I’m shocked to report that I am continuing to enjoy the challenge. I do realise that in comparison to many other editors taking the challenge, I have a lot of time and head-space to dedicate to the work. I don’t have a full time job, or a family to care for, and the full time study in which I am engaged draws in this work into it. I have a level of privileged to give over a larger portion of my time, but also just the space to reflect on my work, assess it, and perhaps explore the challenge in a much freer way than many other editors. I often find myself exploring one or two different topics, to see what subject might best suit my writing mood on a particular day. Sometimes I want something a little more complicated to write, but most days something straight forward and seemingly “easier” will win out as an article.
As we know my comfort zone is definitely Irish women in STEM, and I return to that topic often. Especially at the moment, as Wikimedia Community Ireland will be running an editing workshop in the Science Gallery on the 4th June. Máirin de Valéra has been on my to do list for quite some time now, so it was nice to cross her off finally. I did wonder if her father’s politics put me off writing about her until now, but I finally got there. I do get a little frustrated when I know there is little chance of a photograph to illustrate the article however, but a mixture of sources, including the Dictionary of Irish Biography made the article a very respectable length. I have managed to write an awful lot about botanists, despite the fact I have had little to know experience with botany or herbariums. I started writing about people like Jane Stephens and Annie Massy, as I had handled their collections, read their handwriting, felt like I had gotten to know them. But now, as I have written about them, it’s no longer that kind of personal contact with a subject that drives me, it’s a much larger narrative of the impact of Irish women on STEM a lot more generally. This has surprised me a little, as you would expect to feel a little less passionately about these people as time went on, but it is definitely the reverse. My worry is that I will soon run out of women to write about, and I’ll only be left with the most obscure of people who won’t fit into Wikipedia, Mrs E.M. Tatlow comes to mind. Perhaps that’s when I’ll have to go off and do the first hand research so in years to come someone else can write the Wikipedia article!
The next two articles had a geological bent, starting with the Allihies Copper Mine Museum. Again, I’m no geologist, but I find writing about this element of Irish culture and history fascinating, mostly because it doesn’t get as much attention as the usual Irish Saints and Scholars culture and history. I mentioned to a fellow Wikipedian recently that writing about these places just makes me want to visit, and these two are now on my list. I had heard about the setting up of the Allihies Museum and the restoration of the Engine House from colleagues in the Natural History Museum, and was always drawn to the idea. In comparison to the UK, Irish industrial history is not as well covered, perhaps as it was always at a much smaller scale, and that the history of agriculture always seems to dominate, so the notion of conserving and restoring a more neglected element of Irish history appealed no end. Apart from that, the landscape of the Beara Peninsula looks absolutely stunning.
The James Mitchell Museum is another little museological curiosity, which is one of my favourite types of curiosity. It’s a geological museum and is the remanents of the natural history museum in NUI Galway, and sounds very similar to the story of the Trinity Zoological Museum. Now another “museum of a museum” i.e. a Victorian cabinet museum, much like the Natural History Museum in Dublin and the Pitt Rivers Museum, the context of the museum is as important as the collections, as it as rare. It sounds as if the museum suffers from periods of neglect, and that there is a renewed effort to clean, catalogue, and display the collections, and I hope it is successful as cataloguing is something quite close to me heart!
I began these four days with a “lady” botanist, so I ended with one also namely Mary Leebody. Confusingly she seems to be known as both Mary Elizabeth Leebody and Mary Isabella Leebody, with Praeger referring to her with the different names at different times. She is a relatively enigmatic figure, with only a few details on her life, so even though she is mentioned in several very reliable sources, the amount you can write about her is quite finite. Of course, it dawned on me whilst writing about her, that even though Wikipedia strictly divides Irish content into the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, my notion of “Irish” related content is an All-Ireland interpretation, and a fairly loose one at that. It reminded me of conversations in the Museum whilst cataloguing – if an animal has no concept of political borders, is it redundant to be strict on the ROI/NI border if the animal was found on the island of Ireland why politicise it. Of course then you get into using ISO standard lists of country names and it all becomes a little academic.