National Portrait Gallery

National Portrait Gallery

I want to highlight two examples of how the world wide web can be a powerful, educational tool for learning and for collaborating, in turn generating more knowledge and expertise. I also want to make a suggestion for enhancing and improving these two examples.

First – Wikipedia, which is no doubt familiar to most. Wikipedia, has survived where many early online projects have failed. It is amazing to think that through the contribution of experts collaborating we now have a living, portable resource that is free and usually as accurate as any broadsheet newspaper.

After the thrill of what Wikipedia can do and does stand for, it’s disappointing to learn that it can be prey to the usual, age old prejudices still haunting every big institution. Wikipedia has been criticised for having predominantly male editors (only about 8.5-16 % of Wikipedia editors are female). Wikipedia accepts this criticism and is actively trying to address this. This gender bias in editors potentially has an impact upon the subject of the entries – as this Wikipedia page says

Wikipedia has been criticized…. for having fewer and less extensive articles about women or topics important to women.

Hold thoughts about gender bias in Wikipedia for a moment and now let’s turn to another fantastic resource – a more recent one ArtUK. Thanks to this amazing project, we now have access to over 200,000 artworks in the UK at the click of a button. It’s a treasure trove and I warn you – once you are in, it’s very hard to extract yourself. Observe the careful way Jessica Hallyer captures a boy’s thirst and his grandmother’s fond look. Or examine Anna Airy’s Women Working in a Gas Retort House and gain a glimpse of the heat and hard labour involved in the production of gas during the second world war. If you’ve followed my links I suspect you’ve gone further and searched more of the catalogue. Thanks for not being distracted and please do continue reading the rest of this blog post!

Part of the site includes a public, crowd sourced project called Tagger, where anyone can log on and tag what we see in individual paintings. It’s a good, alternative example to Wikipedia of how the world wide web can harness the enthusiasm of the general population and collaborate to create something bigger than the sum of the parts.

I’ve been tagging for a while now (the service used to be part of the Public Catalogue Foundation and the BBC) and for no reason other than curiosity because I was aware of the gender bias in Wikipedia, when a painting by a female artist has appeared, I searched for the artist on Wikipedia. The search results were not encouraging but this is by no means hard evidence that women artists are under-represented.

Suggestion for future improvements

ArtUK was only launched earlier this month, but being able to search the catalogue and save searches to a folder has allowed me to be more systematic when finding out if women artists are fairly represented on Wikipedia. However, this is a time consuming task (I logged onto ArtUK over the weekend and searched through the list of artists alphabetically and it took me about three hours). So far I am only at Adams…. And my results – well out of 38 female artists 7 are listed on Wikipedia. Before you feel outraged at this – bear in mind that the artists may not warrant a listing on Wikipedia. And I haven’t looked into whether the same statistics are true for male artists – it may be exactly the same ‘picture’.

However, it leads me to wonder if Tagger could also include a plug in asking the person tagging to check if the artist has an entry on Wikipedia through a Wikipedia search box. Once the person tagging has checked, a simple yes or no question could be asked.

Once data is collected over time, an art historian could examine the results and decide if there were any serious omissions needing to be published on Wikipedia. For artists where there are existing Wikipedia entries, there could be checks made on whether there are links to the ArtUK entry for that artist, hopefully increasing the traffic to ArtUK.

Because Flourish Learning is all about digital education, I’ll end with a suggestion for an online assignment that links nicely, I think,to the focus of this post:

Students could be set an assignment such as:

‘Within your subject discipline, identify the omission of a prominent person or group from Wikipedia.

Justify why you think this person (or group) should have an entry on Wikipedia and write a draft entry.’