Timelines of a Wikipedia Visiting Scholar

User:M2545 recently wrapped up a year as Wikipedia Visiting Scholar at Rollins College. From the time we announced the collaboration in June 2016 through June 2017, she used the rich resources available through the Rollins College library to improve Wikipedia articles related to “urbanization in Florida and the southern United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and on Cuba-Florida connections.” In that time she created 116 new articles, improved about 100 others, and uploaded almost 600 images to Wikimedia Commons. In total, over the course of the year, M2545 made almost 15,000 edits, making her one of Wikipedia’s most prolific contributors!

But numbers alone rarely capture the character of someone’s contributions. What’s particularly interesting about M2545’s contributions is that a significant portion of her efforts have been dedicated to improving a particular type of article: timelines, and especially timelines of notable places. She has created and improved plenty of other articles about topics like Cuban publications, literature from particular U.S. states, and lists of politicians, newspapers, and radio stations in a particular area (see for example, lists of newspapers in Texasmayors in Wheeling, WVnewspapers in Florida, or Cuban-American writers), but I’d like to focus on timelines because if you’ve ever come across a timeline of a city on Wikipedia, odds are very good that M2545 created it or has contributed to it.

Timelines offer a familiar, accessible format for the chronological presentation of historical knowledge. Sometimes a subject’s main article will contain a timeline to supplement its history section, but timelines can also exist as separate articles when the subject is big enough. Cities often have long histories with lots of significant events and milestones, meaningful to those both inside and outside its borders. Each of the articles is, of course, a massive project that requires identification of significant events over the course of centuries and supporting each with reliable sources. It’s hard to think of any of them ever being “done” but M2545 has added countless pages of information and good sources to these histories.

"Greetings from Macon, Georgia" postcard
“Greetings from Macon, Georgia” postcard

See, for example, the timeline of Macon, Georgia, where we see that it was incorporated in 1823, named after the politician Nathaniel Macon. Its first daily newspaper, The Macon Telegraph, started just three years later and continues to be a major newspaper in central Georgia. The Savannah-Macon railway started in 1843, it got a telegraph in 1848 and telephone in 1880, and became home to the state fair starting in 1851. The Academy of Music was built in 1884, and James Brown recorded his first single there in 1955. Importantly, each of these facts connects readers to other Wikipedia articles and/or to a citation for a reliable source.

Havana, Cuba, in 1898
Havana, Cuba, in 1898

The timeline of Havana, Cuba begins about 200 years before Macon’s. It was founded by the Spanish conquistador Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar in 1515. The Castillo de la Real Fuerza was built in 1577, which stands today as the oldest stone fort in the Americas. The city became the capital of Cuba in 1607. There were two battles at the city in 1748 and 1762, both between the British and Spanish, and both known as the “Battle of Havana.” The country’s national library, the National Library José Martí, opened in 1901, the National Ballet School opened in 1962, and in 1982 Old Havana was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

I asked M2545 how the resources at Rollins College helped her contributions to these sorts of articles and, a true Wikipedian (we recognize our own), received in response a long list of materials she found useful:

Local newspapers seemed a logical place to start, so I tried to improve Wikipedia coverage of news media in relevant places. I also compiled basic histories of cities. Favorite subscription databases via Rollins included Credo, Gale, JSTOR, Lexis-Nexis, Oxford Art Online, Sage, and Ulrichs.

Especially useful too were freely accessible information resources produced by the U.S. federal government (U.S. census, American Guide Series, state humanities councils), Florida state government (Department of Transportation, Legislative Committee on Intergovernmental Relations), Florida local government (e.g. Tampagov), Florida Society of Geographers, local press associations and history societies (e.g. Historical Association of Southern Florida, Historical Society of Palm Beach County), University of Miami Libraries (Cuban Heritage Collection), and the Joven Club de Computación of Cuba. History-related discovery platforms included the Digital Public Library of America, University of North Carolina’s Documenting the American South, U.S. Library of Congress, Florida State Library and Archives’ Florida Memory, University of North Texas Libraries’ Portal to Texas History, Universidad de La Rioja’s Dialnet, library research guides to local news and history, and the Media History Project. Also helpful was the Ask a Librarian service of the Florida Department of State.

About her experience in general she said, “Overall the Visiting Scholar experience was wonderful. In future, I hope civic minded forces with local expertise will expand the articles I worked on and will upload a variety of images and other media to underdocumented Wikimedia Commons categories. Thank you, Rollins College!”

Also thanks to Rachel Walton, Digital Archivist & Record Management Coordinator at the Olin Library at Rollins College, and to M2545 for all of her great contributions!

If you’d like to get involved with the Visiting Scholars program, either as a Wikipedian or an institutional sponsor, visit the Visiting Scholars section of our website or email visitingscholars@wikiedu.org

1910 Fabrica de tabaco Calixto Lopez y Companía Habana Cuba.png, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons; Greetings from Macon Georgia (8368122298).jpg, by The Tichnor Brothers, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons; 1898 Havana Cuba by Mast Crowell and Kirkpatrick.png, by Master, Crowell and Kirkpatrick (uploaded by M2545), public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.