The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Wikipedia
Volunteers have been an integral part of the Smithsonian since the beginning. As our historian Pamela Henson likes to say, we have always relied on the kindness of strangers. Our first Secretary, Joseph Henry, coordinated a group of about 600 people across North America to send in weather data which he posted on a map in the Smithsonian’s Castle (this program eventually led to the founding of the National Weather Service.) Our second Secretary, Spencer Fullerton Baird, created a network of collecting volunteers who sent biological specimen to the Smithsonian for study and inclusion in its first U.S. National Museum.
Today, on site volunteers number almost the same as staff; 6,373 staff and 5451 volunteers. Since kicking off our first pan-Smithsonian digital volunteer website in June 2013, the Smithsonian Transcription Center, we nearly doubled our volunteer base by 4,919! The number steadily climbs and it is likely to soon outnumber our in-person volunteers, and eventually our staff.
Although digital volunteers work from all over the world, there is a sense of community amongst the volunteers through social media and the Transcription Center itself. I regularly field questions/comments from volunteers in very different time zones. It also seems like serving as a digital volunteer yields the same sense of purpose as our in-person volunteers:
“…I was also keen because anything I do helps to open up access to the Smithsonian collections and this results in improved connections and knowledge for everyone. Scientists, citizen scientists, historians, school children, from anywhere with an internet connection. The fact that anyone can view the transcriptions and that there is open access to the transcribed data was a very important factor in me donating my time,” Transcription Center Volunteer
“ What drives me, in particular, is the preservation of the study of astronomy. There were countless hours spent in freezing observatories with eyes glued to instruments and eyepieces hoping for good tracking and sky conditions. All during this was the painstaking logging of notes - figures and frustrations alike. This must never be lost, for it shows determination, drive, perseverance . . . and a great deal of hope. Thank you for the opportunity,” Transcription Center Volunteer
From working our information desks to transcribing primary source documents, our volunteers are large contributors in making the Smithsonian all that it is. It is delightful to think that people all over the world now have more opportunities to contribute from wherever they are. Below is a list of Smithsonian projects that rely on the kindness of strangers (a.k.a. crowdsourcing projects) that I compiled back in September 2014. If one appeals to you, come aboard and help us to achieve our mission of increasing and diffusing knowledge. And please know that we very much appreciate your work, not just during Volunteer Appreciation Month, but throughout the year. Please listen to a message of thanks from our Director, Anne Van Camp.
- Digital Volunteer Certificate, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Baird’s Network, Bigger Picture Blog
- Volunteer for the Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Growing to a Community of Volunpeers: Communication & Discovery, Bigger Picture Blog
Volunteer now for any of these Smithsonian projects!
- Access American Stories – Crowdsourcing audio descriptions of exhibition for accessibility
- Agriculture Innovation and Heritage Archive – Crowdsourcing oral histories related to agriculture
- Biodiversity Heritage Library Machine Tagging – Crowdsourcing machine tags for inclusion in the Encyclopedia of Life
- Community of Gardens – Crowdsourcing oral histories and media related to community gardens
- eMammal – Crowdsourcing camera-trap images to survey of wildlife
- Global Treebanding Project – Crowdsourcing scientific data about tree biomass and the impact of climate change
- Leafsnap – Crowdsourcing tree data set for mobile app
- Our American Journey - Crowdsourcing oral histories of American experience
- People and the Post: A DigitalMemory Book - Crowdsourcing oral histories from postal workers
- Smithsonian Transcription Center– Crowdsourcing transcriptions of historic documents and collection records
- Stories from Main Street – Crowdsourcing oral histories of rural America
- Wikipedia edit-a-thons - Crowdsourcing Wikipedia Articles about Smithsonian collections and resources
- Will to Adorn - Crowdsourcing oral histories about dress
Cue the music! We invite you to our third "She Blinded Me with Science" Women in Science Wikipdia Edit-a-thon III.
As was the case for the last two edit-a-thons, you can participate both in-person at the Archives, and on-line by joining us in a Google Hangout and etherpad (links to come on the event page linked above.) By participating, you will receive a tour of the Archives, a talk on popular media's role in the history of women in science, an introduction for beginners on editing in Wikipedia, coffee & lunch (if you join us in-person,) and the satisfaction of writing a female scientist into digital history.
In years past, we have focused on women in the history of science which has resulted in the creation of more than 50 new articles on groundbreaking geologists, anthropologists, botanists and more. Let's take a look at some of these women:
Ursula B. Marvin, planetary geologist from the Harvard-Smithsonian’s Astrophysical Observatory, won several awards for her research (1997 Lifetime Achievement Award from Women in Science and Engineering, 1986 History of Geology Award from the Geological Society of America, and the 2005 Sue Tyler Friedman Medal), and had an Antarctic mountain named after her.
