What Wikimedia chapters can offer military history editors
Existing Wikimedia chapters, both founded (dark blue) and approved (dark turquoise), planned chapters (green), and chapters in discussion (light blue) as of 13 March 2012.
In this month's interview several active Military history editors who are also involved in Wikimedia chapters discuss their experiences and what chapters have to offer military historians. HJ Mitchell and Kirill Lokshin provide perspectives on the activities of chapters on both sides of the Atlantic, and User:Nick-D discusses Wikimedia activities down under.
Thank you for agreeing to answer some of our questions. Please tell us about which Wikimedia chapters you've been involved in and for how long.
HJ Mitchell (HJM): I've been involved with Wikimedia UK for around three years.
Kirill Lokshin (KL): I've been involved with Wikimedia DC for a little over two years.
Nick-D (ND): I've been a member of Wikimedia Australia (WMAU) since early 2011.
Why did you choose to participate in these chapters?
HJM: I've kept up my involvement because I think chapters have huge potential to reach Wikipedians as well as cultural institutions, museums, and other groups in their area in a way that can't be done remotely.
ND: To work with other people on ways to encourage more Wikipedia-friendly attitudes from Australian institutions.
What has been your involvement in these chapters? For instance, have you ever held an official role in a chapter and/or attended official meet-ups?
HJM: Not an official position per se (I'm not on the board and I'm not a member of staff) but I chair a small committee that looks after WMUK's conferences. That takes a couple of hours a week, and I do other things as time allows and as the need arises. For example, WMUK often sets up events with universities or museums, and they rely on volunteers to talk to these people about the advantages of getting involved with the Wikimedia movement. The chapter covers volunteers' costs (such as train fare) in getting to these events.
KL: I was one of the original founders of the chapter, and have served on its Board of Directors as Secretary since it was officially incorporated. I've also chaired a couple of chapter committees.
ND: I've attended some meet ups, including a WMAU-organised Wiki loves... event at the Australian War Memorial, contributed ideas to discussions and unsuccessfully stood for election to WPAU's governing Committee late last year,
Do these chapters provide any special services to help Wikipedia editors? If so, could you please tell us a bit about them?
HJM: WMUK offers "microgrants", which are small grants (up to £250 GBP) with a lightweight application process. They can be used for things like purchasing source material for articles. In fact, the last two featured articles I wrote were with the help of a microgrant. You have to be a member to apply for a grant (membership costs £5 GBP per year), but you don't necessarily have to be UK-based.
KL: We have a fairly active small grants program, which offers funding of up to $2,500 per grant. In practice, most applications have been to cover event costs, but the program is open to providing individual editors support as well.
ND: WPAU has a small grants program similar to WMUK's, as well as a program to assist with the cost of camera equipment (which can provide fairly substantial support for veteran photographers)
Have the chapters ever been involved with military history related topics or projects? If so, what has this comprised?
HJM: WMUK has supported a couple of editathons focused on the First World War in the run-up to the centenary, and plans are afoot for some sort of partnership with the Imperial War Museum. I'm sure ideas for other projects to do with military history would be received with interest—there are a handful of enthusiastic military historians involved in WMUK, so anything's possible.
KL: We've organized a number of events with the National Archives and the Smithsonian that had a military history focus. The National Archives hosted a couple of digitization sessions that included a lot of old battleship photographs, while the Smithsonian has hosted some edit-a-thons about the American Civil War.
ND: WMAU organised a 'Wiki loves...' event with the Australian War Memorial last year, and many of the images donated to Wikimedia Commons by the State Library of Queensland through a WPAU-initiated process covered military topics.
Do you think that these initiatives were successful?
HJM: I think the WWI project has suffered from a lack of a dedicated person who has the time and the vision to really push it forward. Sometimes things like these need that sort of person before their full potential can be realised. Hopefully the rapidly approaching centenary will pique somebody's interest.
KL: The initiatives were fairly successful as individual events, but there hasn't been much effort to try and grow them into any sort of ongoing program. This is due in large part to the fact that the topics of our events are typically determined by the partner institution rather than by the chapter, so events tend to focus around whatever interests the partner at that particular moment.
ND: I'd echo HJ and Kirill - the event at the AWM was broadly successful, but it was disappointing that there were only three participants. There's scope for people to jump in and organise further such events under WPAU's banner, but it's a question of them having the time to do so.
What have you found to be the best and worst things about the chapters?
HJM: The best is definitely having a local organisation supporting local projects and really making a difference in their area. In WMUK's case, there's an office with a handful of full-time staff who work hard to support various projects volunteers are delivering, and it's great to have somebody to phone when you need something. The worst would be the movement's internal politics. I think the Foundation is sceptical about chapters in general; of course it has a duty to maintain a degree of cynicism over any use of donated funds, but I get the impression it goes beyond that. The WMF appear to be going down a path of increased centralisation, and the role that it envisages chapters playing in the future is unclear. There are also Wikipedians themselves, who don't always fully understand chapter projects and then jump to the conclusion that they're not to be trusted. But these things shouldn't concern the average chapter volunteer too much—were all working to the same end, and disagreements over the route are inevitable.
ND: The best aspect of the chapter is the mutual support it provides to facilitate important but fairly arcane initiatives such as Wikipedia training sessions in outback towns and donations to Wikimedia commons by cultural institutions. The worst is the internal politics, which have been really awful in the past (especially given the low stakes involved).
Do you have any suggestions for editors who are either thinking about getting involved in a chapter or would like to set up a chapter-sponsored project?
HJM: Get out there and do it! If you have a chapter near you, talk to them about how you can get involved in a way that's mutually beneficial; I'm sure they'd love to hear any ideas you have. And if you already have a project in the pipeline, talk to a chapter about how they can support it. Not all chapters have the resources that WMUK does, but they might be able to help with things like authorisation to use Wikimedia trademarks, general advice, or financial support. You'll never know until you ask.
KL: I would echo what HJ Mitchell said: as a chapter, we would love to hear new ideas for programs—particularly from people who are actually interested in helping bring those ideas to reality. Smaller chapters are likely to be particularly receptive; we tend to have a very fluid approach to programs, and can easily bring an interesting new project on board.
ND: From what I've seen, chapters worldwide are generally keen to provide support to people who want to push Wikimedia-related projects forward. Most have money or other resources available, and all can offer practical advice on what works and what should be avoided.
Are there any other points you'd like to raise that we haven't covered in this interview, or parting advice that you'd like to offer?
HJM: The only advice I have left to offer would be not to wait to be told you can do something—you don't need an special position or authority to set up a partnership with a museum (for example). And for UK-based editors thinking of getting involved with the UK chapter, I'm more than happy to discuss WMUK on my talk page or by email.
About The Bugle
First published in 2006, the Bugle is the monthly newsletter of the English Wikipedia's Military history WikiProject.