Absent or absenting? Archaeology, women and Wikipedia

Sometimes I think archaeology is a bit like a jigsaw puzzle – one that’s missing half the bits and with no picture on the lid to tell you what it should look like.  As well as worrying about the bits you find, you also have to think about the enormous number – perhaps the majority – of the bits that weren’t found. Are they things that have disappeared, or that never existed in the first place?

Or is the picture that you construct in your head and think is on the jigsaw-box lid, not actually a very good picture of what things were probably like?

Classical archaeologists, like the rest of us, tend to create jigsaw pictures based on what they already think is important, and then fit the pieces they find into that picture. So there has in the past been a lot of hunting for posh Greek and Roman men, and a lot less caring about the vast majority of people in antiquity. This is changing – although what earlier archaeologists may have discarded when finding “nothing of interest” is a part of what is now lost.

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Wikipedia is another jigsaw that is in construction and, as it’s used by millions and millions of people and intended to be a store of all human knowledge, it’s extraordinarily important.

It’s history being made up piece by piece of what ordinary people think is important.

How brilliant. How wonderful. Wikipedia offers a (probably) unprecedented chance to put on record the achievements of those left out til now because people have thought them unimportant – including those of women (who, unlike pretty much every other ‘minority’, actually aren’t a minority).

In fact, the past exclusion of women’s contributions – not just as wives and mothers but in every field under the sun – is shown pretty much where and whenever archaeologists and historians now start to look for them.

But back to Wikipedia – and the ordinary people who write its articles are overwhelmingly single young men. So, given modern mores, it’s  unsurprising that, eg, the articles on women as porn stars outnumber those about women as poets.

If Wikipedia is not to fail in its aims this must change.

Which means realizing that we cannot rely either on young men, or the views of the past, to represent what women have actually achieved. It was in this spirit that I went along to an excellent Editathon set up to de-technify how to set up and edit Wikipedia pages (really, it’s not hard, give it a try), and get some more and better stuff on Wikipedia about the many women in science – including archaeologists. This was organised by the people behind Trowelblazers tumblr, with lots of support from the Natural History Museum. By the time they were desperate to see us leave we had hashed together a decent number of pages – and have plans to edit more.

So, I’m ending on a bit of a plug: if you don’t want Wikipedia to simply be the next place where women’s achievements are written out of history, then pick a woman who has contributed to something you’re interested in, find out about her, and write it.

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2 Responses to Absent or absenting? Archaeology, women and Wikipedia

  1. Pingback: Calling All Classicists! | HARN Weblog

  2. Pingback: Gathering Momentum | HARN Weblog

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