in education. 

By the end of my first week, I have definitely started to understand a lot more about knowledge equity and how Wikipedia is influenced by the people who produce and edit content. Over the next few weeks, I’m looking forward to learning and supporting the University of Edinburgh in creating a more diverse online, and physical, environment. 

Woman attending a Black Lives Matter protest holding a sign stating “the UK is not innocent”. Photo Author – Socialist Appeal. Available at 
https://flickr.com/photos/135433887@N02/49977691057 under Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) licence.
 
https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode

My first week as a Wikisourceror – Guest post by student intern, Erin Boyle

View an Intro to Wikisource – the free and open digital hyper library!  (1hr)

Upload pdfs of free books to Wikipedia’s sister project  and help proofread the OCR-ed text  so readers can discover, enjoy and be inspired by songs, letters, plays, poems, novels and more  all around the world 

Hi there! My name is Erin, and I am the new Wikisourceror (Open Collections) intern. Aside from being an intern with a really fun name, I am a final year BSc Physics student with strong interests in Outreach and Engagement and Open Education, Open Data, accessibility and social responsibility. I have just finished my first week, and I feel like I have learned so much already, in what has felt like a whirlwind of information!

When I started, I wasn’t 100% sure what to expect, but this week has been really enjoyable and informative, and I have spent a lot of time familiarising myself with the different Wikimedia projects, what they host, and what they are used for. Learning more about editing on them is the next goal!

My role focuses on creating guides and workflows for uploading openly licensed content with a specific aim of helping those working within the Library and University Collections to make content available on Wikipedia’s sister projects (Wikimedia Commons and Wikisource), furthering Wikimedia’s goal of expanding their free-to-use collections of human knowledge.

My role in helping to ‘open up’ the university’s collections also seeks to support the university in upholding its commitments to the UN’s sustainable development goals Sustainable Development Goals | unfoundation.org and its key institutional commitments to: the sharing of knowledge openly; information literacy; digital skills; data skills; excellence in learning, teaching and research; equality, diversity and inclusion; and public engagement with research. One of my aims is to improve the awareness of how engaging with the Wikimedia projects can help the university to fulfil these commitments, and, improve awareness of and engagement with the Library and University Collections.

My role will also involve contributing to the University’s Wikimedian in Residence Webpage Wikimedian in Residence | The University of Edinburgh, specifically through adding new content; such as video guides on how to use Wikipedia, and Wikidata, and hopefully adding new sections to cover Wikimedia Commons and Wikisource too!

This week, I have undertaken a large variety of activities, from web-editing training, to uploading my first images on Wikimedia Commons, and publishing my first ever Wikipedia article! I decided to write about Hannah Shields, the first woman from Northern Ireland to summit Everest, as I had heard about her numerous times whilst growing up, but she didn’t have a page yet. After seeing the Women in Red project, I was astounded by the disparity between the coverage of notable women when compared with notable men; but I was also very convinced after this week’s learnings that projects like Wikipedia can be an enormous force for good when it comes to combatting inequality through representation of people, events, and movements that those in the past didn’t deem worth highlighting or celebrating.

I have been very privileged to have had lots of meetings with many interesting people this week and to have been able to learn about the work that they are involved in. I have been introduced to some interesting collections which I should hopefully get the chance to work on soon, uploading images and books to Wikisource. I am looking forward to learning more about the projects, and how I can help to engage people with the Library and University Collections (L&UC) using Wikimedia!

Figure 1: The Royal Edinburgh Botanic Gardens; my favourite place in Edinburgh!

Telling the history of HIV and AIDS activism in Scotland on Wikipedia

As LGBT History month draws to a close this month, I wanted to pay tribute to a collaboration brought about through Siobhan Claude at the University of Edinburgh’s Staff Pride Network and my colleague, Lorna Campbell, who suggested telling the history of HIV/AIDS activism and awareness in Scotland on Wikipedia.

It seemed inconceivable that Wikipedia had so little on this important history and the people who fought long and hard against prejudice and myths surrounding the virus and did so much societal good in raising awareness and campaigning for treatment. Yet the largest open education resource in human history was largely devoid of any mention of the organisations and activists so pivotal in this history of Scotland.

