At Edit-A-Thon, Expanding Wikipedia’s Offerings on Jewish Women

If the names Asnat Barazani, Devorà Ascarelli, and Clarice Baright don’t ring a bell for you, you’re not alone. The Center for Jewish History is setting out to change that.

Barazani, a 17th-century scholar in Kurdistan, Ascarelli, a 16th-centrury poet who may have been the first Jewish women to ever have her work published, and Baright, New York City’s second female magistrate and one of the first women admitted to the American Bar Association, are just three of the women for whom the Center aims to build Wikipedia entries. Their names have come up as part of the Center’s effort to increase the breadth and depth of the crowdsourced encyclopedia’s offerings on Jewish women, which dates back to 2014.

There was a time when Wikipedia was considered a news source irrelevant to all but the most gullible. (In one of the best early critiques of the crowd-sourced encyclopedia’s model, in 2006, shortly after the website rose to prominence, the Onion published a brilliantly funny article titled “Wikipedia Celebrates 750 Years of American Independence.”) In recent years, though, the site has built a strong reputation; while some still consider it biased, it’s widely recognized as the first port of call for quick, clear information.

That status is the motivating force behind the Center’s efforts to link their archives more closely with Wikipedia, a drive that’s made one of its main focuses improving the website’s information on Jewish women. As part of that endeavor, the Center is hosting its third Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon on Sunday, June 5th, gathering volunteers to create new pages for influential Jewish women and add greater detail to pre-existing entries.

“Working with Wikipedia, I see it as part of the ethical duty of archivists and librarians,” said Lea Lange, the Center’s Digital Collections Coordinator, speaking with the Forward over the phone. “Wikipedia is often the first stop for anyone looking for information about anything. It’s part of our ethical duty to provide the broadest access to our resources.”

The Center’s interest in improving Wikipedia’s entries on Jewish women dates back to 2014, when they hosted their first Edit-a-Thon.

“That was fairly successful,” Lange said. “For example, before that Edit-a-Thon there hadn’t been a page for Cecilia Razovsky, who ran refugee organizations in the 1930s.” Razovsky’s entry on Wikipedia now contains biographical and professional information, a list of her published works, and links including that to a guide to her collections published by the Center for Jewish History.

While volunteers attending the Edit-a-Thon will be free to create and edit pages for whomever they choose, Lange and her colleagues have assembled a list of women currently not featured on Wikipeda for whom they intend to eventually create entries. That list spans continents and centuries.

“There are hundreds of names on my list,” Lange explained. She’s assembled it through the Center’s archives – whenever they receive a new collection, they check to see if the individuals with which it’s associated have Wikipedia pages – the WikiProject on Jewish Women, and a collaboration with the Jewish Women’s Archive.

The Center sees a lot of ground left to cover in terms of increasing the availability of information about Jewish women on Wikipedia, but each bit of progress counts.

“We’re hoping to just continue to expand and create better information resources out there in the world,” Lange said.

For more information on the June 5th Edit-a-Thon, which begins with a training at 12:00 pm, visit the Center for Jewish History’s website.

Talya Zax is the Forward’s culture intern. Contact her at zax@forward.com or on Twitter, @TalyaZax

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