Indigenizing Wikipedia

Today there is an international feminist takeover of Wikipedia; you can follow it on Twitter using #tooFEW. It was a project proposed by
Moya Bailey, who notes a profound deficit of women’s history and perspectives on the encyclopedia, on which only about 12 percent of content producers are women. I’m still looking for an accounting of how many indigenous people might be contributing.

So I have written my very first, very rudimentary Wikipedia entry, on Cheryl Savageau. Writing for Wikipedia isn’t as easy as blogging, but once you invest a little time, it’s not rocket science, either. (It took me about 3 days to familiarize myself with the site’s basic protocols and markup conventions, just enough to make an article stick–though I obviously have a lot more to learn, and even to do, with this one little article.)

That is one thing I am really coming to admire about the site: that, for all its problems, it at least makes everything–from the authors of its content to its unfolding editorial squabbles–quite transparent. So far, I have also found its frankly stunning phalanx of volunteer editors to be incredibly engaged and welcoming. In less than 20 minutes after I’d posted, one editor had fixed a punctuation error in my title (while I was wrestling with name changes) and politely reminded me that authors’ own publishers aren’t necessarily the most “reliable sources” for information about them.  This is really good peer to peer teaching and collaborative knowledge production. And, as Adeline Koh and Roopika Risam have pointed out, there is a real window of opportunity here for ground-up, subaltern knowledge production and dissemination, on a website that is highly consulted, around the world.

Try just registering with Wikipedia and making some small edits to any articles that need them. Which is in fact most of them. This is a huge, crowd sourced project that understands itself as always incomplete, and always in progress. And that’s an admirable thing.

5 thoughts on “Indigenizing Wikipedia

  1. Years ago, I created an “American Indians in Children’s Literature” page. Wikipedia’s transparency is a plus because it allows you to see the conversations that took place. Specifically, the editors didn’t think it was a legitimate topic. I asked for help from two different academic/library communities and their comments persuaded the editor to let the page remain on Wikipedia. One thing to keep in mind is that anyone can edit what you put up there. I haven’t looked recently, but people go in and mess with my critiques of books like LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE (it has stereotypes and bias in it). I experienced that, too, on posts I made to the “Chief Illiniwek” pages. People undo what is there if they don’t like it. The onus is on you to put it back. You aren’t informed when someone edits what you wrote, so its also up to you to check back in to make sure that your work hasn’t been edited.

  2. Debbie, thanks! Looks like your page was last modified in February, and that (at least as of today) it is still saying (albeit vaguely) that “classics” like Little House “contain bias.” There is a fascinating conversation going on right now on Wikipedia about the takeover (, with some editors complaining that this is propaganda, and others emphasizing that Wikipedia welcomes all information and perspectives and contributions, as long as they can be properly documented (therein lies part of the rub, of course). I am guessing that having the reference “Reese 2008” helps your statements about Wilder stick around, but you’re right: everything you post is subject to revision, and unless you put a “watch” on your own pages and edits, and check back periodically, you can miss scurrilous undoings and edits. (PS. looks like one of your cantankerous editors, “Arkelweis,” has actually been chastised for disruptive editing in other cases. Interestingly, the community does have some mechanisms for shutting down people who engage in edit wars or are otherwise disruptive).

  3. Heck, if you’re contributing from outside the US (or maybe UK), you might as well be indigenous. Which is annoying (there may be glaring gaps) and also rewardings (for the same reasons, in these situations even stubs or starter articles are unlikely to be deleted providing you can adequately reference them and show notability).

  4. Pingback: “I Edit Wikipedia” | Vicky Poppins' Bag

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