We contacted Henry Gray at HIV Scotland and a date for an event was set. We would bring people together to edit Wikipedia and formed a worklist of new pages to create so that the generations to come would learn and understand the story of HIV/AIDS activism in Scotland. This is only a beginning so I have created a Navigation Box template to pull all these new pages together, make them easier to discover and to highlight  the organisations and people we are still missing. This template has been added to the foot of all the new pages below. There is much more to the history of HIV/AIDS activism in Scotland (and the United Kingdom for that matter) to be told. We hope that this is only the beginning to honour and celebrate the pioneering and vitally important work that came before. Much more to do!

As a result of the HIV Scotland Wikipedia event at the end of January, we now have pages for:

Scottish AIDS Monitor

In 1983, after becoming aware of the spread of an illness affecting gay men in the United States, Derek Ogg set up Scottish AIDS Monitor in Edinburgh, along with Edward McGough, Nigel Cook and Simon Taylor, in order to inform and educate gay men about HIV and AIDS. The organisation was established before the first case of HIV was recorded in Scotland and three years before the first government AIDS awareness campaign. In addition to their original Edinburgh branch, by the late 1980s, the organisation had branches in Highland, Lothian, Tayside and Strathclyde. SAM was funded by private donations and public funding. The organisation was awarded £25,000 by the government’s Scottish Home and Health department in 1988 and also received funding from Strathclyde and Lothian Health Boards.

SAM safe sex condom packet

SAM safe sex condom packet

Initially SAM focused on raising awareness of AIDS and promoting safe sex among gay men, but the organisation expanded its activities to include all groups affected by HIV and AIDS, including homosexuals, heterosexuals, teenagers, drug users, sex workers and prison inmates. The organisation worked with the Genito Urinary Medicine unit at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary in order to ensure the information they provided was accurate and up to date. SAM’s activities included advocacy, awareness raising, advisory, support and prevention services. The organisation trained AIDS counsellors and hospital visitors and set up “Buddy” and HIV support groups. They also ran AIDS information phone lines in both Glasgow and Edinburgh, worked with drug counselling agencies, promoted safe sex and distributed free condoms. In 1994 SAM set up Gay Men’s Heath, the UK’s first dedicated health initiative for gay and bisexual men. The organisation was also instrumental in setting up Body Positive Scotland, a self help group for people living with and affected by HIV and AIDS.

SAM ceased operating in the West of Scotland later in 1995, and after funding was withdrawn by Lothian Health Board in 1996, the organisation closed down.

HIV Scotland

HIV Scotland is a registered charitable organisation based in EdinburghScotland, established in 1995 as Scottish Voluntary HIV & AIDS Forum, that works to make policy and advocacy changes for people living with HIV in Scotland, PrEP users, and people at risk of HIV. George Valiotis was the Chief Executive Officer of HIV Scotland between 2012 and 2019 during which a key achievement was a successful implementation strategy for a new technology called HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), for which the organisation was awarded the British Medical Association Medfash prize for making Scotland the first nation in the UK to have it listed on their national health service. Nathan Sparling was appointed chief executive on 1st November 2018, and helped lead the organisation through a strategic review which led to their new 11-year Strategic Plan – #ZEROHIV. He announced he was leaving HIV Scotland in December 2020. 

PHACE West

Project for HIV and AIDS Care and Education (PHACE) West was Scottish HIV and AIDS awareness organisation that was active in the West of Scotland between 1995 and 2006.

PHACE West was founded in November 1994 by Ken Cowan following changes in the Scottish HIV voluntary sector, and the following year attracted funding from four West of Scotland health boards. There was a widespread perception of an East Coast bias in the management of the predominant Scottish AIDS organisation Scottish AIDS Monitor, and inadequate West Coast services. A number of SAM staff joined PHACE West, including its director Maureen Moore.

