By Leah Emary, Wikimedian in Residence at the Mixed Museum and Connected Heritage Project Lead at Wikimedia UK
As a part of the Connected Heritage project at Wikimedia UK, I have been embedded at the Mixed Museum one day a week as a Wikimedian in Residence since September. The Mixed Museum is directed by Chamion Caballero and is a digital museum and archive that contributes to widening knowledge about Black and ethnic minority British history. This blog posting reports on three aspects of the residency:
Sharing Mixed Museum’s scholarship and research on Wikipedia
Creating a Volunteering Programme
The Brown Babies Images
The mini-Residency was initially scheduled to run from September-December 2022 but it’s been so fruitful and interesting for both the Mixed Museum and for Wikimedia UK that we decided to extend it into the first few months of 2023.
Mixed Museum Residency First Steps
The Mixed Museum’s Director Chamion has long been a supporter of Wikipedia and Wiki editing, having written a piece in 2018 about how important it is for academics to write about their work on Wikipedia and not lock academic research behind paywalls. Yet she had never had the time or opportunity to edit or write articles herself. So the Residency gave us the chance to set aside time for bespoke one on one training for her.
Bite-sized Training Sessions
We decided to break a typical Introduction to Wikipedia training into smaller, weekly sessions rather than the usual 3-4 hour block of time. The first week, Chamion and I met on Zoom and she created an account and a user page. The second week, she created her Wikipedia sandbox and began to play with headings, inserted citations, an image, and an infobox.
In the third session, she made her first edit to live Wikipedia and we both cheered very loudly! As a sociologist who has relied heavily on UK census data in the past, she was keen to update some misinformation and lack of nuance on the Wikipedia page on Mixed as an ethnicity category in the UK. So her first edit was to change the page summary and to add a key reference. She plans to continue work on this page.
In our fourth training session, we returned to talking more about what does and does not belong on Wikipedia and some of the guiding principles such as notability, reliable sources, conflict of interest and systemic bias. A theme throughout each of our training sessions has been a wider consideration of how Chamion can continue to thread wiki work into the Museum’s existing workflow, and to fill content gaps on Wikipedia using the Museum’s exhibitions and scholarships.
Telling the Brown Babies story on Wikipedia
Chamion then spent some time drafting a few paragraphs in her sandbox about the UK’s brown babies, the name given to the children of white British women and African American soldiers born during and after World War 2. The Mixed Museum hosted a successful Brown Babies exhibit which opened in 2020 and the families of these children are keen to to tell their stories more widely and especially to share some beautiful family photographs of the children, some of whom lived at a children’s home in Surrey called Holnicote House.
There is no Wikipedia page dedicated to Holnicote House, but there is a page for Holnicote Estate, which includes a subsection on Holnicote House. So instead of creating a new page, we decided to embed the history of Holnicote House and the brown babies story onto the Holnicote Estate page. Look what a difference her edits have made:
Before there was one sentence about the use of Holnicote House as a children’s home which was buried in the history of the house and outbuildings.
She created a new heading for a history of Holnicote House in the 20th century and added three paragraphs of text about who these children were and how they came to live there. She uploaded an image of the children to Wikipedia (the challenges we faced in our efforts to upload images of the brown babies to Wikimedia Commons will be the subject of another blog posting). I think the addition of the image is a particularly powerful aspect of bringing this history to life.
Though Chamion’s journey as an editor is just beginning, the impact of her work is shown in the Residency’s dashboard statistics. 12,5000 views of the 5 articles and 1 Commons upload she has worked on!
Creating a Wikimedia volunteering package for The Mixed Museum
One issue for small heritage organisations is that, though there may be many people interested in volunteering for the organisation, the administrative capacity to train and manage volunteers just isn’t there. This is a problem that Chamion faces. We thought that we could perhaps create a digital volunteering programme for The Mixed Museum based on editing Wikimedia Projects in The Mixed Museum’s areas of expertise: the history of racial mixing in Britain.
This project is particularly exciting in the heritage space because it’s entirely digital: digital museum, digital platform and digital volunteers.
Training the volunteers
To begin with, we envisioned three types of volunteer:
One with confident digital and academic skills who would be keen to learn how to edit Wikipedia
One with confident digital skills who might like create digital content for Wikimedia Commons
One who might be a keen researcher, writer, creator or storyteller but who might not yet have the digital confidence to edit Wikimedia projects.
Each volunteer would require a training program which they could complete remotely and on their own time and, when they were ready, a set of tasks which they could begin work on independently.
To begin, we recorded Chamion’s Zoom-based wiki training sessions and edited those down so that the volunteer training videos would feature Chamion’s voice and be tailored to the digital museum’s context.
These videos will be embedded into three different Mixed Museum Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons volunteer training programmes, though they are hosted on Wikimedia Commons and YouTube. The training programmes are currently structured as three different Google Slides presentations which volunteers can click through as a self-study study tutorial.
Managing the volunteers’ work
A final piece of the puzzle is how to manage the volunteer programme. As the sole full time paid member of staff, Chamion does not have the time to oversee volunteer training and work in real time. So we came up with the idea of managing the training and work with the help of two Trello boards. One Trello board is to manage the volunteers’ time and work. The second is to keep track of work which needs doing.
In the first board, each volunteer has a section with their name on it. They can be assigned a training programme and can give updates on their progress or ask any questions on their training there. Once they have completed their training, they can either choose or be assigned a Wikimedia task.
