The Mixed Museum is delighted to be one of Wikimedia’s first Connected Heritage partners! Learn about the project and follow our journey as Connected Heritage partners on this page.
Wikimedia UK is the national platform for open knowledge, bringing together practical and policy expertise about Wikipedia and the other Wikimedia projects. Delivering an impact of over 1 billion views each year and engaging thousands of people through advocacy, education, outreach and partnerships, Wikimedia UK demystifies and drives engagement in open access to information.
Over the next year, The Mixed Museum will be working with Wikimedia as part of the ‘Connected Heritage’ project to share under-represented content through the Wikimedia sites while at the same time improving digital skills and ensuring digital preservation. Connected Heritage is funded by DCMS and The National Lottery through The Heritage Fund's Digital Skills for Heritage initiative. Our Connected Heritage partnership team consists of Dr Chamion Caballero from The Mixed Museum and Leah Emary, Dr Lucy Hinnie, and Dr Richard Nevell from the Connected Heritage Wikimedia UK team.
The Mixed Museum was born from a desire to make scholarly research on the history of racial mixing in Britain more accessible, particularly to a non-academic audience. In 2018, our Director, Dr Chamion Caballero, discussed the benefits for scholars – and academia as a whole – of exploring non-traditional routes and platforms to share research. In particular, she pointed to the potential of Wikipedia as a highly beneficial ‘pathway to impact’, not least in terms of its public use and reach.
It is no surprise then that The Mixed Museum was greatly interested in the announcement of Wikimedia’s Connected Heritage project! It was clear from general prior scoping during research for our museum Timeline and special exhibitions that many Wikipedia pages on Britain’s longstanding multiracial history were shockingly patchy, dire or even non-existent! Data provided by Wikimedia highlighting the lack of diversity among Wiki editors partly suggested why this may be. Those uploading material to Wikipedia were a narrow grouping: 87% of English language Wiki editors are men, the majority of whom are from the Global North. As such, the public knowledge shared on Wikipedia is not representative of ‘the public’.
As a heritage organisation with a large collection based on robust, scholarly knowledge, we felt that we would be in a great position to help contribute towards making Wikipedia’s material more diverse, both in terms of content and editors. The Wiki team thought so too and invited us to be one of their first Connected Heritage partners. Over the course of 2022-23, this will see us working together to enhance Wikipedia’s content on the history of racial mixing in Britain, and thus Black and Asian history more widely.
Follow our Connected Heritage partnership journey on this page! We’ll be reporting regularly on the projects and events that emerge from our partnership, as well as the history we’re sharing from our collections and the ways this is helping enhance Wikipedia.
Our Connected Heritage partnership has started with a wonderful small project! Thanks to QMUL’s micro-internship programme, we were privileged to host two wonderful undergraduate interns – Zaid and Anastasia - for four weeks starting in March to work with us on improving Wikipedia’s material on the Black and Asian presence in Ireland.
The Mixed Museum’s collaboration with the Association of Mixed Race Irish (AMRI), which produced our first digital exhibition - Mixed Race Irish Families in Britain, 1700-2000 - revealed the extent to which this history within Wikipedia was shockingly absent. In particular, material directly relating to the Black, Asian and mixed race historical presence in Ireland was almost non-existent! Below are snapshots of the sections on ‘South Asians in Ireland’ and ‘Black people in Ireland’.
As you can see, the historical period for the South Asians in Ireland entry began only in the 1980s! Meanwhile, though the Black people in Ireland entry reached back to the eighteenth century, the discussion was very brief and sparse.
We decided that our micro-internships could make a small but significant difference in improving these sections. The Connected Heritage team decided to ask the interns to focus on integrating the research from the eighteenth and nineteenth century sections of our AMRI exhibition into the two Wikipedia pages.
After spending time familiarising themselves with the AMRI exhibition material, Anastasia and Zaid underwent editing training with the Wiki team. Armed with their brief and their new editing skills, they then spent the following three weeks uploading relevant text and information from the AMRI exhibition into Wikipedia. Meeting weekly with Chamion to discuss progress and challenges, and using Slack to ask questions and get feedback from the Wiki team, the pair gradually began to shape the entries to give Wiki visitors a better flavour of Ireland’s rich and longstanding multiracial history. Though the internship was short, Anastasia and Zaid covered many areas in both historical research, curation, writing and editing, including the complex but often fascinating area of image licensing and copyright.
The Connected Heritage team are so pleased and proud of what Anastasia and Zaid have managed to achieve in their short time with us.
Anastasia, who worked on ‘Black people in Ireland’, has provided important details and a contextual backdrop to the pre-existing brief mention of Tony Small who featured significantly, in our AMRI exhibition. The Wiki page now gives more information and links for Small, a formerly enslaved Black American, who became a servant to the Irish revolutionary Lord Edward Fitzgerald before moving to London with his white French wife, Julia.