The new organisation had a high-profile launch party in May 1995 at Glasgow’s Tunnel nightclub, featuring a performance by Dannii Minogue. In 2000 it expanded by opening an Aberdeen office, and becoming a national organisation, PHACE Scotland. In 2006 the organisation became part of the Terrence Higgins Trust, as its parent organisation PHACE Scotland completed a merger with the UK’s longest established HIV charity, allowing THT Scotland to provide services in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Argyll, Ayrshire Arran, Lanarkshire, Grampian and Highland NHS Scotland board areas.

PHACE West provided a welfare rights service, Buddy Support Service and Night Owl crisis line, counselling, and condoms by post for people in rural areas. They ran the HAVEN, a drop in space at Ruchill Hospital. They also produced publications and websites on safer sex aimed at gay men, distributed condoms in LGBT venues, and ran the youth group Bi-G-Les for under-25s.

Derek Ogg

Derek Andrew Ogg QC (1954 – 1 May 2020) was a Scottish lawyer who, through the Historical Sexual Offences Pardons and Disregards Scotland Bill, campaigned for automatic pardons for gay and bisexual men with historical convictions of sexual offences that are no longer illegal in Scotland. In 1983 Ogg established the Scottish HIV and AIDS awareness charity Scottish AIDS Monitor.

Ogg’s activism started with his membership of the Scottish Minorities Group (later Outright Scotland) where in 1974, together with Ian Dunn, he organised the International Gay Rights Congress in Edinburgh, which later resulted in the establishment of the International Lesbian & Gay Association.

In 1983, after hearing about a disease affecting gay men in the United States, Derek Ogg, along with Edward McGough, Nigel Cook and Simon Taylor set up the Scottish AIDS Monitor to educate gay men about the risks of HIV and AIDS. He served on the board of Directors until 1994. In the 1980s much of his activism was around the issues of HIV and AIDS, where along with Scottish AIDS Monitor he was also involved in the establishment of Waverley Care through which the Milestone Hospice, the UK’s first purpose built hospice for HIV patients, was established in 1991.

Ogg was involved in the campaign to end the ban on gay sex in Scotland which was formally lifted in 1981 with the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980. He was also an activist against Section 28 (Clause 2A in Scotland) which was repealed in Scotland in 2000 and England Wales in 2003. In 2015 he was presented with a special award for Lifetime Achievement at the inaugural Scottish LGBTI Awards in recognition of his activism and legal work. He also campaigned for an apology from the Scottish Government in 2017 to gay and bisexual men who had been convicted prior to 2001, under discriminatory laws against same-sex sexual activity that had since been made legal.

Maureen Moore (activist)

Maureen Moore OBE was National Co-ordinator, then Director of Scottish AIDS Monitor from its inception in 1983.

After leaving SAM, Maureen went on to Chair the Scottish voluntary sector’s HIV and AIDS forum and the Board of Project for HIV/AIDS Care and Education (PHACE West) in Glasgow. This enabled her to continue lobbying for improved awareness of heterosexual transmission of HIV and better education and HIV prevention services for gay men.

In 1995 Maureen took over from Alison Hillhouse as Chief Executive at ASH Scotland where she supported the ban on smoking in workplaces in Scotland and the ban on tobacco sales to under 18s. 

She was awarded an OBE for services to healthcare in 2006.

Ken Cowan (activist)

Ken Cowan ( 23 February 1955 to 11 November 1995) was a Scottish AIDS activist and founder/director of PHACE West, the project for HIV and Aids education in the West of Scotland.

Cowan successfully lobbied that patients be included on the carers sub-committee at Ruchill Hospital and was instrumental in the success of the West of Scotland’s awareness strategy for highlighting HIV prevention initiatives for gay men. He was also majorly involved in the development of Body Positive, the self-help agency for those living with HIV.

Cowan was diagnosed with HIV in 1991.  He died aged 40 on 11 November 1995.

Eric Kay, in Gay Scotlands article on his passing, wrote that Cowan:

“was particularly skilful in fighting against the prejudice and dispelling the myths surrounding the virus. His eloquent delivery on the subject was always compelling, whether he was teaching young children or convincing politicians and Health Board funders. His determination ultimately brought about key policy changes which in turn have radically affected HIV Services in the West of Scotland.”

