The Soul of Liberty: Openness, Equality and Co-creation

Transcript and slides from my keynote at the CELT 2018 Design for Learning Symposium, NUI Galway.

The theme of today’s conference is designing teaching and learning spaces to facilitate active learning, collaboration and student engagement however my experience lies not so much in physical spaces but in online and digital spaces and specifically open education spaces situated within the open knowledge landscape. I currently work for the Open Education Resources Service at the University of Edinburgh, I’m a Board member of both the Association for Learning Technology and Wikimedia UK, and a member of Open Knowledge International’s Open Education Working Group, and all these organisations are part of the broad Open Knowledge landscape.

What I want to look at today is what we mean when we talk about openness in relation to digital teaching and learning spaces, resources, communities and practices. I also want to highlight the boundaries that demarcate these open spaces, the hierarchies that exist within them, and look at who is included and who is excluded. And I want to explore what we can do to make our open spaces more diverse and inclusive by removing systemic barriers and structural inequalities and by engaging both staff and students in the co-creation of our own teaching and learning experience.

I don’t want to get too hung up on semantics, but I do want to start off by looking at a few definitions. What do we mean if we talk about openness in relation to digital education and open knowledge? This is a question that has been posed numerous times, in numerous contexts by independent scholar and technology journalist  Audrey Watters who, in a 2015 post titled “What Do We Mean By Open Education?” asked

“What do we mean when we use the word? Free? Open access? Open enrollment? Open data? Openly- licensed materials, as in open educational resources or open source software? Open for discussion? Open for debate? Open to competition? Open for business? Open-ended intellectual exploration? Those last two highlight how people can use the word “open” in education and mean not just utterly different things, but perhaps even completely opposite.”

Like Audrey, I don’t have a simple answer to these questions because, as Catherine Cronin reminded us in her thoughtful 2017 paper Open Education, Open Questions, “openness is a constantly negotiated space”. It’s critically important to appreciate that open means very different things to different people, and that our perspective of openness will be shaped by our personal experiences and the privilege of our vantage point.

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Nudging the Door Open

Last week I presented one of the keynotes at the FLOSS UK Spring Conference in Edinburgh.  I had been invited to present as the organising committee were keen to diversify both the scope and the gender balance of their event, after a first call for papers brought in only male speakers.  Persuaded by the enthusiasm and commitment of the organisers, and after discussing the invitation with colleagues at the University, I accepted their invitation.  However after a second round of blind peer review again brought in only male speakers (thus illustrating the problem of blind submission in any domain that already lacks diversity) I began to get a bit apprehensive.  Normally I would politely decline an invitation to participate in an all-male panel and now here I was keynoting at an all-male conference.

I discussed my concerns with the organisers who once again were sensitive to the issue, keen to talk and open to suggestions.  And I was more than a little relieved when my inspirational senior colleague Melissa Highton, Director of Learning, Teaching and Web Services at University of Edinburgh was invited to open the conference, and Christel Dahlskjaer, VP of Open Source and Digital Advocacy at Private Internet Access, was also added to the programme.

My talk was scheduled to take place on the second day, but I went along on the first day to hear Melissa’s opening address and Debian Project Leader Chris Lamb’s keynote.  I had expected female delegates to be in the minority, but I was a little startled to discover there were only three women in the room out of an audience in the region of around eighty people.  Melissa raised this issue diplomatically in her opening address which included a call for more diversity and inclusion in technology industries.

Although I get a little keyed up when I’m speaking in public I don’t generally get too nervous, however I was extremely apprehensive about presenting a non-technical keynote to an all-male audience of technical developers.  Particularly given that my talk, an over view of the Open Knowledge Landscape, highlighted the problem of systemic bias and structural inequality in a wide range of “open” communities.  In an effort to work up a little courage I did something I don’t often do; I called for back-up.  The evening before my keynote I tweeted…

To say that I was overwhelmed by the response would be an understatement, so I’d like to thank each and every one of you who replied to my tweet, I can’t tell you how much I appreciated your support.

I also tweeted a thread of all the inspiring projects and initiatives that I had included in my talk, because if you’re speaking about diversity and representation I think it’s really important to give credit where credit is due.  The twitter thread proved to be really popular so I might do this again next time I’m giving a talk.

On the morning of my keynote I was encouraged to see a couple more women in the audience, maybe five in total?  But it was still pretty daunting to get up onto that stage.  The audience however were faultlessly polite and engaged, particularly when I spoke about structural inequality and lack of representation in technology domains and open communities.

I ended by highlighting the story of Bassel Khartabil and the Memorial Fund that Creative Commons established to commemorate his legacy, because I believe it demonstrates why it’s so important for all those of us who work in the broad domain of Open Knowledge to come together to break down the barriers that divide us.  I always find it difficult to talk about Bassel and this time was no exception. I choked when I tried to read a passage he wrote from Adra Prison in Damascus and I was almost in tears by the end.  However I make no apology for getting emotional over such an important story.