Meanwhile, Zaid created an entire new section for ‘South Asians in Ireland’, highlighting the presence of this community in the country from the eighteenth century. He also added details of an important South Asian figure who seemed to be missing from Wikipedia entirely: Professor Mir Aulad Ali, a Muslim Indian scholar of languages at Trinity College Dublin in the nineteenth century. As we discuss in our AMRI exhibition, Aulad Ali married an Englishwoman, Rebecca, with whom he had a son, Arthur, information that Zaid also included in the Wiki page.
In the four short weeks of their internship, Anastasia and Zaid have produced amazing tangible outcomes. In their 48 edits made across the pages, they added almost 5,000 new words of content and 52 references. The result of their hard work? Almost 38,000 page views and counting! It is wonderful to think that, already, tens of thousands of people will likely be better informed about Ireland’s longstanding multiracial history thanks to our Wiki interns.
Anastasia and Zaid have created a wonderful foundation on these pages that we hope will continue to be built on. It’s been a wonderful start to our Connected Heritage partnership - we hope you will enjoy reading about Anastasia and Zaid’s experiences on the project that they have very kindly shared with us below.
I applied for this micro-internship at The Mixed Museum because I saw it as a great opportunity to contribute to an important and fulfilling project outside of my degree. Shining a light on underrepresented communities is something that has always been important to me - I know how frustrating it can be to find a lack of material that focuses on the lived experiences and histories of those who may be deemed not important enough to record. I therefore shared with The Mixed Museum a belief in the importance of highlighting overlooked histories of long-standing ethnic minority presence across Britain and Ireland, histories which are often absent from mainstream narratives and education.
I attended the Wiki editing training session and began browsing the Museum’s AMRI exhibition for potential entries for the project I was assigned with: South Asian presence in Ireland. The archives were full of interesting anecdotes that the Wikipedia page was missing (the Wikipedia page itself was shockingly bare - its history of South Asian presence in Ireland began in the 1990s?!)
I started out from the eighteenth century, researching and understanding the role played by Irish East India Company men who brought their wives, mistresses and their mixed-race children from India back to cities like Cork. I then started reading about some of the most notable South Asian residents of Ireland during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Take the Indian entrepreneur Sake Dean Mahomed, for example. Alongside his Irish wife Jane Daly, Sake Dean was the first person to introduce the practice of “shampooing” to Britain and Ireland. I certainly didn’t know that! To my disappointment, I also found out that Sake Dean and Jane’s great grandchildren were forced to change their surnames from Mahomed during the First World War so as to avoid racist attention at a time when xenophobia was rife and mixed marriages were disapproved of. This was a damning reminder of how even those whose families had been accepted by the British and Irish elite weren't exempt from the evils of racism.
I was particularly intrigued by the collaboration between the Museum and Wikipedia. I don’t think it’s controversial to say that, when looking for quick information, the first port of call for most of us in this day and age is generally a Google search followed by a click onto a Wikipedia article. But what if the Wikipedia page for your desired topic is skeletal and incomplete or, worse still, what if that Wikipedia page doesn’t even exist?
As I mentioned, it’s incredibly discouraging to discover a lack of information for a specific topic, particularly when that topic pertains to one’s heritage. Knowledge that is hidden in the depths of academic journals or behind irksome paywalls isn’t always accessible and, no matter its quality or utility, doesn’t find its way into the public sphere. This internship explored a more creative and accessible means of knowledge sharing for topics related to social history, race, and heritage, and so I was enthusiastic to share the Museum’s rich archives on Wikipedia - one of the most accessed online resources in the world.
I also came across Mir Aulad Ali, another brilliant example of the thriving South Asian community in nineteenth century Ireland. An Indian scholar working at Trinity College, Dublin, Mir Aulad Ali was a well-regarded individual who often donned traditional Indian attire at Irish events and represented Dublin as a dignitary when foreign kings and queens visited the city. It’s a shame that the story of Mir Aulad Ali isn't given due recognition (he doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page.) Alongside Sake Dean and many others, he represented a South Asian community welcomed in Ireland and one that played a central role in Irish history. They also represented the growing presence of mixed-race families in Ireland, something that the Museum’s AMRI exhibition so brilliantly captures.
Looking back at how I felt before I started this experience, I recall that my first thought was: “OK, I’m basically going to be copying stuff from the exhibition into Wikipedia for 4 weeks”. While this wouldn’t necessarily have been a bad thing, I’m grateful that the experience involved far more than this. The freedom and flexibility that the internship offered really allowed me to do my own individual research and go down all sorts of rabbit holes while editing. I actually ended up going beyond my assigned project and started writing entries for other Wikipedia pages, all the while acquiring vast amounts of information and knowledge that I had no idea about. I even briefly ventured into the minefield that is copyright, learning about all of the different licences that'd allow me to upload (or prevent me from uploading) a particular image onto Wikimedia Commons to complement my entries. Branching off into these different areas was incredibly enlightening and, most of all, fun! I can say with confidence that the 4 weeks I spent in this role felt more like a productive hobby than a “job”.