Scotland, Slavery and Black History… and Wikipedia

Wikipedia is one of the most widely used means by which people get information, but it has lots of gaps and problems. Last semester, the residency collaborated with Professor Diana Paton and Lucy Parfitt at the University of Edinburgh History Society to begin a project to make it better. Participants were invited to improve public knowledge of Scotland’s Black history, and to help make Scotland’s deep connections to Atlantic slavery better understood. The controversial politician Henry Dundas was a focal point following media coverage of the back and forth discussions on his activity in relation to slavery.

An initial information meeting was held on 18 November 2020, with talks by Lisa Williams (Edinburgh Caribbean Association) and Tom Cunningham (UncoverEd) to set a context for where improvements to articles could be made.

Subsequent workshops took place on three Wednesdays in January: researching the topics, learning how to edit, and making the edits.

As of today, almost 15,000 words have now been added to 4 new articles with 56 more being improved. These pages have now been viewed over a million times already. Some of the pages created and edited are provided below. The hope is that this is just a beginning to improve the imbalances and gaps online, reflecting a truer record of Scotland’s role in the Atlantic slave trade and presenting more positive stories of black history online.

Jesse Ewing Glasgow

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Jesse Ewing Glasgow Jr. (1837-1860) was a Philadelphian-born African American intellectual and student at the University of Edinburgh from 1858 to 1860. He authored the radical pamphlet on John Brown‘s Harper’s Ferry Raid in 1859.

Glasgow became ICY’s first graduate in 1856, and afterwards gained a place at the University of Edinburgh. Due to his reputation for intellectual prowess, managers and peers competed to pay for his transatlantic trip and tuition. At Edinburgh, Glasgow excelled in all of his classes and won several academic prizes in Greek, English, and Mathematics, graduating in 1858.

In 1859, Glasgow published a 47-page pamphlet called ‘The Harpers Ferry Insurrection: Being an Account of the Late Outbreak in Virginia, and of the Trial and Execution of Captain John Brown, Its Hero’. This was an account expressing sympathy for white abolitionist John Brown and others who led an unsuccessful raid on Harpers Ferry, a federal armoury in Virginia, in October 1859. It was published in EdinburghGlasgow and London.

In the pamphlet Glasgow relates his experiences of racism in Scotland to the experiences of African Americans in the United States, condemning the institution of slavery and hailing John Brown as a hero in the history of anti-slavery movements. The pamphlet also included an appeal to his Scottish readers to take up the cause of anti-slavery in the United States, using the words of Sir Walter Scott in the opening lines of the pamphlet.

On 20 December 1860 Glasgow died of tuberculosis aged 23 in his Newington home (10 Hill Place), before he had completed his studies at Edinburgh. His death was commemorated in Scottish newspapers and by the Banneker Institute. The latter not only issued statements of sorrow but also remembered Glasgow for his academic achievements which demonstrated the reality of African American intellectual equality with white people. Glasgow’s legacy was to improve the position of the African American community in the United States when contemporary racial ideology dictated black inferiority.

Jean-Baptiste Philippe

Jean-Baptiste Philip (1796 – 1829), sometimes written Phillipe, was a Trinidad-born doctor and the leader of an activist group formed in Trinidad in 1823, which fought against the racist attitudes of colonial authorities through letters and petitions. He was a complex figure as he fought against racist attitudes of colonial authorities in Trinidad while also belonging to a Black slave-owning family. His famous work Free Mulatto pointed out the racist treatment of free Black people in Trinidad, but did not request the abolition of slavery.

Between 1806 and 1810, Philip left Trinidad to study literature in England, becoming the first Trinidadian to formally study literature abroad. After completing this degree, he went on to be one of the first Black students to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland between 1812 and 1815. He graduated in 1815, and his thesis explored ‘Hysterical Moods’. After graduation he spent some time travelling in Europe, where he met and fell in love with a woman of European descent. However, following the advice of a friend, he did not marry her and returned to Trinidad alone.

