First bulk upload to Wikimedia Commons a success thanks to emerging public historians

The Arctic Regions, showing the North-West Passage as determined by Cap. R. McClure and other Arctic Voyagers. 1856.

The Arctic Regions (1856), uploaded by students during their course visit, receives approximately 35,000 views per month on Wikipedia.

On November 23, 2020, the Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections contributed several digitized historical maps to Wikimedia Commons, an online repository of free images and other media. With these scans later embedded into Wikipedia articles, the maps are now viewed nearly 2.4 million times per year.

Students enrolled in visiting professor and course director Gilberto Fernandes’s HIST 4840 and GL/HIST 4310 public history courses remotely visited the archives. During this session,  where they learned about how archivists engage in public history activities through core operations (acquisitions, processing, and providing access) and initiatives such as the Home Made Visible project.

The emerging public historians soon discovered that archivists spend a large portion of their day creating, capturing, reconciling, and mending metadata. To achieve this, archivists use spreadsheets to share archival descriptions in online databases.

After learning ten essential spreadsheet tricks that any public historian should know, the students put those skills into action in an experiential educational activity. They helped us crosswalk the metadata from records in our digital library to a spreadsheet. The information was then submitted to Patty Pan, an application that uploads material in bulk to Wikimedia Commons (our first!).

Before this bulk upload, nearly a thousand images were already available in Wikimedia Commons thanks to transfers by public users.  This material was readily available in our digital library to long-term digitization projects focused on the Toronto Telegram fonds (started in 2000), books from special collections (such as items from the Gibson collection), and the John Arpin Sheet Music collection (over 1,000 pieces of sheet music were digitized by 2012).

Funding to digitize the materials uploaded during this class visit was provided by the Academic Innovation Fund for the “Geospatial literacies for all: Enhancing student learning and multidisciplinary teaching and research with digital maps” project initiated by Dana Craig, and led by Rosa Orlandini. Digitization and description of the material involved contributions from Zara Malm and Veronica Petta, two dedicated undergraduate students who scanned and measured the maps; Janet Neate who coordinated workflows, performed quality control, and geolocated the maps; and Denny Markov, David Montgomery, Matthew Fesnick, and Hilary Barlow who created metadata and catalogued the material.


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