Dr. Sarah Beetham is an adjunct lecturer in American art and material culture at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Her research focuses primarily on Civil War soldier monuments and American nineteenth-century sculpture. Students in her "Women in American Art" class at PAFA have used Wikipedia to create and edit articles about American women artists.
Women in American Art
Students in Dr. Beetham's "Women in American Art" class have edited Wikipedia articles to increase the visibility and coverage of American women artists on the platform. The course examines the contributions made by American woman artists to the history of art from the late eighteenth to the twenty-first century. While the focus is primarily on American artists, the role of European art in forming the ideals of Western art is also considered, as well as the use of non-Western traditions as an influence to artists of the avant-garde. The course discusses the role of gender, race, class, sexual orientation, and other sociological factors in determining the opportunities historically available to women in the arts. In addition, students consider the ways in which women have overcome these obstacles to play a vital role in the development of the visual arts.
The Assignment: Create or Edit a Wikipedia Page about an American Woman Artist
In groups of two to three, students in the course are asked to write or improve a Wikipedia article on an American woman artist. The students choose topics based on a list created by Dr. Beetham of women artists who are either unrepresented by Wikipedia or whose articles needed improvement and expansion. Students are instructed to summarize the important aspects of the artist’s life, career, and known works. In order to prepare the article, student groups conduct research in scholarly books, journal articles, and other reputable sources. Throughout the semester, group prepare short assignments that aid them in creating a successful article.
Early in the semester, students create Wikipedia accounts and learn the basics of editing by creating user pages. Next, students hand in a biography of sources and a plan of action for creating or improving an article. Later, students hand in a rough draft of their proposed articles, to be improved with comments by Dr. Beetham and reviews from their peers. Finally, students meet in the computer lab on the last day of class for a Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon. On that day, they make their changes live on the site.
Any questions about the project should be directed to Dr. Beetham.
In fall 2015, students worked on existing pages for Marion Greenwood, Elaine de Kooning, Faith Ringgold, Sally James Farnham, Georgette Seabrooke, Grace Hartigan, Anna Claypoole Peale, Emma Amos, Anne Goldthwaite, and Lee Bontecou. In addition, one group created a new page for the important nineteenth-century lithographer Frances Flora Bond Palmer, who was previously unrepresented on the site.
In spring 2017, students participated in a single-day Wikipedia Training and Edit-a-thon organized by Art+Feminism at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. On May 4, 2017, students made substantial revisions to the articles on Nell Blaine, May Howard Jackson, Abastenia St. Leger Eberle, Betye Saar, Sue Fuller, and Alice Barber Stephens.
- Sarah Beetham, “Activism in the Classroom: Wikipedia and American Art.” Panorama: Journal of the Association of Historians of American Art 2, no. 2 (Fall 2016).
- Sarah Beetham, "Wikipedia Resources." This site provides several templates for the individual handouts Dr. Beetham uses for her Wikipedia assignments.