Around 1815, Philip returned to Trinidad to practice medicine as one of the first black doctors to work in the Caribbean. Many doctors at this time were invested both politically and economically in the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade, and therefore many slaves did not receive proper medical treatment. Moreover, many doctors owned enslaved people, one doctor, William Wright, once wrote that the abolition of the slave trade would be ‘fatal to our commerce.’ Despite this, Philip sought to challenge the racial discrimination he faced in the medical profession in the Caribbean and critiqued the many inequalities between the Black and the white population. Between 1816 and 1825, Philip became the leader of the Civil Rights movement in Naprimas, South Trinidad. He travelled to England between 1822 and 1823 to petition the rights of free Black people in the Caribbean. This petition was later printed and became his most famous work ‘Free Mulatto.’

Free Mulatto

Philip wrote A Free Mulatto: An Address to the Right Hon. Earl Bathurst in 1823. The text was a call on the British governor of Trinidad, Bathurst to grant the “coloured population” of the island the same “civil and political privileges as their white fellow subjects.” The use of the term “coloured” in the text refers to the free Black population but excludes slaves. Philip states that the text aims to highlight the prejudices free Blacks in Trinidad face in order to inspire Bathurst to act.

Philip provides evidence of racist segregationist practises such as the prevention of marriage between Black and white Trinidadians, prejudices against Black doctors and separation in churches. He also compares the unequal severity of punishment experienced by white and free Black criminals in Trinidad to argue that “criminality is lost in the glare of whiteness.” On slavery, Philip celebrates the shift towards amelioration policies, but does not go so far as to ask for immediate abolition. He invokes the Haitian Revolution as evidence that ‘no privileges’ should be given to some which are inconsistent with the happiness and prosperity of the whole. However, he closes by asking for an end to the “sufferings of the coloured population.”  This distinction between free and unfree Blacks, reinforced differences within Trinidad’s Black population.

Henry Dundas

Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville by Sir Thomas Lawrence.jpg

Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville by Sir Thomas Lawrence. National Portrait Gallery, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount MelvillePCFRSE (28 April 1742 – 28 May 1811) was a Scottish advocate and “independent Whig” politician. He was the trusted lieutenant of British prime minister William Pitt, and the most powerful politician in Scotland in the latter decades of the 18th century.

A few years after passage of the Slave Trade Act 1807, Wilberforce and Dundas encountered each other. Wilberforce recorded the event as follows:

We did not meet for a long time and all his connexions most violently abused me. About a year before he died ... we saw one another, and at first I thought he was passing on, but he stopped and called out, ‘Ah Wilberforce, how do you do? And gave me a hearty shake by the hand. I would have given a thousand pounds for that shake. I never saw him afterwards.

Historians of the slave trade and the abolitionist movement, including David Brion Davis, Roger Anstey, Robin Blackburn, argue that Dundas’s actions were a tactic designed to delay rather than facilitate abolition. They maintain that when Dundas inserted the word ‘gradual’ into the debate he in effect postponed the discussion on the slave trade until an unspecified date in the future, and subverted the British abolitionist movement. 

Subsequent measures were brought forward in favour of abolition at other times in the course of the 1790s which Dundas also opposed. The loss of momentum was connected to the renewal of war with France in which Britain favoured the expansion of slavery while the French, after 1794, stood for its abolition.

Other historians, including Sir Tom Devine, who focus on Scottish and British history disagree. 

Brian Young notes that in 1792, the motion for immediate cessation of the slave trade was heading for certain defeat. By inserting the word “gradual” into the motion, Young says Dundas ensured a successful vote for the ultimate abolition of the trade in slaves. 

In June 2020, the Edinburgh City Council voted to install a new brass plaque on the Melville Monument acknowledging Dundas role in deferring the abolition of the slave trade.

Final reflections on my Wikimedia Training Internship by Hannah Rothmann

Before starting my internship as the Wikimedia Training Intern at the University of Edinburgh, I did not know much about Wikipedia and its sister projects. I had obviously used Wikipedia; to settle arguments, as a springboard for research and as a helping hand in some particularly difficult pub quizzes. However, I had not given much thought to where that information came from, how it was curated, maintained and what prompted people to edit freely and in their spare time. The goal to make Wikipedia the ‘sum of all human knowledge’ lies behind the work of many editors. It is this possibility of open access to all knowledge for all that drives people. The majority of editors want to preserve information, such as creating an online database of small, nearly extinct languages. For many, it is also a wish to share knowledge, to help people and to make the internet a bit better that drives them to contribute. It is a noble aim and one that many strive to help achieve both within the University of Edinburgh and Wikimedia UK, the UK branch of the Wikimedia Foundation.