The second Trello board holds a pool of Wikimedia tasks. In a Wikipedia editathon context, this would be known as a ‘work list’ and would usually be a list of tasks that need doing, the Wikipedia page which needs editing, a list of relevant sources to use and any advanced tutorials a new editor might need to support them. A part of the edithon would involve an editor claiming a task with their initials and going off to work on it. In the Trello board, each card contains these bits of information and the cards are categorised by which type of volunteer they might best suit:
A digital content creation task on Wikimedia Commons, such as uploading 19th century images of mixed race people in Ireland
An off-wiki task for someone, such as identifying what’s missing on Wikipedia pages.
Volunteers can either go in and select a task that appeals to them and drag it over to their Trello workspace, or Chamion can select one for them and assign it to them.
Volunteers can update on their progress and ask questions on tasks within Trello. Any unfinished tasks can be returned to the pool and any finished tasks can be marked as complete and archived, thus providing a record of what has been achieved.
Would you like to be a Wiki volunteer at the Mixed Museum?
We aim to prototype and test the volunteering programme with willing participants in 2023. New to wiki work and interested in helping us prototype the training? Please be in touch.
Is copyright resulting in systemic exclusion?
The Mixed Museum used a series of images to illustrate the Brown Babies exhibition which included the story of children who lived at Holnicote House in the 1940s. From the outset, Chamion was very keen to upload these Holnicote House images to Wikimedia Commons and embed them on relevant Wikipedia pages.
As we planned the uploads, it became clear that we did not have enough information about the provenance of the images (or where they came from) to allow them to be openly licensed and uploaded to Wikimedia Commons. Though there may be acceptable levels of risk that a heritage organisation might be willing to take in terms of uploading images which are likely in the public domain because of copyright elapsing or the copyright owner being untraceable, Wikimedia Commons applies a cautionary principle, and won’t accept images unless their status as copyright-free or freely licensed can be firmly established.
After many weeks of emailing, phone calls and expert copyright advice from three sources, we were able to document a chain of donation and speak with the donor of the image. This donor’s late husband appeared in the photographs when he was a child. This donor is, like Chamion, very keen that the images be shared on Wikimedia Commons. The donor also considers this a family photograph, and her daughter’s inheritance. Yet we cannot establish whether the photos were taken by the Holnicote House employees in the course of their employment (and would therefore be the property of the employer) or if the photographers were not employed by Holnicote House (and therefore copyright would be owned by the photographer or their heir). Either way, because this information cannot be firmly established, these photographs are not able to be uploaded to Commons under existing rules.
I raised the issue at the Village Pump on Commons, because it seems to me and Chamion that the unintended consequence of this strict application to UK copyright law results in systemic bias against children who grew up in care. And mixed race and Black children in Britain are disproportionately overrepresented in the care system so this issue will impact the family photographs of mixed race and Black people more than others. Please contribute to the discussion on the Village Pump if you’re keen to move this along!
The obvious and usual answer to these types of issues is to avoid images from the 20th century or ones where the creator is unknown, ‘complicated’ or ‘problematic’. From a wiki perspective, we often will turn to the low hanging fruit such as 19th century or earlier images or contemporary ones created expressly for Wikimedia Commons. By ignoring ‘complicated’ images such as the ones of the Brown Babies, however, we are systematically excluding important histories.
In addition, one needs to be very careful particularly about framing mixed race families as ‘problematic’ or ‘complicated’ or ‘not respectable’. This carries racist overtones and there is a legacy of discrimination based on these very categories in England and elsewhere. At Wikimedia UK, we focus “on knowledge and communities that have been left out by structures of power and privilege. We break down the barriers that prevent people and organisations from accessing and contributing to open knowledge, and support the development of people-centred and technical solutions to help eradicate inequality and bias on the Wikimedia projects.” -Wikimedia UK Strategic Framework 2022-2025. This example of the Brown Babies images gives us a chance to dive deeper, to reflect, and to move the dial where systemic exclusion on Wikimedia platforms exists, rather than to avoid these in favour of images or subjects which might be more straightforward.
Open licensing is a lot of work
That said, the amount of work, expertise, and time involved in this process is prohibitive for many heritage and cultural organisations. We were able to achieve this at The Mixed Museum because of the time dedicated through the Wikimedian in Residence programme and because Chamion was motivated to understand open licensing in the interest of pursuing National Lottery Heritage funding.
The work of establishing ownership, understanding copyright alongside open licensing, the rules of Wikimedia Commons and discussing how it applied in this case took several months. We involved an experienced Wikimedian, a former Wikimedia Commons Bureaucrat and two experts in copyright in the GLAM sector. Not to mention Chamion herself, me, the donor, and my fellow Digital Skills Wikimedian Lucy Hinnie. We also drew on the expertise of the Wikimedia UK community and at the Village Pump on Commons.
Even after all this work, we’re still undecided about whether we can openly license the Holnicote House images for Wikimedia Commons.
If we consider other cultural and heritage organisations who do not have these resources and knowledge to call upon, for example, a small community archives group, it seems clear that they would not be able to engage with Wikimedia Commons. A group or an individual that is sourcing, digitising and preserving family photographs and would potentially like to license these openly would have a lot of work to do to answer these questions. Even with grant funding, people are just too overstretched with the work of the actual project to engage much with the licensing and copyright issues. As Chamion and I remarked frequently to each other, anyone who wasn’t us would have given up long before we did!
Interested in hosting a Wikimedian in Residence?
If you are involved with a heritage or cultural organisation in the United Kingdom and you think a Wikimedian in Residence might be good for your organisation, please talk to us about it. You can book a half hour meeting with the Connected Heritage team via Calendly or drop us an email.