How-to Write Women Back Into History

Heather Munro Prescott:


My graduate students in digital history and I are organizing our campus’ first ever Women’s History Wikipedia edit-athon on March 11th, 4:30 in the History Lab (Social Science Hall 201). If you have the time, please stop by.

Originally posted on HIST 511: Digital History Theory & Practice:

In preparation for our Women’s History Wikipedia edit-a-thon on March 11, please check out this article and these instructional videos by  Michelle Moravec:


How to evaluate a Wikipedia entry:


How to improve entries about women

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Clio Goes to the Movies: “Selma” in History

Heather Munro Prescott:

Excellent discussion of the historiographical issues raised by the film “Selma”

Originally posted on Nursing Clio:

Ava DuVernay’s Selma has sparked a robust discussion about the civil rights movement, memory, and the filmmaker’s role in creating “accurate” and teachable history. The film has garnered much pointed criticism for “artful falsehood,” “distorting” history, and “villainizing” Lyndon Johnson. The problems with these assertions are threefold. First, deploying terms like distortion and villainizing does not reflect a willingness to engage issues of history, memory, and mythmaking in good faith; those are words that seek to discredit the film and the director’s interpretation of the event. Second, as the New Yorker’s Amy Davidson illustrates, these critiques of the film belie the historical record. Finally, the ballyhoo around Lyndon Johnson misses the point, and it pushes us away from analyzing the film in a manner that accounts for the broader historical context and historiography.

Selma is consistent with the first generation of civil rights scholarship. Historian Steven Lawson explains…

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Vagina Dialogues

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Originally posted on Nursing Clio:

Students at Mt. Holyoke College are protesting the annual performance of Eve Ensler’s feminist classic, The Vagina Monologues. Their gripe with the play is that by focusing on vaginas, the play perpetuates “vagina essentialism,” suggesting that ALL women have vaginas and that ALL people with vaginas are women. Transgender and intersex people have taught us that this seemingly simple “truth” is actually not true. There are women who have penises and there are men who have vaginas. Not to mention women born without vaginas! Hence, these Mt. Holyoke critics imply, the play contributes to the erasure of difference by presenting a “narrow perspective on what it means to be a woman,” and shouldn’t be produced on college campuses.

Vagina Monologues cover

Let’s keep in mind that Ensler would have had to be psychic to anticipate the explosion in trans and intersex awareness when the play premiered in 1996. And in 2005 she did…

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Deadly Effects: Epidemics, Vaccines, and the Measles Outbreak

Heather Munro Prescott:

Good read from the Dittrick Medical History Museum

Originally posted on Dittrick Museum:

The recent outbreak  of measles at Disneyland has spurred a rash of competing newscast, blog posts, and social media responses. One question continues to be foremost–as quoted by CNN correspondent Mariano Castillo, “how bad is it?” Castillo reminds the reader: “to call the news surrounding vaccinations a “debate” is misleading. The scientific and medical consensus is clear: Vaccinations are safe, and they work.” [1] The question is not about efficacy but about consequences; parents may have a variety of reasons for not vaccinating their children, sometimes on the grounds of safety or mistrust of the vaccine. However, as pointed out by members of the CDC and others, those who do not vaccinate live in the same communities as those who do; what happens if measles once more establishes a foothold? What might be at stake? History can provide useful parallels–especially the history of how vaccines were first administered and why.

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Gender Trouble at #Wikipedia, again


via The Guardian, which reports that Wikipedia’s arbitration committee has banned five editors from making changes to certain articles “in an attempt to stop a long-running edit war over the entry on the “’Gamergate controversy’”.

This decision “bars the five editors from having anything to do with any articles covering Gamergate, but also from any other article about “’gender or sexuality, broadly construed.’ Editors who had been pushing for the Wikipedia article to be fairer to Gamergate have also been sanctioned by the committee.”

Blogger and former Wikipedia editor Mark Bernstein has written a series of posts condemning Wikipedia’s decision:  According to Bernstein, “This takes care of social justice warriors with a vengeance — not only do the Gamergaters get to rewrite their own page (and Zoe Quinn’s, Brianna Wu’s, Anita Sarkeesian’s, etc); feminists are to be purged en bloc from the encyclopedia.”

Wikipedia has replied to these critiques with a call for civility,   stating that “contributors on various sides of the debate have violated Wikipedia’s standards of civility. Civility is an important concept for Wikipedia: it is what allows people to collaborate and disagree constructively even on difficult topics. It ensures people are able to focus their energy on what really matters: building a collaborative free encyclopedia for the world.”

