100wikidays – the beginning of an open autoethnography

Userbox/100wikidays
Userbox/100wikidays

As part of my exploration of what it means to be a Wikipedian, I have embarked on the #100wikidays challenge to write one article on Wikipedia every day for 100 days. It is part of broadening my experience of what it means to be an active Wikipedian but also, as my father pointed out, an indication of my status as a glutton for punishment. As my editing interests border some of the lines of notability, or at least I worry they do, creating so many new articles makes me quietly panic that half of them will be deleted.

Only four days in, it has already been a learning experience. I have created three articles (I will writing my fourth this evening), two of which have connections with my home county, and the other is my main hobby horse – a lesser known woman from Ireland’s scientific history.

As Wikimedia Community Ireland are preparing for this year’s Wiki Loves Monuments, our second year running the competition, we have been concentrating on expanding and improving the range of sites that are included in the Irish competition. This brought me to include a number of historic sites on my list of 100 articles, and being from Carlow, there is a distinct bias towards that county. Thus I kicked off with a historic house and gardens, Altamont. As article subjects go, this is relatively safe. It is a historic house, listed as architecturally significant, with a decent amount of coverage of the gardens it is well known for. Writing this article did send me down a bit of a rabbit hole of other “big houses” I know from that area. Later on I tried to improve the articles of Duckett’s Grove and Charleville Castle, both of which suffered from a lack of good references. Whilst they are by no means perfect, they are looking in a bit better shape – and a fellow Wikipedian thanked me for some of my edits!

Looking at the built heritage of Carlow forged the path for my second article – Thomas Cobden. In Carlow Cobden is a big deal as he built many of the churches and country houses in counties Carlow and Wexford. As he is included in the Dictionary of Irish Biography and the Architectural Archive’s Dictionary of Irish Architects, he does pass the bar on notability. However, many of the buildings he designed, are not covered on Wikipedia – you can see that this might have an effect on the articles I do further down the line. My father is getting me some additional material related to his work, so we will see how that line of inquiry goes in the future.

Finally, yesterday’s effort was a lady of science, Lady Katherine Sophia Kane. At the tender age of 22, she published one of the first systematic books on botany in Ireland anonymously, The Irish Flora in 1833. For that reason alone, she is noted in a good number of books on the subject. Not only that though, she was the first woman to be elected to the Botanical Society of Edinburgh. I’m hoping that this fact will get her featured on Wikipedia’s home page in the Did you know? section. The main thing I learnt from nominating the article is that you do not use honorific titles in article titles, you live edit and learn. Writing about Katherine did highlight just how scant her husband, Robert Kane’s, page is. For a man that has been written about as much as him, and was as involved in the foundation not only of educational institutions but museums as well, his article is unduly short. I made a start of filling it out, making a few sub-heading and adding some references, but there is a lot more that could be done there.

This evening it will be the turn of Margaret Clarke, artist and wife of the stained glass artist, Harry Clarke. Given what I have found so far, she will be easy to find information on, but sometimes it just makes it harder to write concisely on the subject at hand. As Harry’s article is in need of work, that will probably be an after effect of tonight’s writing.

by David Joyce CC BY-SA 2.0
by David Joyce CC BY-SA 2.0

There are two main reasons that I will blog about #100wikidays and my Wikipedia experiences in general. The first reason is the incorporation of autoethnography into my PhD research. I have become a figure within the landscape of actors I am studying, so my own experiences and reflexivity have become more pertinent to the research question(s). This led me to reading about the concept of open ethnography, which is the use of various forms of social media to generate fieldnotes. Although I am not prolific on sites like Twitter nor have I ever been an ardent blogger, the symmetry in the subject matter I am interested in, and creating my own archive of fieldnotes online was something that I felt is worth exploring.

The second reason was brought about by a casual observation of two life-long friends of mine. In a lunch time discussion of the woes of PhD research, writing styles, and note taking, both of my friends were shocked to hear that when I am writing I favour pen and paper over digital writing. I will often write a first draft long hand before starting to type up. It is both part of my own writing process, but how I start to form arguments, trains of thought, and pick out overarching themes. This was a source of wonder for them both, for them I was an “early adopter” of all things digital. I was the first person they knew who went onto message boards, had lists of interesting websites to visit on the early web, learned HTML, and made websites for us and our friends. To think of me using a pen and paper in the era of digital note-taking was at odds with the view they had of me. It made me reflect on my overall view of the digital, and its integration into my life. It became clear to me that whilst certain activities were absolutely routed in the digital for me, others were firmly outside of that, in the analogue if you will. This perceived contradiction interested me, so I have challenged myself to use more the digital in my writing, note-taking, and reflexive practice. Let the experiment begin!