Regarding what I’ve gained from this internship, I think the number one thing is lots and lots of knowledge (both historical and practical.) I was also able to refine the research skills that I've developed as an undergraduate student by applying them to a specific research brief. It was a breath of fresh air to be able to conduct a project different from the essay writing activities that I’ve been so used to for the past 3 years. This internship also gave me an insight into curatorial practices and the Wikipedia editing process. Acquiring a combination of research, archiving, and editing skills is certainly something that will stand me in good stead. Finally, I learnt that anyone can edit Wikipedia - our teachers were right!
This was an incredibly unique and exciting opportunity that I wouldn’t have experienced elsewhere. I can’t thank Dr Chamion Caballero and the Wiki team enough for the chance to intern here and their support throughout the whole process. As I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, I applied for this micro-internship because I saw it as a great chance to contribute to an important and fulfilling project. I'm so glad that we've collectively managed to convey invaluable information and knowledge from the Museum's archives to one of the world's most accessed online resources.
A big thank you to The Mixed Museum for giving me this fantastic opportunity to learn from and work side by side with such keen and ambitious individuals. I am delighted to have completed my internship in partnership with Wikimedia and supported The Mixed Museum in its journey to preserve Black and other ethnic minorities’ British history.
When I originally applied for this internship, I felt the need to make a contribution that would speak louder than a simple conversation about controversial issues with family members or friends. I finally felt ready and empowered enough to start talking about such problems as racial and gender discrimination out loud. And what better way to do so than through historical research and education?
I was particularly looking forward to helping people from all around the United Kingdom learn more about underrepresented communities and appreciate their country’s diversity. Being a part of a team currently striving to strengthen Black and South Asian representation was exceptionally thrilling, and crucial for the new generation’s education.
Upon my onboarding, the Mixed Museum and The Wikimedia teams were extremely welcoming and enthusiastic, which immediately made me feel comfortable. Apart from having weekly meetings with Dr. Chamion Caballero, I was fortunate enough to have a training session with the entire Wikimedia team. This was very interesting, as they explained the process of adding, editing, proofreading, and, most importantly, keeping the articles afloat afterward. As I started looking into my main task- editing and managing the "Black people in Ireland" Wikipedia page, I was astonished at how little valuable information it contained. The deeper I dug, the more I realised that even though some information was present, it was at times twisted. Many sections lacked sources, many had sources that seemed entirely unreliable. Half-truths, misconceptions, and inaccuracies were so common that I considered starting the page from scratch at times. Unfortunately, my time with the Mixed Museum did not permit me to do so. Therefore I stuck to amending and improving the sections that already existed.
Throughout my experience, I gathered a lot of invaluable information about the Black presence throughout Ireland as well as Britain. I came across many surprising facts, such as the life of Tony Small, who was described as merely being the saviour of Lord Edward FitzGerald in Wikipedia and many other sources. His background appeared to be so much more complex as he turned from an enslaved person to one of FitzGerald’s closest friends.
Unfortunately, I had never heard of many of the historical facts, dates, and names mentioned in the ‘Mixed Race Irish Families in Britain’ exhibition, despite being a former history student at a British school. This worries me until the present, as I find education to be the most crucial aspect of children’s upbringing, which is supposed to form their minds to create tolerant, understanding, and compassionate adults later on. How can we claim to be fighting injustice, racism, sexism, and homophobia if so little information is available to students, who will grow up not knowing a thing about these issues and not being able to adequately discuss them? Especially when Wikipedia, the most available source of information for the young, can not provide them with the details and facts that should be thoroughly studied. I wonder how many more people out there wish to change their mindset, but a lack of accessible resources prevents them from doing so.
One of the most exciting parts of this internship was learning more about the behind-the-scenes processes of Wikipedia. It was a challenge to adapt my writing style to that of Wikipedia articles since they strive to present facts supported by scholarly sources, whereas university writing usually requires thorough analysis and reflection. However, the Wikimedia team was extremely supportive throughout the experience and helped me figure out the most complicated aspects of editing and citing. In addition, Chamion at The Mixed Museum was available at weekly meetings as well as by email every day of the week to give detailed feedback and assist me with anything I struggled with. I feel that the whole team collectively contributed to making the page look the way it does now.
I am grateful for the chance to be able to make a change through my skills and be a part of something bigger than just me. I feel that now is the time to be open-minded, creative, and detail-oriented with our heritage. Working on projects concerning Black and South Asian descent, ancestry, immigration history, and many other aspects of their lives in the UK will truly help others embrace their legacy and encourage them to find out more about their own roots. I hope that I was able to bring something valuable to the table and really helped the great cause of spreading awareness about Black Irish history.