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Wikipedia edit-a-thon calls attention to underrepresented composers

By LONDON CRADDOCK | February 3, 2023



Attendees worked to establish a more inclusive base of knowledge on the history of composers.

The Hopkins Symphony Orchestra hosted “Canons Away! — A Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon,” an event designed to bring experienced and first-time Wikipedia editors together to expand the canon of historically underrepresented composers and performers. The event was held at the Arthur Friedheim Library at the Peabody Institute on Jan. 28.

Rafaela Dreisin, the general manager of the Hopkins Symphony Orchestra, and Andrea Morris, the outreach and instruction librarian for the Arthur Friedheim Library, co-organized the event.

In an interview with The News-Letter, Dreisin discussed her inspiration for hosting the event and emphasized the importance of having an accurate public database on minority composers. 

“I had heard about the concept of a Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon years ago... I thought it was a really interesting concept and [one that would] have a meaningful impact,” she said. “I was always interested in doing a music-centered one focused on historically underrepresented composers in the Canon.”

Dreisin described how she and Morris had connected in order to host the event together.

“It was kind of a parallel interest that came together between Andrea and I,” she said. “When we were planning our events for this year... I reached out to the library and they put me in touch with Andrea, and she was like, ‘I’ve always wanted to do something like this too.’”

Morris drew her inspiration from local Baltimore Projects, including Wikipedia Edit-a-Thons hosted at the Baltimore Museum of Art and Art + Feminism, a community-based network that works to add content to Wikipedia about female artists. 

In an email to The News-Letter, Morris emphasized that the accessibility of Wikipedia was a defining factor in deciding to host a Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon.

“Almost everyone goes to Wikipedia to quickly learn new information, so we thought an edit-a-thon that increased that easy access to diverse musicians and composers would be a great starting place!” she wrote. 

Morris explained why they chose to make underrepresented composers and performers the focus of the Edit-a-Thon.

“Even though we love classical music as performers and arts administrators, there's a real lack of diversity in what we consider the ‘canon,’” she wrote. “Most of what orchestras perform season-to-season are multi-movement symphonies written by European men in the nineteenth century. I think both of us believe in playing relatable music as performers AND presenting music that audiences can connect to through their identities.”

At the end of the Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon, participants added approximately 4,500 words and 50 quality sources to different articles. Morris wrote that as most of the group were first-time editors, there was a steep learning curve. However, she emphasized the event proved that editing skills were easily teachable, and future events could provide some advanced training. 

Avery Faust, a first-year graduate student studying Musicology at Peabody, shared what interested her in the event in an interview with The News-Letter.

“I’m studying Musicology, or music history, so this is really interesting to me, making sure we have an accurate representation of the classical canon, especially with [regard to] composers that are not always as well respected,” she said.

Faust also related what she’d learned about Wikipedia editing from the event.

“I really didn’t know how Wikipedia worked,” she said. “You’re always told in high school that... it’s not a reliable source, but they really do make you jump through hoops to ensure things are accurate. I mean, you can post... whatever you want, but it seems pretty clear that, if you don’t have the citations to back it up, it’ll get removed pretty quickly.”

Morris stated that the venue of the Arthur Friedheim Library was chosen as libraries are often popular locations for edit-a-thons, given that many resources can be found in the same place, making citations easy to add. 

She discussed the possibility of hosting similar events in the future.

“It was really fun to come together as a community interested in music and play a small part in telling music history,” she wrote. “We learned too much about hosting this kind of event not to try it again and see if we can do even more.”

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