Ornithologist Roxie Laybourne basically founded the field of forensic ornithology. Laybourne was very interested in aeronautics and even took an aeronautics correspondence course after not being able to attend aviation school because she was female. She used the Smithsonian's vast bird collection and scanning electron microscopy to identify birds involved in plane crashes. She helped to improve air travel safety working in conjunction with the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board.
For this year, we have added 35 more female scientists to our to-do list. Some of them were uncovered by our digital volunteers while transcribing scientific field books in the Smithsonian's Transcription Center. The list also contains many current female scientists at the Smithsonian who are working on everything from the conservation of wild canids to high-energy astrophysics. Join us in writing these women into digital history.
- Sign up for the "She Blinded Me with Science III," Women in Science Wikipedia Edit-a-thon III, Friday, March 27.
- Roxie Collie Laybourne: Remembering a Groundbreaker, Bigger Picture Blog
- Documenting a Geologist's Adventures, Bigger Picture Blog
- Women in Science Wednesdays, Bigger Picture Blog
- Science Service Records at the Smithsonian Institution Archives
Hidden in Plain Sight: Reading Between the Lines with the Smithsonian Transcription Center Volunteers
The Smithsonian Transcription Center volunteers have been busy unlocking the hidden stories from the Smithsonian's collections - including the women in science hiding in plain sight in these digitized pages. From amateur collectors to seasoned gardeners, women made valuable contributions to the Smithsonian's collections. Here's what we're learning and doing together with their information.
Last July, I shared some of the progress of volunteers and their growth as a community. The highlights? Over 450 volunteers transcribed 13,412 pages including 46 different Archives projects. Since then, we have grown our community to over 4,500 volunteers and the completed text of 66,598 pages can now be indexed. This remarkable growth includes 247 completed Archives projects as well.
Updated statistics: Over 450 volunteers at that point had transcribed 46 different Archives projects. That was part of the total 956 volunteers who had completed 13,412 pages by July 2014. Since then, 2,147 volunteers have helped wrap up a whopping 247 Archives projects! The community has grown to over 4,700 volunteers total; they have worked together to completely transcribe and review 67,205 pages - to make searchable text in Smithsonian's Collections Search Center.
Through mysteries, connections, and achievements, the Archives continue to recognize the women in science in their collections. The Archives also shares field notes and books in the Smithsonian Transcription Center, where we have fully transcribed field notes and photo albums from women scientists including Doris Cochran, Cléofe Caldéron, Florence Bailey, and Mary Agnes Chase. Volunteers - whom we call #volunpeers - have also been able to identify at least 25 women who contributed specimens and were recorded in field notes by Joseph Nelson Rose.
Rose was a botanist with the U. S. Department of Agriculture and the Smithsonian Institution; his work was prolific and highlighted his great commitment to botanical work and cooperative discovery. How fitting that by transcribing his detailed notes, volunpeers would open a window: private citizens and researchers alike sharing specimens with the Smithsonian Institution. Many of the women in science we've uncovered in the pages were involved in science with informal work or non-institutional roles. The collectors in Rose's pages were professional botanists, and collecting sisters, wives, and amateurs.
In addition to notes on women cultivating botanical collections, we also see women in science in the entomological specimens labels and botanical specimens sheets that volunpeers transcribe. One challenge emerges: what can we do with the knowledge that emerges from the digitized pages? How can we acknowledge the effort of all of the collectors and honor the work of volunteers?
As Smithsonian staff begin to incorporate that information into official records and institutional narrative, we can discuss the challenges openly - in Google Hangouts, blogposts, and social media. By working with volunpeers and others, we might open the problem to group solutions. We can also acknowledge the scientific work in spaces like Wikipedia where challenges remain with representation of women. In this way, the knowledge generated from the Archives' and other Smithsonian collections can be shared with the public. As we approach Women's History Month, we have another opportunity to connect the women in science in these pages to the body of knowledge held at the Smithsonian Institution Archives and the energy of Wikipedia editors.