There was only time for a couple of questions after my talk, one about business models for openness and another about how the conference could become more diverse and inclusive without compromising the integrity of their peer review process. During the break afterwards, I was really touched by a young delegate from the University of York who said he had benefitted so much from working in open source software projects and using Wikipedia, and wanted to know how he could give something back to the community.  I suggested becoming a Wikipedia editor and gave him some pointers on how to get started.  And I also really enjoyed chatting with some Edinburgh Informatics students who were hugely enthusiastic about the University’s commitment to Open Knowledge. Although there wasn’t a great deal of activity around the conference hashtag, I was touched to get one or two really supportive comments from delegates.

All in all the conference was a pretty daunting event for me, but it’s one that I learned a lot from, not least how supportive my own Open Knowledge community is and how willing other communities can be to listen to new stories and alternative points of view.  So I’d like the take this opportunity to thank the organisers once again for inviting me to keynote.

Last word has to go to the fabulous Kelsey Merkley.

Exploring the Open Knowledge Landscape

Transcript and slides from my keynote at the FLOSS UK Spring Conference in Edinburgh.

I’m not a programmer.  I’m not a developer.  And I don’t contribute directly to the creation of free and open source software.  I originally started out as an Archaeologist but I now work in the domain of Open Knowledge and more specifically open education.  I currently work for the Open Education Resources Service within the Information Services Group at the University of Edinburgh, I’m a Board member of both the Association for Learning Technology and Wikimedia UK, and a member of Open Knowledge International’s Open Education Working Group. All these organisations are part of the Open Knowledge landscape and what I want to do today is provide a broad overview of some of the different domains, communities and cultures that make up this landscape including open education, open data, open textbooks and Open Access Scholarly works.  And I also want to explore the boundaries that crisscross this landscape and demarcate these open spaces, and ask who is included, who is excluded, and what we can do to make our communities more diverse and inclusive.

In the words of the late, great Maryam Mirzakhani, former professor of mathematics at Stanford University and the first female winner of the Fields Medal, who sadly passed away last year.

“I like crossing the imaginary boundaries people set up between different fields—it’s very refreshing. There are lots of tools, and you don’t know which one would work. It’s about being optimistic and trying to connect things.”

So that’s what I want to do today, to look at how we can cross the imaginary boundaries of the Open Knowledge landscape and connect our different open communities.

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OER18: Listening to the voices

I always struggle a bit when it comes to writing OER Conference reflections.  I come back from the event buzzing with so many new ideas and connections and often with strong emotions too, and this year was no exception.  So before I go any further I just want to say a huge thank you to Viv Rolfe and David Kernohan for co-chairing such a thought provoking conference and to ALT for supporting such a welcoming and inclusive event.

The theme of OER18 was Open For All and the conference encompassed discussions around marginality, inclusivity, diversity, identity, decolonisation, and respect.  It was truly inspiring to hear so many new voices; Momadou Sallah‘s keynote on developing counter narratives of disruption and resistance through open practise was joyful, challenging and thought provoking, and it was a privilege to hear bold and articulate voices from the global south such as Pritee Aukloo and Taskeen Adams.  Other highlights for me included my colleague Anne-Marie Scott’s moving and sensitive talk on using open licensed images and Wikimedia Commons to raise awareness of Phoebe Anna Traquair’s culturally significant and deeply affecting murals  painted for the Mortuary Chapel at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh, Ewan McAndrew’s stories of student empowerment through engaging wih Wikipedia, and Nicole Allen gathering global voices to critique and contribute to Capetown +10. In such a packed programme I missed many more amazing sessions, particularly  Maha Bali, Catherine Cronin, Christian Friedrich, Christina Hendricks, Taskeen Adam, Jamison Miller, and Sukaina Walji’s conversation about ethics, epistemology, equity and power, and Nick Baker on inclusivity, diversity and what openness means to non-Eurocentric cultural groups. I hope my opening keynote, a personal reflection on the history of the OER Conference, helped to set the scene for these discussions and provide some context for where the OER Conference finds itself today, and where it might go next.

These themes of diversity and inclusion will be front and centre at next year’s OER19 conference which will be co-chaired by two women who have been a continual inspiration to me; Catherine Cronin and Laura Czerniewicz.  The theme of OER19 will be Recentering Open: Critical and Global Perspectives, and Catherine stressed the need to focus on moving beyond hero narratives and including marginalised voices.

And that’s where I want to pause.

We talk a lot about diversity and inclusivity in the open “movement” (and there’s a contentious phrase in itself) but too often the narrative we hear is still dominated by white male voices from the global north.  Some of those voices are not ones that I identify with, and I am uncomfortable being part of any community or movement that includes them.  Personally I really don’t care how significant a contribution an author such as Eric S. Raymond has made to the open movement if he also espouses views that are intolerant, racist, sexist and homophobic. We all understand the distinction between free as in speech and free as in beer, but surely we also understand by now that freedom of speech does not mean freedom of consequences?  Too often there is a painful lack self awareness and self reflection in these hero narratives and the definitions they espouse.  I find it ironic, for example, that one of the tenets of the Open Source Definition is “no discrimination against persons or groups”, when the community and tech industry discriminates massively against women, people of colour and other marginalised groups.

