The popular online encyclopedia Wikipedia includes more information about women in the arts than ever before, thanks to students in Professor Nicola Courtright’s course “Women and Art in Early Modern Europe.” Courtright, the William McCall Vickery 1957 Professor of the History of Art, assigned a “Wikithon” for students to update, enhance and, in some cases, create new Wikipedia entries about depictions of women and women artists from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment.
The project was part of the Wikipedia Education Project, an initiative led by the Wiki Education Foundation (Wiki Ed) that encourages students and faculty in the United States and Canada to share research by updating and adding information to Wikipedia.
The Amherst course is one of 317 supported by Wiki Ed this spring. More than 5,600 students in those classes contributed 3,770 articles that have so far been viewed more than 99 million times, according to the foundation.
In preparation for the project, Courtright invited hari stephen kumar, director of instructional and curricular design service, and Sara Smith, arts and humanities librarian, to help students identify their research interests and learn how to find contextual information that fits Wikipedia’s criteria for citable sources.
Below are five examples of contributions the students made to Wikipedia as part of the course.
Peter Paul Rubens’ Samson and Delilah
“We could choose any painting or subject relating to the course to conduct research on,” says Olivia Zheng ’20, who researched the 17th century painting Samson and Delilah by Peter Paul Rubens.
The text she added to Wikipedia about the painting’s narrative sheds light on the artist’s depictions of Deliliah, as well as on the old woman holding a candle and the female statue in the background.
Zheng also added text about the painting’s provenance and contributed to an entry about Nicolaas II Rockox, a friend of Rubens’ who commissioned the painting for one of his many houses.
Witches in Art
“We had recently studied the depiction of witches in art and the way that it reflected on society’s view of women, which I found fascinating,” says Melissa Pineda Brown ’20.
Brown created a section called “Witches in Art” in the existing Wikipedia entry for “Witchcraft.” She also contributed to “Witchcraft and religious imagery,” a section of an entry about 15th century German artist Hans Baldung, cited as “the first artist to heavily incorporate witches and witchcraft into his artwork.”
Titian’s Penitent Magdalene
Jane Bragdon ’20 contributed to an entry about Penitent Magdalene—a 16th century painting of Saint Mary Magdalene by Italian painter Titian—adding hyperlinks, sources, sections and categories.
During her research Bragdon discovered that the painting was commissioned for the poet and Italian noblewoman Vittoria Colonna, which she also added to the entry. “In fact,” she says, “this painting greatly inspired many of Colonna’s poems.”
Emily Fedor ’20 added to the Wikipedia entry about 16th century Bolognese artist Lavinia Fontana, who is credited as the first woman to paint female nudes. “Even as her gender may have hindered her career in a society less accustomed to female artists,” Fedor writes, “it may have made women more comfortable sitting for her.”
Fedor also created an entirely new entry about Fontana’s 1584 oil painting Portrait of the Gozzadini Family, which, according to her research, was commissioned by Laudomia Gozzadini “as a statement of her legitimacy and patrimonial rights.”
Women Reading in Art
Kara Westhoven, a junior Honors College student from UMass, created a new entry titled “Women reading in art.”
The entry cites male artists who have painted women reading—among them, Pieter Janssens Elinga, Claude Monet and Johannes Vermeer—and also includes a section about female artists’ renderings of women readers that references Mary Cassat. “These artists’ depictions of reading greatly differ from their male counterparts,” Westhoven writes, “demonstrating the complexity of the topic.”