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Project Aims to Raise Profile of Women Architects on Wikipedia
Associate Professor of Architecture Lori Brown hears one question over and over from her female students that she doesn’t have a good answer for. “Years ago, and even now, they ask me why they’re not learning more about female architects in their courses,” she says.
The answer is not that there aren’t interesting women architects to learn about—it’s that they have been left out of the textbooks and other resources. Their accomplishments are unpublicized and, in some cases, forgotten.
When she was a student herself, Brown says, she didn’t encounter very many women as role models. Currently, about 42 percent of architecture students are female, but, says Brown, “Who do you send them to as an example?
“It’s a huge problem that needs a lot of work,” she adds.
Together with colleagues from around the world, Brown is taking a step to help remedy that situation.
She co-founded and co-leads an architecture group based in New York City, ArchiteXX. It has joined together with a group in Germany, n-ails, and a group in Australia, Parlour: women, equity, architecture, to make a concerted effort to write women architects into a popular online resource, Wikipedia. The effort recently received a Wikipedia Project and Event (PEG) grant.
“What has happened over the years is that women may get written in, then sometimes flagged for deletion,” Brown says. “I began to think that this was an area where architecture students and members of the general public could make some headway.”
She explains that the main reason women architects get deleted from Wikipedia over and over again is because they don’t meet the standard of “notability.” In other words, they may not be famous enough, have enough online citations, or have done work that has received enough publicity, in the estimation of the Wikipedia editors. However, Brown adds, this standard can be misleading in the case of female architects. In a field historically controlled by men, the accomplishments of women have often been minimized or ignored. And, “if you’re part of a team, your name may not be even listed,” she adds.
Brown points out that architecture is just one of the disciplines where lack of representation of women is an issue, and that lack of representation of minorities is as much of a concern in all the same disciplines. Wikipedia is emblematic of a much larger problem—there are not enough women included in history books and in teaching of theory. Wikipedia itself has become aware of this problem, which is why this round of funding is geared toward getting more women written into the resource.
The project plan includes several prongs. It includes expanding lists of potential subjects for Wikipedia articles, writing a guide to writing and editing Wikipedia articles for architecture, and holding workshops for interested women and men in how to write for Wikipedia, including ensuring that entries meet the Wikipedia notability criteria.
The PEG grant is for six months, but the participants hope to show enough progress to get funding for a longer-term project.
“We’ve got so many people interested in doing this,” Brown says. “I’m totally excited and empowered by this and hoping it will snowball.”