You can let science talk and help the stories of these women unfold in two ways: by joining the Archives in a Wikipedia edit-a-thon on March 27, 10:00-4:00 pm EST. Here is the running list of women from Joseph Nelson Rose’s field notes:
Women Without Wikipedia Representation
- Wilmatte Porter Cockerell
- Helen S. Conant
- Grace M. Cole
- Mrs. Anna W Kidder
- Miss Jesse P Rose
- Ruth C. Ross
- Miss Gertrude Sinscheimer
- Sister Mary Regina of St. Mary’s Convent (NY)
- Elsie McElroy Slater
- Mrs. Florence A Standley
- Miss Nellie Standley
- Miss V. Tasker of Pennsylvania
- Miss F. N. Vasey
- Mrs. Irene Vera
Women With Articles in Wikipedia
Women Currently Identified by Names Other Than Their Own
- Mrs. Charles Bly
- Mrs. D. D. Gaillard
- Lady Hanbury
- Mrs. Dan Hansen
- Mrs. Eugene A Harris
- Mrs. S. L. Pattison
- Mrs. L. L. Roller
- Mrs. G. M. Wolfe
Or you can share your passion for Smithsonian collections by transcribing with other volunpeers in the Transcription Center.
Join us online on Tuesday, March 18th, from 3-6pm EST for our second Wikipedia edit-a-thon focused on women in science. Our goal is to increase the representation of women on Wikipedia. There are several important women scientists who to date have no Wikipedia page. Take for example, Dr. Christine Jones Forman, Senior Astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian's Center for Astrophysics whose research focuses on the structure and growth of clusters of galaxies and feedback from supermassive black holes in galaxies and clusters. She is the group leader for Chandra calibration, vice president of the American Astronomical Society and the president of Division XI Investigator for the Center for Astrophysics Research Experiences for Undergraduates. Incredible, right? But, no English Wikipedia page.
If you join us as an online participant, you will have access to a live stream of a behind-the-scenes tour of the Archives with Head Reference Archivist, Ellen Alers, as well as a discussion on the portrayal of women in the media by Archives' research fellow, Marcel LaFollette. LaFollette is the author of Science on the Air: Popularizers and Personalities on Radio and Television and Science on American Television: A History.Here is a WIKIPRES.pdf by LaFollette.
In conjunction with the Archives' "Women in Science Wednesday" series, one of my responsibilities this summer was to make sure that women featured on the Archives' Facebook page were also represented on Wikipedia, either through beefing up existing wiki pages or creating pages from scratch. Often times, women in our Science Service collection (Accession 90-105) are only identified on the web and on Wikipedia by name and notable accomplishments, and that's it. (Some exceptions include writer Betty Freiden and pilot Jacqueline Cochran who already have pretty extensive wiki pages.)
For example, Josephine G. Fountain was the inventor – the inventor! – of the direct suction tracheotomy tube and holds it patent – its patent! – yet there is no mention of her on the tracheotomy tube's wiki page nor is there any substantial information on Fountain through a basic internet search (including her background or birthdate). What happened to make Fountain’s accomplishments basically disappear – especially since the trach tube is something used in hospitals every day?
Frederica de Laguna, on the other hand, was much easier to research. Although she is identified in the photograph on the left and featured on collaborator Kaj Birket-Smith's wiki, her own page wasn't linked from it - and was so under-promoted that I actually created a new page before realizing a page already existed. Why does information for de Laguna exist where none does for Fountain and other female scientists like Jane Blankenship, Kathleen Beyer, or Matilda Moldenhauer Brooks? Both de Laguna and Brooks published. Brooks discovered the antidote to carbon monoxide and cyanide poisoning; like Fountain, she's responsible for something still in use today. Beyer discovered that plants contain sex chromosomes. And Blankenship was a spectroscopist in an era when women in science was rare. All of these accomplishments are notable and interesting – but these women are almost totally absent from the web.
While I found my (lack of) online discoveries incredibly disappointing, there were also a few cases when doing a simple web search actually did prove beneficial. A previous Archives intern, Mary Tressider, made a webpage on five women in science – Jane Stafford, Marjorie Van de Water, Frances Densmore, Emma Reh, and Marjorie MacDill Breit – which helped me add invaluable information to the wikis of both Stafford and Reh. Also, searching for Mary Blade led me to two unlikely sources: a tumblr entry by Blade's grand nephew and a design blog, both of which featured posts on Blade's involvement with a 1978 book on chair design and ergodynamics – and included some great pictures of Blade posing!
Although it's not surprising that wiki pages sometimes don't exist for science professionals (or else don't expound on one's professional career), it's still more common for women science professionals to suffer these consequences over men doing the same work. Part of the need for (and appeal of) the Archives' "Women in Science" campaign is to highlight the many varied and fascinating accomplishments women make to scientific disciplines. And the beauty of the web (especially a website like Wikipedia that is explicitly reliant on user-generated content) is that it allows anyone the ability to contribute information and ensure these great women get the same exposure and recognition on social communities as their male counterparts
- Meet Sarah Stierch: The Archives’ Wikipedian in Residence, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Women and Science at Science Service, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Accession 90-105 - Science Service, Records, 1920s-1970s, Smithsonian Institution Archives
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