Peabody Johns Hopkins University Magazine

Reference Better

Reference Better

Arthur Friedheim Library, Hopkins Symphony partner to update underrepresented musicians’ Wikipedia entries

The Arthur Friedheim Library at the Peabody Institute and the Hopkins Symphony Orchestra team up for Canons Away, a Wikipedia Edit-a-thon focusing on historically underrepresented composers and performers on Saturday, January 28. From 10 am to 4 pm, students, staff, faculty, and community members can drop by the Friedheim library for free snacks and swag and a brief Wikipedia editing workshop from experienced editors.

Students crowd around a laptop with a large screen showing musical notation behind them
Students working on projects at the Friedheim Library’s 2020 PeabodyHacks hackathon

HSO General Manager Rafaela Dreisin (MM ’10, Trumpet) and Friedheim Outreach and Instruction Librarian Andrea Morris (MM ’19, Oboe, Musicology) organized the event to expand knowledge about overlooked and understudied artists on one of the most visited websites in the world. “Wikipedia is the go-to place to quickly look up information,” Dreisin says, adding that when she worked for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and wrote program notes and audience development copy, she’d often turned to Wikipedia as an initial research stop. “I noticed that for historically underrepresented composers there’s a lot of information often missing.”

Such information gaps exist inside the academy as well. Music scholars and educators such as Peabody Music Theory Assistant Professor Paula Maust (MM ’16, DMA ’19, Harpsichord) and her Expanding the Music Theory Canon website are actively updating and diversifying the composers that music educators teach and students study, and when the educators need to be educated, general public awareness can lag behind. Both Dreisin and Morris recalled a Wikipedia edit-a-thon at the Baltimore Museum of Art devoted to African-American artists with work in the museum’s collection and the Baltimore chapter of the Art + Feminism project, a global effort that has created or improved more than 100,000 Wikipedia articles about artists who identify as women as ways to expand Wikipedia entries.

The Canons Away edit-a-thon is a first step toward addressing a few of Wikipedia’s composer and performer gaps, and Morris notes that there are different approaches to consider. She and Dreisin are generating a list of underrepresented composers and performers who don’t have as complete a Wikipedia entry as they could. Wikipedia’s own Citation Hunt feature also allows editors to search the site to see entries that need better sourcing, making the Friedheim Library a great partner and location for the event. “We have access to resources so people can go into the stacks and check a book or pull up a journal article online as they are editing Wikipedia,” Morris says. “And the ALF has staff who can show anyone how music research is done.

“That’s the lofty information literacy goal of this event—to have Peabody students or HSO or community musicians learn the importance of citation, and that what you’re citing tells part of that story in a very specific way,” Morris continues. “It’s teaching students in all their diverse personalities and identities how to look at sources and ask, Is this really where I want to direct readers to learn more about [composer] Florence Price? So they’re learning a little bit about Wikipedia, a little bit about being part of these conversations, and a little bit about doing music research.”

While the edit-a-thon runs all day, Dreisin and Morris are hoping people stop by casually to contribute as much or as little as they wish. The goal isn’t simply to improve the Wikipedia entries for a handful of composers; it’s to bring more diverse expertise to music history’s documentation. “I think we think of history as a list of facts but there’s a human element in how we are telling it,” Dreisin says. “Wikipedia editing democratizes the process of who is keeping track of what’s important and how things happened.”

by Bret McCabe