by Emily MN Kugler
If you watched PBS NewsHour this weekend, you heard Adrianne Wadewitz discuss Wikipedia’s gender gap and the Edit-A-Thons as a way to address that problem. In response to the question of what needs to happen to increase the presences of women as editors and subjects on Wikipedia, Adrianne pointed out that this was not a simple issue of changing the demographics of editors, but of revolutionizing the perspectives represented in that community:
I would say that we need to add the voice of feminists to Wikipedia who are going to talk about– women as underrepresented groups….I know something about how the first encyclopedias were developed in the 18th century. And those encyclopedias almost completely excluded the history of women. And it’s one argument that we make all the time. When we’re talking both to Wikipedians and people outside of Wikipedia, we say, “Look, if we want to include all of these other narratives besides the typical narrative that we usually tell of dead white men, we’ve gotta get it in there now. (PBS NewsHour 18 May 2014)
This interview took place shortly before Adrianne’s death last April and it airs as a global series of tribute Edit-A-Thons are taking place in honor of her. One of the first was at the State Library of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. In the week of this post, 19 May 2014, there are events planned in Terhan, Iran and throughout the United States, reaching from the West Coast (Davis, Los Angeles) to the East (Boston, Providence, New Haven).
Dr. Adrianne Wadewitz was an eighteenth-century British Literature scholar specializing in children’s literature, a digital humanist regularly contributing to major sites such as HASTAC, as well as one of the most prolific and visible female editors on Wikipedia. An early adopter and advocate of Wikipedia as an educational tool, she was part of the Wikipedia Education Program, and quite literally wrote the book on teaching with the online encyclopedia. But perhaps what she was best known for was her efforts to increase the visibility of women and other underrepresented groups as editors and subjects of Wikipedia entries. A a little over a year ago, the New York Times published a piece in which Amanda Filipacchi critiqued the gender bias of Wikipedia editing practices towards women. Adrianne astutely pointed out that the news coverage of “categorygate” failed to acknowledge the women already editing on Wikipedia: “According to “Category:Female Wikipedian”, there are approximately 1800 Wikipedians who identify as female and have potentially interesting views on the gender dynamics of the site. Yet, in all of the press coverage that I have read, not one single female Wikipedian has been interviewed or quoted. Amanda Filipacchi, whose op-ed first started the debate ….By ignoring all of the women already on Wikipedia, it is as if we are all invisible. As if all of the contributions, hard work, and debates we already contribute are utterly disregarded.”
Countering the media narrative that silenced female Wikipedians, Adrianne pointed to efforts to address the systemic gender (and other) biases on the site, emphasizing the role of Edit-A-Thons (a.ka. Write-Ins, Wikistorming, Hackathons) as a way of getting more people involved as editors. To honor her life and to mourn her passing, FemTechNet ( a “network of scholars, artists, and students who work on, with, and at the borders of technology, science and feminism”) and others are organizing Edit-A-Thons focused around the 21-25 of May. There are events focused around themes: the recent meetup in Philadelphia focused on “Women in Science” and another in Austin on “Race and the Digital.” This week in New England, co-organized Edit-A-Thons at Northeastern and Brown Universities emphasize local history in their work to expand entries on female subjects.Some of those organizing knew Adrianne personally and she may have introduced them to editing Wikipedia. Others knew her by her growing international reputation. But uniting the different events is the shared desire that her efforts carry on.
So what can you do?
Join us in person at an Edit-A-Thon near you
There are online events or you can act individually. In either case, the WikiWomen Collective has resources for getting started and finding Wikipedia entries that need to be created, edited, or improved.
Become an Editor
1. Sign up for a wikipedia account (we recommend using a pseudonym.)
2. Watch this video to learn just how to edit Wikipedia ( it’s an hour long, so set aside a bit of time). If you are going to an in-person event, there will probably be an introduction to this. Online, the Wikipedia Teahouse is a friendly space to learn about the technical basics as well as the culture of editing on Wikipedia.
3. Remember that you can improve entries in ways other than writing. You can add images, too! Here is the image use policy for Wikipedia.
Organize your own Edit-A-Thon!
There are event planning resource on the main Wadewitz Tribute Edit-A-Thon page.
On Adrianne Wadewitz’s Life and Contributions
Davidson, Cathy. “Remembering Adrianne Wadewitz: Scholar, Communicator, Teacher, Leader” HASTAC. 10 April 2014. (Look to the post’s comments for others remembering her.)
“Wikimedian activist Adrianne Wadewitz dies,” Wikinews, April 10, 2014.
Paredes, Veronica. “Tribute to Adrianne Wadewitz” FemTechNet. 10 April 2014.
In Her Own Words
“Adrianne Wadewitz's Blog Posts for HASTAC.” HASTAC: Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory.
“Episode 35: Secretly Famous: Interview with Adrianne Wadewitz.” Wikipedia Weekly Podcast. Wikipedia. 11 November 2007.
Garrison, Lynsea. “How Can Wikipedia Woo Women Editors?” BBC News Magazine. BBC. 7 April 2014.
“Feminism, Technology, and Wiki Storming: A Video Dialogue with Jacqueline Wernimont and Adrianne Wadewitz,“ FemTechNet Commons, January 30, 2014.
Losh, Liz. “How to use Wikipedia as a Teaching Tool.” DMLCentral. 6 May 2013.
"'Wikipedian' Editor Took on Website's Gender Gap." PBS NewsHour. PBS. 18 May 2014.