Reflections on Roberta’s internship as it comes to an end

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. Robertta Leotta is coming to the end of her internship, and reflects on her project in this blog she wrote for us.

At the beginning of March – which now looks like many ages ago –  I went to North Berwick in order to take pictures I wanted to upload in Wikicommons. During my walking tour and while I was taking pictures of monuments and buildings, I bumped into a monument dedicated to Catherine Watson, a woman who died in her attempt to rescue children from an angry sea, in 1889. Seeking Catherine Watson on the Internet I found this interesting project called Mapping Memorials to Women in Scotland. This project aims to uncover and map several memorials in Scotland which commemorate women, either famous or unknown, ‘who have contributed in some way to the life of the country we know today’. I really liked the purpose of this project and I started to think about some collaborations in terms of my internship. I would have liked to do some historical research about women in Scotland and go around taking pictures of other possible memorials, so that I would have contributed to the increase in open access images in Wikimedia about the history of women in this country. However, when I was about to begin this project the pandemic happened and I needed, for personal reasons, to come back home to Italy.

All this has been very disruptive for everyone and, in my own way, I needed to adjust all my plans under these new circumstances. It was highly remarkable how quickly and effectively it was possible to find a solution to adapt my internship project to the new reality we all have been experiencing.

Indeed while I was in Sicily locked inside an empty house, I could have not travelled anymore around Scotland in my hunt for memorials. However, the host institution of my internship was very supportive and they helped me to find a different solution for my project. Instead of mapping memorials physically, I started to learn how to navigate the digital space of Wikidata, a relational database. Wikidata was totally unknown for me, but became a place where I could remotely create, map and increase new data about women in Scotland.

At the beginning, I had a hard time understanding this language, the coding system, how things make sense in this field, but my host institution was always there for all my doubts, questions, worries. This online and remote training was indeed very efficient because of the empathy, positiveness and expertise provided by the host institution.

Then, thanks to the fact that we obtained properties approved for the Women of Scotland project, we had access to the identifier numbers through which I was able to create more than fifty items in Wikidata – among memorials and women – linked to the Mapping Memorials website. As an ultimate outcome, my project contributed to an increase in open access knowledge about the history of women who. in some cases, are little known in Scotland.

In this process, I had the chance to acquire several skills and have a very significant experience, both from a personal and professional perspective. Firstly, I learnt some new digital skills, extremely necessary for almost all careers nowadays. Secondly, this project gave me the chance to reflect upon principles and processes of categorisation and classification in Wikidata; a topic which also dialogues with my PhD interests in cognitive studies. Lastly, what I consider the major lesson I took from this experience was understanding how to create a collaborative, supportive working team which is able to face, with creativity and flexibility, any type of situations; also, as it happens to experience, very unpredictable ones such as pandemics.

Find out more about how you can support interns like Roberta here.

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