Interning with the Smithsonian: Update 8 (Final)

Well, after two semesters and many updates, my time with the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) is coming to end. It has been quite the journey and I have learned a lot, but it is time to write my final update post about my experience. In this post, I will recount the skills I have practiced, the results of the edit-a-thon, and some general commentary on the whole thing. And I must say that while I have enjoyed my stay, I am happy to be completing this final leg of my internship and graduate certificate program.

The Native American Women’s Wikipedia edit-a-thon, held on April 23, was overall a success! We were able to bring in a decent number of participants and make significant additions to Wikipedia. The planning for this event, as readers of these posts will know, began back in October and it has been my primary duty during my internship. It has given me an opportunity to build my skills in digital marketing and outreach, event planning and coordination, and research and project presentation. What has really stuck out to me during this time is the highlighting of the elements of doing Digital Public Humanities (DPH) work that was covered during my coursework, namely that of collaboration. While many parts of this project were accomplished individually, the whole event could not have been pulled off without the help from the American Women’s History Initiative, the support of the NMAI marketing department, and the leadership of Dr. Anya Montiel. If I have learned anything over these two semesters of my internship, it is that digital projects are truly collaborative and require a team to make them successful.

But moving onto some of the results of the edit-a-thon. While there were a number of statistics compiled, here are some of the more interesting pieces of data:

  • The Eventbrite for the edit-a-thon recorded 80 registrants for the event. Of these 80, we had approximately 25 participants who were not organizers of the event. With organizers, we had a max of 37 participants at the height of the event (some individuals dropped off during the edit-a-thon and were not recorded, hence why the 25 is an approximate).
  • Over the 2.5 hour event, participants edited 33 different articles and created 3 new articles.
  • Over these 33 articles, a total of 95 references were added.

Through our efforts, we were able to give attention to many articles that were classified as “stub” articles, meaning they had very little content and little to no credible sources to support an expansion of text. We were also able to compile a fairly comprehensive list of articles about Indigenous women who can use further updates in future events.

After the event, Dr. Montiel and I had a debrief meeting with her supervisor, Michelle Delaney. During this meeting, we expressed our desires to see the edit-a-thon become a regular occurrence for the NMAI as we believe with further cultivation and expansion, we could stand to have a sizeable impact on Indigenous representation on Wikipedia. Fortunately, Dr. Delaney was in full agreement and has recognized the need for NMAI to increase its digital footprint, noting how they have been behind the curve for years. What this edit-a-thon did was establish the viability of engaging with Wikipedia to pursue the mission of NMAI and provided a template for how to conduct a successful digital event centered around public engagement. Some other key takeaways will be compiled into a report by Dr. Montiel and me to give to Dr. Delaney so we can hopefully see some implementation of this in the future. To my knowledge, there are plans to turn this edit-a-thon into a “part 1” of a series of Native edit-a-thons, set to take place later in the year.

Overall, I am happy with how the event turned out. While there were some hiccups (as documented in my other posts), it was a valuable experience, one that allowed me to put into practice the skills and knowledge I learned during my coursework for this graduate certificate program. It also gave me the chance to engage with a digital platform that I had rarely engaged with as anything other than a casual reader. As explained in our Native American Calling episode, Wikipedia is one of the first stops that anyone nowadays will make when conducting any kind of research. Having a hand in directing its content and my own representation is a powerful motivator to get involved. While our participant rate wasn’t as high as we were hoping for, the interest in this particular event was certainly successful when compared to other edit-a-thons, such as the Smithsonian’s Women in Finance edit-a-thon.

One last piece of commentary I want to offer on Wikipedia concerns the nature of collaboration. Wikipedia is known for collaboration being a key characteristic of how the website works and content is curated and managed. While I think is generally true, it is more accurate to describe the collaboration as being based in a Westernized approach. I don’t think I have enough time (or willpower at this point) to delve into a complex analysis of the differences, but suffice it to say that from an Indigenous perspective on collaboration, how this is manifested does pose an interesting divergence from what many on Wikipedia might consider a “collaborative effort.” For example, among many Indigenous Cultures, there is a tendency to view collaboration in a reciprocal, collectivistic way in where all participants receive mutual reward for their efforts, a sort of give-and-take imbued with equity. Wikipedia achieves this to a degree in that all previous work is not outright deleted and maintains an affinity toward equality, meaning that everyone has an opportunity to edit and contribute to the platform, thus making it “collaborative.” But Wikipedia also fosters turf and edit wars, conflicts spurred on by the ability to overwrite another person’s work without any mandatory consultation (the “talk” page exists, but there isn’t a requirement, per se, for people to post there before making substantial changes to almost any page). This is at odds with how many Indigenous Cultures operate in terms of honoring the work of others, whether we disagree with it or not. Alas, though, this is something that could be expounded upon in another post.

To conclude, I want to offer my gratitude and praise to the NMAI for taking me on for two semesters and extending my internship to cover my required hours for this program. While I am still working on obtaining the last few hours, I plan to have these done by the end of the week. I am happy to have spent my internship with this reputable institution and I look forward to utilizing my experience here as I continue to pursue my ambitions in higher education. Qe’ci’yew’yew (thank you.)

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Kyle

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