By Kathleen Palmer, curator of exhibitions and displays at the Foundling Museum
The 'Ladies of Quality Wikithon' brought together researchers, curators and members of the public to celebrate the amazing women at the heart of the Foundling Museum. Find out how everyone pulled together to bring their stories to light and create a fantastic event.
Our event was a Wikipedia edit-a-thon workshop about women and the Foundling Hospital led by Birkbeck University researchers and hosted by the Foundling Museum in our Clore Learning Studio. The aim was to invite the public to help increase the digital presence of women involved in the founding and continuing work of the Foundling Hospital. Twenty-one noblewomen signed Thomas Coram’s first, catalytic petition to King George II in 1735 for the establishment of a Foundling Hospital. Following on, many women of different ranks and roles played a crucial part in its work. On the day, attendees had the chance to explore the Museum’s ‘Ladies of Quality & Distinction’ exhibition about these women and the Wikithon got started in earnest. Attendees were supported by the Birkbeck team throughout the workshop and they could use books and resources available from the Foundling Museum’s staff library, as well as others brought along by keen participants. A steady stream of tea, coffee and biscuits helped to keep everyone going. By the end of the session, seven new Wikipedia pages had been created, and twelve had been edited to add information about women’s support and work for the Foundling Hospital. There was growing confidence in the process of editing Wikipedia, and a sense of empowerment in being able to recognise and encourage the continuing agency of women in creating social change.
How did you put on such an excellent event without direct funding from Being Human?
It was possible to run the event as part of the Open Call pathway, without direct funding, as there was an excellent fit in what both partners were able to offer. The Foundling Museum was able to offer a context and a venue (with Wi-fi and plenty of power sockets). The Birkbeck team, who have developed the ‘Editing the Long Nineteenth Century: Recovering Women in the Digital Age’ project, contributed their time free of charge and brought essential expertise in the topic and running Wikithons. They successfully negotiated support from Birkbeck Centre for Nineteenth Century Studies to cover the cost of refreshments and we asked attendees to bring their own laptops.
What worked particularly well in the design and delivery of your events? Did you face any challenges?
The workshop format, and the excellent teaching skills of our event partners, created a relaxed atmosphere and a sense of a shared endeavour. Feedback from attendees shows they found the experience rewarding with comments such as ‘real sense of achievement’, ‘I enjoyed being a part of bringing about change and in making women’s histories visible globally’ and ‘fantastic event – I believe in making prominent women more visible online and learned a new skill in the process’. One particular challenge was to create articles which would meet Wikipedia criteria as sufficiently notable, especially for some of the women involved in the day-to-day running of the Foundling Hospital. The group discussed different strategies and approaches, and work continued after the workshop to enhance some of the new pages with additional citations and links so they were more robust.
How useful did you find it to be part of the Being Human festival?
The Foundling Museum has found being part of the Being Human festival a spur to reach out and make new connections within Higher Education institutions and meet researchers who have a wide range of interests related to our collections and exhibitions. This enables us to include events in our programme that have really informed, research-based substance, promoting a deeper engagement for visitors with wider themes that radiate from our story.
This project was part of Being Human’s 2018 Open Call pathway.