The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Women’s History Month
Today marks the 5th anniversary of our Women’s History Month celebration. We have a set of 71 images of women in science which we’ll be rolling out throughout the month. We will also be highlighting a little known, but ground-breaking woman each day through March on a Pinterest board and Facebook, whichever you prefer! We have women in the fields of botany, biology, physiology, biochemistry, anthropology, and much more. Some notables in today's group are Marion Schmidt Escallon, the first woman employed as a petroleum exploration geologist, and Laurel van der Wal, the 1961 Woman Scientist of the Year who specialized in engineering problems of manned space flight, including effects of weightlessness, radiation protection, and development of data handling and processing systems.
We also have a few mysteries which we’d love your help in solving. If you’d like to learn more about these important figures, keep checking back as we will be blogging about them throughout the month.
On a recent spring afternoon, ten Wikipedians and staff members came together at the Smithsonian Institution Archives to participate in an edit-a-thon in celebration of Women’s History Month. What is an edit-a-thon? It’s a gathering of Wikipedia editors who come together to write and improve Wikipedia articles about subjects. This event was the first Wikipedia related event to be held at the Archives and the final in a series of month-long Women’s History Month edit-a-thons around the world held by Wikipedians. The event served to not only celebrate this partnership between the Archives and Wikipedia, but also to help memorialize and celebrate the lives and works of women scientists who have a connection to the Smithsonian.
As a long-time Wikipedian, and a student passionate about the representation of underrepresented peoples in public history and culture, the opportunity to join forces with the Smithsonian Institution Archives made absolute sense for me. My role as a fellow at the Wikimedia Foundation involves me seeking to bring more women and women’s related content to the world’s largest encyclopedia, and the Archives can serve two purposes related to that: first, by sharing their unique and interesting content related to women connected to the Smithsonian, the world’s largest museum complex; and second, encouraging archivists and staff members to participate in the partnership by learning to edit Wikipedia themselves. The latter is all the more important in the goal to involve more women in Wikipedia: anyone who works in the GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums) world knows that it is a world that has an opposite problem than Wikipedia does—there are more women than men in the industry.
So, when this first event brought ten people together, I was so excited to see seven women as part of that group, including staff members and volunteer Wikipedians. I’m always happy when anyone wants to edit Wikipedia, but I’m even happier when women take the reigns and represent their interests (whether it’s women in science, or rock n' roll) and themselves on the website. And we did just that! As the group came together, everyone instantly supported each other by explaining editing processes, helping new editors make accounts, explain the often intimidating but easy ways to cite sources and add images to articles, and how to post those articles to the Wikipedia mainspace. The archivists shared rarely seen biographical materials from the collection with Wikipedians, and Wikipedians utilized those resources to create four new articles, expand one, and upload three new images. Articles were written about entomologist Doris Holmes Blake, botanist Clara H. Hasse, geologist Helen M. Duncan, zoologist Viola Shelly Shantz, and naturalist Anna Blackburne.
While Wikipedia struggles to retain existing editors, and works to improve conditions to be more friendly and helpful to new editors, the edit-a-thon experience furthers that mission by providing both new and experienced editors with a supportive atmosphere and a social editing experience. One of the most powerful experiences of the afternoon happened when two new articles about Clara H. Hasse and Helen M. Duncan, posted by newish editors, were nominated for deletion by other Wikipedians after the editors hit the save button. As the deletion nominations were frustratingly announced in the edit-a-thon "war room," the group came together to fight the deletions: helping one another find reliable sources to demonstrate the notability of the women scientists, and fighting the good fight on Wikipedia discussion pages that debated the deletions. The articles were saved, and even though Helen M. Duncan’s article was nominated for deletion again a few days later, it was saved by support from the community that quickly snowballed. Wikipedians had various valid reasons for declaring the article to be kept, with one editor stating: "Duncan's papers are held by the Smithsonian Institution Archives, which gets this subject 100% over the bar in five seconds in my opinion."
As the community and edit-a-thon group rallied, five more women were represented on Wikipedia with the help of the Smithsonian Institution Archives. As we work to continue to expand on women in science, and related subjects, we hope you’ll sign up to participate on our project page, and help us preserve the legacy of women in science from around the world on the world’s largest free encyclopedia.
For the past four years, the Smithsonain Institution Archives has honored Women’s History Month by publishing images of women in science to The Commons on Flickr. Among those, we include a selection that offer very little in the way of identification. Often times, with no name at all. To accompany this selection, we also call upon the Flickr Commons community to share their brilliant research skills and help expand on these skimpy image descriptions.
Following the success of previous years, this year was no different. Of the initial fifteen unidentified (or partially identified) images, the Smithsonian Institution Archives has officially updated the records of seven Women in Science images (pictured in the slideshow above), thanks to your help!
With each new comment added, so grew the excitement of the Archives staff working closely with these images. I would even gamble to say, these fellow colleagues start off with a favorite and silently root for her recognition. (Speaking of gambling, for future calls, we should place pseudo bets on which woman will be identified first! However, let it be stated, gambling is an unhealthy distraction for the workplace. And this concludes our impromptu PSA . . . I digress.)
Our supervisory archivist, Tammy Peters, was especially thrilled about the identification of Bertha Parker Pallan [Cody] (1907-1978) provided by Flickr member, Pixel Wrangler. Through this contribution, we learned of great accomplishments throughout her career, notably, that she has been referred to as the first woman to pursue archaeology professionally, and she was the first female Native American archaeologist. Including the fun fact: in 1936, Bertha Pallan married Oscar Cody (a.k.a “Iron Eyes Cody”)—an American actor best remembered for the "Keep America Beautiful" television advertisements in the 1970s.
I commend all the fascinating discoveries this year. However, there are eight remaining images that await more information or have yet to be addressed. In fact, my personal favorite needs some love. She currently goes by the name, “Unidentified Woman.”
There is nothing sadder than an image entitled “Unidentified woman.” Particularly, an image of a woman that looks so darling! The description mentions that “in other images she is standing with electrical engineer and Deutsches Technical Museum founder Oskar Von Miller (1855-1934).” Does this spark some insight into this woman’s past? Let the names begin.
(Anyone else have the chorus of Madonna’s “Who’s That Girl” playing in their head? . . . No? Just me?)