However, I do acknowledge that Wikipedia and the other Wiki platforms are not perfect. They sadly reflect the biases that are inherent in our society. Only around 18% of all biographies on the English Wikipedia are on women and there are even less on women from the Global South. The representation of ethnic minorities is also problematic. A study in 2011 found that the perspective on Wikipedia tends to come from the Global North and this is something that needs to change as the editors of Wikipedia are predominantly male, college educated, white and in their 30s. Therefore, to make Wikipedia a better place we need to make learning how to edit and maintain Wikipedia accessible for all and we need to persuade people to get involved from all backgrounds to try to address the systemic bias on Wikipedia.

One way is through edit-a-thons, where people come together with a goal to edit and create articles around a particular topic. For example, a group called Women in Red create Wikipedia articles about notable women that are lacking from Wikipedia and they helped to increase the percentage of articles about women on the English Wikipedia from around 15% to around 18%. During my summer, I attended events aim at improving representation of women such as the NHLI Wikithon for Women in Science and events hosted by the Women’s Classical Committee. Both had great speakers and showed me the possibility for social activism that Wikipedia holds.

Another way to increase access to Wikipedia is through training materials. Making accessible and understandable ‘how to’ videos and content for Wikipedia and Wikidata, an open machine-readable database, has been a main focus of my internship and over the last few weeks I have been finalising what I have made and making a website for this information. This is not a final solution for Wikipedia and Wikidata training but hopefully it will be a place where most questions can be answered for those taking their tentative first steps into the world of wiki. Not only do we need to persuade people to edit but we also need them to continue to edit and this training resource could mean that there is a safety net for new editors to fall back on for help.

Working from home has had its difficulties. Waiting for software, for a headset and sending many emails which could have been short conversations in person are some of the things that have slowed down my work. It also is important to stay motivated when working from home as the days can blur especially when there is no distinction between home and work. However, the team at the university have been very friendly, they have been around to have video calls if I need any help and extremely supportive. Everyone is going through a strange time and working from home has been a good learning curve and one that will be important for my final year at university where most of my studying will take place remotely.

I am grateful for the skills I have learnt this summer during my internship and for an opportunity to learn about the positive work that we can collectively do on the internet. Hopefully, I will continue to edit Wikipedia and in a small way increase representation on the internet and open access to knowledge for all.

Thanks especially to Ewan McAndrew for all the help and guidance this summer!

Internship Blog #2: 4 weeks into my Wikimedia Internship by Hannah Rothmann

I have now finished 4 very busy weeks of my Wikimedia Training Internship! These past few weeks I have begun developing ideas and plans for training materials for Wikipedia and Wikidata and for a website where I can share these materials. This has meant that, among other things, I have been learning how to create a website and how to use screen capturing software; all useful skills! There have been some stumbling blocks in getting the relevant access to the necessary sites so I have spent time ensuring I had the skills to access platforms such as EdWeb.  Everything has now been sorted out and hopefully I will be able to progress smoothly for the next 8 weeks of the internship!

The website that I want to create will showcase the work that the Wikimedian in Residence at the University of Edinburgh, Ewan McAndrew, is doing, explain the importance of Wikipedia and Wikidata, explore real life examples of using both platforms and hopefully give all novices the skills they need to feel confident using these platforms. It will be a mix of videos, pdfs, images and texts and I am looking forward to having a finished website which will be useful to many people embarking on their wiki-journey!