Wikipedia points out that “Several press stories have mistakenly claimed that Wikipedia has targeted and banned feminist or female editors. This is inaccurate. Although the Arbitration Committee may recommend that some editors be prevented from further contribution to this particular topic, they have not banned anyone from Wikipedia. The sanctions they are considering are broad, and affect many people. As of now, the Arbitration Committee is considering issuing some type of warning or sanction to around 150 people, from a range of perspectives, based on their participation and conduct. This is not about a small group of people being targeted unfairly. It is about a very large group of people using Wikipedia as a battleground.”

Readers of this blog know I’ve written about the woman problem at Wikipedia before, and hosted a women’s history Wikipedia edit-a-thon at the last Berkshire Conference on the History of Women last summer.

In March, my colleague Michelle Moravec is organizing a virtual Wikipedia edit-a-thon for the week of March 9-13.  If you’re interested in participating, sign up here.

Thoughts on #aha2015 #s69, Doing More with Less: The Promise and Pitfalls of Short-Form Scholarship in the Digital History Age”

Since I’m having my students in my Digital History class write about blogging, I thought I would (finally) give some of my observations on this session, especially the bit about blogging by Ben Railton, who somehow manages to write a daily post on his American studies blog. He uses his blog as a “generative space,” that is, a starting point for new directions in his research.  It also allows him to get rapid feedback from his readers.  I like this idea of using a blog to generate and sound out new ideas very much but I doubt I have the time or discipline to do this on a daily basis as he does. Railton also writes for other blogs such as Talking Points Memo.  This allows him to connect to new and larger audiences. The downside of writing for this kind of blog is that he has to write more aggressive, less historically nuanced articles than he normally would in order to get published and attract readers. Perhaps he should consider writing for History News Network.  I’ve written several articles for them and find I can be both timely and nuanced.  Then again, I probably don’t get as many views as articles at TPM. Another problem with this type of short form scholarship (and I would agree that blog writing is scholarship) is that it’s usually not peer-reviewed (with some exceptions), so is seldom considered for promotion and tenure purposes. Kathryn Nasstrom, editor of the Oral History Review discussed the journal’s new short-form article initiative, which was created to publish shorter articles  (3-4,000 words on average) than the usual articles that are 8-12,000 words.  The editors did this to get more ideas in circulation (the journal is only published twice per year), and allow authors to publish “thought pieces” that suggest new ideas but are not as definitive as fully developed research articles.  Nasstrom was careful to mention that these short-form articles are not watered-down scholarship — they go through the same peer review process as long-form articles. The Society for the History of Technology has a similar short-form platform called Technology’s Stories: Past and Present.  I had the privilege of having a short article on the 50th anniversary of the Pill accepted for this publication. It appeared in the Society’s print journal as well, but I like that its appearance on the website brought it to a broader audience. Another opportunity for short-form scholarship was presented by Kristin Purdy, editor of the Pivot Series at Palgrave Macmillan. This series provides a valuable middle ground between article-length and book-length works.  The typical length of a book in this series is 25-50,000 words.  These works are still peer-reviewed, but shorter length also allows for a much shorter production process (typically 12 weeks after acceptance).  This is especially attractive to those who need to beef up their CVs for promotion and tenure.  It also allows the press to get books on timely topics out quickly.  The main problem with this series is the books are still quite expensive (even the ebooks are over $20).  Still, it allows authors to try out unconventional ideas (e.g. The History of the Kiss) and have a greater and faster impact than they might with longer form monographs. Last up was Stephanie Westcott from the Center for History and New Media George Mason University, who discussed the Center’s PressForward Plugin for WordPress.  This plugin allows for aggregation of posts from across the web.  Digital Humanities Now is an example of a site developed with this plugin. According to the site’s description: DHNow highlights scholarship—in whatever form—that drives the field of digital humanities field forward as Editors’ Choice. Additional items of interest to the field—jobs, calls for papers, conference and funding announcements, reports, and recently-released resources—are redistributed as news. In other words, DHNow is one-stop shopping for keeping up on what’s happening in the field of Digital Humanities. So, in summary, it turns out there’s a lot you can do with short-form scholarship.  The various platforms discussed in the session allow academics to reach larger audiences quickly and efficiently.  One issue that did come up is the issue of ownership, i.e. how does one maintain control of one’s work once it’s on the web.  The short answer is to use Creative Commons to put a license on your work.