In 2019 Wikimedia UK, Archaeology Scotland and The Society of Antiquaries of Scotland recruited a graduate intern through the Scottish Graduate School for Arts & Humanities Internship programme. These funded placements give PhD researchers the opportunity to spend up to three months with a partner organisation; improving their research skills and giving them an opportunity to work on a project which makes a real difference to an organisation.
The successful applicant was Roberta Leotta, and we planned that she would help to design and deliver a project which looked at the content gap around images of Scottish Archaeology, using Wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons, and Wikidata.
As a remote internship, with occasional visits to the Archaeology Scotland offices, our first step was to give Roberta some introductory training on the Wikimedia projects – and using some of the materials I put together for the new Scottish trainer cohort, let her explore the projects. Here are her reflections on the first part of her internship. – Dr Sara Thomas, Scotland Programme Coordinator, Wikimedia UK.
It is very common for a PhD student in Classics to be associated with the image of a bookworm: a person who spends all their time in the library surrounded by books and papyruses and who is usually very unfamiliar with technology and digital resources. For sure, some academic environments such as Classics tend to be less innovative and more traditional than others, however this image is increasingly becoming less realistic. In fact, even though we study the literature and culture of the past, we need and want to engage with the world where we live – a world which is highly digitised. Moreover, the special circumstances we are experiencing these days are showing how technology is crucial in all sectors, including Humanities. Unfortunately, despite some recent improvements, the opportunities to increase our digital skills whilst at university are not massive. For this reason, when I saw the possibility to partake in an internship with Wikimedia UK and Archaeology Scotland, I decided to apply. It seemed to me a good chance to learn something about a widespread digital resource that the academic world needs to deal in.
And indeed, my expectations were fulfilled from the beginning. In four training hours about Wikimedia, and in particular on Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons, I started to notice that something I took for granted was, instead, the result of a very well organised structure. The structure of Wikimedia is made by people who work according to the same principles, such as, in primis, to guarantee a free access to the sum of human knowledge.
At the beginning, my first challenges were to become familiar with the new language and acquire new processes, rules and attitudes. In this regard it was interesting for me to understand the rules to follow in order to create an article suitable for Wikipedia. Differing from what I was used to, an article needs to show the state of knowledge on a specific topic and it needs not to show the writer’s critical perspective. In fact Wikimedia’s aim is not to give the final interpretation on a particular topic, but to offer the starting points for research on that topic. In other words, Wikimedia offers material which can inform us about the world, but also that can improve our critical skills about what we know about the world.
Moreover, an article has to be notable and well-referenced, and writing about underrepresented subjects such as women is encouraged. In this regard, I found that there are some parallels between the accuracy and subjects’ preferences required both in Wikimedia and in the academic world. The concept of notability, instead, can be more challenging and relative, but still can encourage us to differentiate personal interests in knowledge from those that would benefit humanity’s interests as a whole.
I appreciate these principles, but what I appreciate mostly is how Wikimedia guarantees that those principles are followed. This leads me to talk about my last point, for now, which I found very provocative about Wikimedia, namely the community’s system. So far, the feelings I got by observing Wikimedia from this closer point of view is that providing knowledge to other people is not a matter of individual effort, but a matter of a communal effort and that the collaborative attitude rather than competitiveness is the key to make it possible.
I wish not only the academic environment, but also other environments dealing with culture, could take on board the same spirit and attitude to spreading knowledge and understanding of the world.
Roberta’s project has continued to develop over the months. The COVID-19 situation has – obviously – changed the project somewhat, and we’ll be reflecting on that in a later blog. If you’d like to help us support more interns like Roberta, please consider donating to Wikimedia UK.