Working from home is still a strange experience but luckily frequent calls with colleagues and Wikimedians outside of the university ensure that I feel connected and part of something. Last week, I was able to sit in on some of the talks at the Celtic Knot Conference 2020 (originally meant to be held in Ireland) which changed up my routine a little. This conference  clearly exemplified how Wikipedia and especially Wikidata can cause real life change. The focus of this conference was

‘to bring people together to share their experiences of working on sharing information in minority languages’

and the organisers wanted to have

‘a strong focus on Wikidata and its potential to support languages’.[1]

One of the talks I attended was led by Léa Lacroix and Nicolas Vigneron who showed us how to input Wikidata lexemes. For example, Nicolas used Breton as the language he was inputting. This function of Wikidata is significant in ensuring that a record of these languages is accessible for many people in many languages. This is important work considering a recent study suggested that Scots Gaelic, for example, could die out within the decade.

The next few weeks I will be focusing on creating videos, the website and editing all of these materials. I will be also attending the Women’s Classical Committee UK Wiki colloquium at the end of July which describes itself as

‘a crowd-sourced initiative that aims to increase the representation of women classicists (very broadly conceived) on Wikipedia.’[2]

This neatly combines my degree, Classics, with the new skills and interests I am developing from this internship and it is a good way I can practically put these new skills to use diversifying Wikipedia!

[1] https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Celtic_Knot_Conference_2020

[2] https://ics.sas.ac.uk/events/event/22700

Internship Blog #3: #WCCWiki Colloquium 2020 by Hannah Rothmann

Credit: Statue of Hygeia, copy of orginal in vatican. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Today I had the chance to attend the #WCCWiki Colloquium 2020. This was an event organised by the Women’s Classical Committee UK. #WCCWiki describes itself as

‘a crowd-sourced initiative that aims to increase the representation of women classicists (very broadly conceived) on Wikipedia.’ [1]

Since they started in 2016, they have edited and/or created more than 450 Wikipedia pages for women classicists. This is an impressive feat and important to increase the diversity on Wikipedia. You may be wondering why we need to increase the diversity of pages about Classics on Wikipedia? It is because the gender bias on Wikipedia becomes even clearer when looking at classics:

‘one Wikipedia editor estimated in 2016 that only 7% of biographies of classicists featured women’.[2]

This statistic has become less extreme due to the efforts of #WCCWiki but there is still lots of work for us to do.

At the event itself, there were a series of talks ranging from why it is important for us to edit Wikipedia to LGBTQ+ Wikipedia editing. The talks touched upon the issues that editors come across when creating new articles. For example, Adam Parker discussed notability. When creating new biographies on Wikipedia notability is a really important aspect to focus on. It is usually because of failing the criteria for notability that new articles are excluded. Jess Wade faced this issue when writing about the nuclear chemist Clarice Phelps.[3] Phelps’ page caused controversy with editors deleting her page numerous times. Eventually, by January 2020 her page was restored. This happened again when a page made for Donna Strickland after she had won the Nobel Prize for Physics was deleted.[4] However, there were issues surrounding the original page created for Donna Strickland and these are explored in a post by the Wikimedia Foundation which also explains some of the problems that come up when thinking about notability.[5] These issues surrounding notability come up again and again and are a continual battle.

In the afternoon, Miller Power gave an important talk on LGBTQ+ Wikipedia editing. He discussed the issues that the LGBTQ+ community face on Wikipedia such as queer erasure and harassment which can lead to edit wars. For example, this could be changing pronouns or using deadnames when it is not necessary. An example of one of these edit wars is the Wikipedia page for Harry Allen (trans man) where corrections kept needed to be made. Miller Power also discussed what we should be aware of when writing about LGBTQ+ people on Wikipedia including consistently using correct gendered language and avoiding outdated language and phrases such as ‘used to be a man’.

