Have you ever been watching TV when you just have to know more about the history of something you just saw? Plenty of people have, and they look to Wikipedia for the answer.
Unsurprisingly, Wikipedia’s content related to popular culture is one of the areas with the most readership. On last night’s episode of Comedy Central’s Drunk History, viewers learned about the 504 Sit-in, an April 1977 demonstration for the civil rights of people with disabilities. Protesters occupied government buildings across the country demanding the signing of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which would provide procedures for legally documenting discrimination against people with disabilities. In San Francisco, more than 150 people refused to leave for 25 days. In the end, the sit-in was a success: Section 504 was passed, and people of differing abilities came together in collective action to support legislation that bettered the rights of the entire disability community.
If Wikipedia’s readers searched for more information about the sit-in prior to April 2017, they wouldn’t have found anything. But in April 2017, exactly 40 years after the sit-in, Jackie Koerner wrote that article as a part of our Visiting Scholars program. Koerner works with San Francisco State University’s Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability for access to academic scholarship related to important topics within disability studies, and she adds that knowledge to Wikipedia. Thanks to Koerner’s hard work, curious viewers now have a more well-informed background on disability activism, as it’s based in academic scholarship rather than an inebriated, albeit hilarious, telling of the momentous event. Forty years later, Koerner’s information activism amplified the great work of the disability activists who came before her.
The Visiting Scholars program connects experienced Wikipedia editors with educational institutions’ knowledge repositories. These institutions provide Wikipedians with remote access to special collections, and in turn, the Wikipedia editors incorporate these sources (usually restricted behind paywalls) into the free encyclopedia for everyone to read.
Wiki Education is glad to support programs like the Visiting Scholars, because it offers the opportunity to fill in these important content gaps in Wikipedia’s coverage, tying popular culture to the history it’s often founded in.