Circuitous Routes – A personal reflection for #ALTC

I was really inspired by the blog posts Catherine Cronin and Frances Bell wrote reflecting on their personal feminist histories of working in education and technology in advance of their ALTC session A personal, feminist and critical retrospective of Learning (and) Technology, 1994-2018.  Catherine and Frances invited others to contribute their own personal reflection, so here’s mine. I confess this is rather hastily written, and I’m posting it at the eleventh hour, the night before the conference, but I hope it will add something to the debate.

Personal Reflection

My academic career started out not in technology but in archaeology, a subject I stumbled into accidentally and quickly fell in love with.  I completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Glasgow in 1990 and was accepted to do a PhD on anthropomorphic landforms and newly emerging remote sensing technologies, but sadly I was unable to get funding so I had to turn down the place.  I was pretty devastated at the time, but decided to continue working in the field in the hope of securing funding at a later date.  I worked first as a field archaeologist and then as material sciences technician at the university.  Although I met and worked with a lot of amazing women in the field, the senior lecturers and professors who ran the research projects and excavations I worked on were invariably male.  There was only one female lecturer in the university at the time, the inimitable Dr Elizabeth Slater who went on to the University of Liverpool where she become one of the few female professors of archaeology in the UK.  I’m proud to say that last year I published a Wikipedia page for Professor Slater as part of Ada Lovelace Day.

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Mary Susan McIntosh and the Women in Red


I was chuffed to discover today that English Wikipedia’s main page features a link to sociologist, feminist, and campaigner for lesbian and gay rights Mary Susan McIntosh.  It’s always great to see women featured on Wikipedia’s main page, which is viewed by around 4 million people, but I confess to being doubly pleased because I created the article on Mary at a recent editathon to mark International Women’s Day here at the University of Edinburgh.  This editathon was facilitated by Ewan McAndrew, Wikimedian in Residence here at the University, and Ewan was also instrumental in nominating Mary to appear on the main page.

Wikipedia 11 May 2017

Only last week I had been complaining on twitter about the lack of gender balance on English Wikipedia’s main page which happened to feature 18 named men but only 4 named women that particular day. The main page changes on a daily basis but you can see the edition from 4th May on archive.org here.

WikiProject Women in Read

Of course this is not particularly surprising; Wikipedia has a well known problem with gender imbalance, only 16% of biographical entries on the English Wikipedia are of women, and the main page is a pretty accurate reflection of this imbalance.  The Wikimedia Foundation and the various Wikimedia chapters around the world, including Wikimedia UK, are well aware of this problem and are attempting to address it through a range of projects and initiatives.  WikiProject Women in Red raises awareness of this issue and aims to turn red links blue, by creating new biographical articles about women who are referenced on Wikipedia but who do not have their own pages. And here at the University of Edinburgh, one of the objectives of our Wikimedian in Residence is to encourage more women to get involved with editing Wikimedia.  Ewan regularly runs editathons focused on addressing the coverage of articles about women in general and Scottish women in particular.

Before I went along to the International Women’s Day editathon, I confess knew nothing about Mary Susan McIntosh, I picked her name at random from a list of “Women in Red” because she sounded interesting.  It didn’t take me long to realise what a hugely significant and influential woman Mary was.  In addition to being one of the early members of the UK Gay Liberation Front, and sitting on the committee that lowered the homosexual age of consent in the UK from 21 to 18, Mary published important research arguing that homosexuality should be regarded as a social construct, rather than a psychiatric or clinical pathology.  Mary’s paper The Homosexual Role helped to shape the concept of social constructionism, later developed by Michel Foucault.  Mary’s contribution to shaping this important philosophical construct has of course been largely overlooked.  My Wikipedia article barely scrapes the surface of Mary’s life and academic career and her important contribution to social theory and political activism.  I hope to do a bit more work on Mary’s Wikipedia page sometime in the future but it would be great if there are any philosophers, sociologists or critical theorists out there that could help with editing to ensure that Mary gets the recognition she deserves.