It was a positive and informative day that really showed what a group of motivated people are able to achieve. If you want to edit or create pages here is a list on the Women’s Classical Committee project page and they are also planning an online editing session on the 19th August.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Women%27s_Classical_Committee/Colloquia

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/education/2018/dec/12/female-scholars-are-marginalised-on-wikipedia-because-its-written-by-men

[3] https://www.chemistryworld.com/news/female-scientists-pages-keep-disappearing-from-wikipedia–whats-going-on/3010664.article

[4] https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/nobel-prize-winner-physics-2018-donna-strickland-wikipedia-entry-deleted-sexism-equality-a8572006.html

[5] https://wikimediafoundation.org/news/2018/10/04/donna-strickland-wikipedia/

Internship Blog #1: My First Week by Hannah Rothmann

Hi, my name is Hannah and I will be going into the final year of my Classics degree in September. I have just finished week 1 of my Wikimedia Training Internship; the start date was delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the uncertainty that came with it. Adjusting to working remotely from home, meeting new people but over video calls and Microsoft teams and also learning about entirely new things has meant that it has been a strange and somewhat nerve-racking first week and not what I would have expected from a summer internship a year ago. Thankfully, my line manager, Ewan McAndrew, has been very welcoming and made me feel at ease despite this novel situation!

The Wikimedia Training Internship caught my attention among a long and varied list of Employ.Ed internships. The aim of my internship of is to create materials to teach people how to edit and use Wikipedia and Wikidata with the goal of them becoming active editors and contributing to a growing database of free, credible and jointly gathered information. I was shocked when I discovered this week that only around 18% of biographical pages on the English Wikipedia are about women! Hopefully, by making more accessible teaching materials we will be able to address this imbalance and increase the diversity of Wikipedia and Wikidata. This means making resources that avoid complicated jargon, address all stumbling blocks a beginner wiki-user may encounter and will enable the uninitiated to become confident editors and contributors. Wikimedia UK believes

‘that open access to knowledge is a fundamental right’ and in the ‘democratic creation, distribution and consumption of knowledge’.[1]

These aims demonstrate the importance of the work of Wikimedia UK. My line manager Ewan stressed this importance and that Wikimedia related activities have a growing significance in a learning environment shifting more towards the digital world when he had to argue that the internship should go ahead despite financial impact COVID-19 on the university; many internships were cancelled. My internship will hopefully enable remote learning and help people see how they can change their approach to teaching to incorporate Wikimedia related activities into how students learn.

This aim means that the work I am doing is firmly rooted in the present and even the future. Just this week I have learnt new ways to use technology and skills which will be indispensable in a world moving ever more into the realm of online, online learning and the online experience. Although at first glance this internship appears in direct contrast to my Classics degree, which is focussed among other things on reading and interpreting ancient texts, the aim of a Classics degree, in my opinion, is to understand that ideas and concepts of whatever period always have relevance and there is always the possibility of continual learning.  The different skills I will develop in my internship and the skills I am learning from my degree will hopefully enrich my approach to work and any work that I do in this time and in the future.

So far, I have been getting used to remote working and all the quirks that come with it (hoovering is not something that goes too well with a work video call for example!) and I have also been figuring out where the gaps are in the current resources that Ewan has to teach people about Wikipedia and Wikidata while also filling in my rather large gaps of knowledge. For example, I had no idea what Wikidata really was before the start of my first week and I am still trying to understand it fully. I was lucky enough to attend the NHLI Women in Science Wikithon at the end of my first week which gave me a chance to implement what I had learnt about Wikipedia editing and it showed me how much more still needs to be done to improve diversity. Dr Jess Wade, who was Wikimedia UK’s Wikimedian of the year 2019, gave an introduction exploring why we should all edit Wikipedia. She has personally made hundreds and hundreds of Wikipedia pages for women and for notable women in science who previously had been ignored and in doing this has increased awareness regarding Wikipedia and how it can be used to tackle inequality and lack of diversity. After this introduction, it was a treat to have some training from Dr Alice White who showed us how to begin editing and creating our own pages. I edited some pages already created but lacking details, for example a page about Dr Susan Bewley, as I did not feel quite ready to begin making my own pages. The work Dr Jess Wade has been doing and continues to do along with this event really showed me how Wikipedia could be used as a force for good and also the importance of ensuring people have access to learning materials.

I am excited about getting to grips with my internship, developing skills, challenging my abilities all with the aim to make Wikipedia and Wikidata a platform that anyone anywhere will feel able to use, edit and appreciate!

 

[1] https://wikimedia.org.uk/ viewed 30/06/2020

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