Wonder Women of Natural History editathon

A photograph of illustrated books on a table within a large library
A photo showing some of the resources made available by the library

This post was written by John Cummings (Wikimedia UK volunteer) and Emily Humble (Zoological Society of London)

The Wonder Women of Natural History Wikipedia editathon was held in the Mappin Pavilion at the Zoological Society of London on 18 January. This one-day event was dedicated to improving the Wikipedia pages of some of the most remarkable women who have helped shape our understanding of natural history. There has been a big push to raise the profile of women in all fields of science since last year’s Ada Lovelace Day and many editathons have been held across the country to facilitate this.

Wikipedia is the most used reference work in the world, receiving 21 billion page views per month. It is therefore vital there is better coverage of historical and current women scientists to help to inspire the next generation of women scientists. Only 13% of STEM jobs in the UK are held by women. Last year the UK Government made £400 million available to encourage more women to study these subjects.

Like in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields, Wikipedia sees quite similar gender divides. The 2011 Wikipedia editor’s survey shows that less than one in ten Wikipedia editors are women. Many people have spoken about the importance of the gender balance of editors on Wikipedia including Mary Gardiner at Wikimania 2012. Women were particularly encouraged to attend this event to tackle this divide and in fact, all new editors attending were women.

During the day we were lucky enough to take a trip to the ZSL library where senior librarian Ann Sylph had prepared a fascinating collection of books, illustrations and letters. Some of our favourites included a book on Bivalves by Martin Lister from 1696 where all of the illustrations were by his daughters, a letter from Mary Anning to William Buckland and the Minutes of the ZSL Council from 1827, noting Lady Raffles’ admission of women as Fellows to the Society.

Liz Smith from the Darwin Correspondence Project gave us an explanation of their gender project which has revealed a greater than expected number of women involved in scientific study in Darwin’s time. The screening of Darwin’s Women, produced by the Darwin Correspondence Project, then got everyone sufficiently inspired to begin their editing that continued through the day.

Articles that were created or improved during the event included: