Information Technology

Women's History Wikipedia Projects

Martha Saxton, Associate Professor of History and Women's and Gender Studies incorporated Wikipedia into the curriculum of her Women's History courses during Spring 2007 and Spring 2008.

In scrolling through various articles on Wikipedia it became clear that women show up only occasionally as subjects of biographies, and that they are barely integrated into the general historical articles like Early America.

In Spring 2007, four students, enrolled in her Women’s History course, selected articles that they wished to revise to include the participation and contributions of women. Two decided to work on the article on Puritanism, another chose indentured servants, and a third chose to revise the section on the Wampanoag Indians of Massachusetts. The final class project was to revise an entry on the Revolution. Students had read a number of works on women’s experiences in the Revolution and divided up assignments among themselves to further research and cover the experiences and contributions by Whig women, those of Loyalist women, Native American women and African American women.

In Spring 2008, fifteen students, enrolled in Professor Saxton's Women’s History course, selected entries that they wished to revise to include the participation and contributions of women. In each case, students did an initial critique of the existing article, laying out what their own interventions would be. Two, for example, decided to work on the article on the Shakers and Mother Ann Lee. One student included material on women in the American Federation of Labor, and another worked on early labor activity. Others worked on topics as disparate as the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the California Gold Rush and Social Security.

Two students from the Spring 2007 course on women in early America took this course as well. They collaborated on an essay describing their experiences of having their articles edited. They categorized the types of edits that occurred and looked into the motivation behind different kinds of interventions, exploring various kinds of biases, their intellectual results, and the implications for a balanced Wikipedia.

At the end of the semester, the students drafted a description of their project and its significance in beginning to create a balanced version of our nation's history. Working together, they produced a declaration outlining the need for the project and its methodology. The endeavor is called the Amherst College Gender Equality Project and hosted in Wikipedia.