In his keynote on the history of the open source and open content movement, David Wiley said “not everyone can and will contribute, but that’s okay”, and while that is true on one level, there is an important discussion to be had here about structural inequality and discrimination. The questions we should be asking ourselves are what are the barriers that prevent some people from contributing, and what can we do to remove those systemic obstructions? How can we lower the ladder again, so to speak. And to me this is what openness is about, the removal of systemic barriers and structural inequalities to enable everyone to participate equitably, and on their own terms. It’s not easy to move beyond these dominant narratives when they are so all pervasive that we barely recognise them for what they are, and it’s not easy to hear the voices that they marginalise, but I have every faith that next year’s conference, under the guidance of these two amazing women, will meet these challenges head on.

CC BY @ammienoot https://twitter.com/ammienoot/status/986979802149244928

Phil Barker and Sheila MacNeill have also written excellent blog posts that reflect on similar issues; #OER18 Open to all but beware the wingnuts and Open Chasms – definitions dividing or uniting the open community? Some thoughts from #oer18.

 

Celebrating Wikipedians for International Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day, and as a passionate Wikipedian, I want to give a shout out to everyone who is working so hard to address the gender balance of articles on Wikipedia.  It’s no secret that Wikipedia has a gender problem, here’s the encyclopedia’s own article on the topic: Gender bias on Wikipedia.  On the English-language Wikipedia only 17.49 % of biographical articles are about women.  This figure is better for some languages, such as Welsh which achieved gender equilibrium in 2016, and worse for others. This disparity is hardly surprising given that women account for only around 10 -15% of editors on English Wikipedia.   What is perhaps less well known is that, all over the world, editors, Wikimedia chapters, and Wikipedia projects, such as Wiki Women in Red, are working really, really hard to change this.

At the University of Edinburgh we are fortunate to have an amazing Wikimedian in Residence, Ewan McAndrew, who works tirelessly not only to embed open knowledge in the curriculum, but also to redress the gender imbalance of contributors by encouraging more women to become editors, and to improve the representation, coverage and esteem of articles about women in science, art, literature, medicine and technology.  Ewan regularly runs WikiWomen in Red editathons and events for International Women’s Day and Ada Lovelace Day to name but a few.

In my own fledgling Wikipedia editing career I’ve created a whole seven new articles, all of them about women, and I wouldn’t have been able to do this without Ewan’s support and guidance. Seven articles might seem like a drop in the ocean, but those little drops can ripple out and have an unexpected effect.

Last week in school, as part of The Young Women’s Movement, my daughter and her class were asked to write a couple of lines about a person who inspired them.  This is what my daughter wrote.

I choose my mum because she wants to empower women by making Wikipedia pages for them, she makes wikipedia pages for women who played a big part in history but aren’t known that well. #Gomymum

I hope by the time she is old enough to become an editor herself the gender balance of Wikipedia will have improved a good deal, but in the meantime, here’s a shout out to some of the amazing women who are helping to make that a reality:  Lucy Crompton-Reid, Daria Cybulska, Marshall Dozier, Charlie Farley, Josie Fraser, Gill Hamilton, Melissa Highton, Susan Ross, Ann-Marie Scott, Jo Spiller, Sara Thomas, Alice White, and all my Wikimedia UK colleagues and fellow Board members, past and present.

2017 Highs, Lows and Losses

I ended up taking an unscheduled break from blogging and social media over the holidays as I was laid up with a nasty virus and its after effects.  Bleh.  So in an attempt to get back into the saddle, I’m taking a leaf out of Anne-Marie’s book with this “Some things that happpened in 2017” post.  So in no particular order here’s a ramble through some of the things that made an impression on me, for one reason or another, over the last year.

OER17

OER is my conference;  I’ve never missed a single one since it kicked off in 2010.  They’re always thought provoking and topical events, but OER17 The Politics of Open was particularly timely and unexpectedly emotional. I was fortunate to take part on several panels and talks, but the one that will always stay with me is Shouting from the Heart, a very short, very personal, lightning talk about what writing, openness and politics means to me.  I’d never given such a personal talk before and, not to put too fine a point on it, I was fucking terrified. I was supposed to end with a quote from the Declaration of Arbroath but I bottled it and had to stop because I was in danger of crying in front of everyone. It was a deeply emotional experience, but the overwhelming response more than made up for for my mortification.   I was also extremely grateful to meet up with many old friends and to meet many new friends too.

International Women’s Day

I was honoured to be name checked on International Women’s Day by several colleagues who I respect and admire hugely.  I’m still deeply touched.  Thank you.

Mashrou’ Leila  مشروع ليلى

Mashrou’ Leila مشروع ليلى are a Lebanese indy rock band whose lead singer Hamed Sinno is openly gay and a vocal advocate for LGBTQ issues, women’s rights and contemporary Arab identity. Mashrou’ Leila also happen to be one of my favourite bands of the last year so I was over the moon to be in London when they played an amazing open air gig at Somerset House in July.  It was a fabulous night and I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a diverse crowd at a music event.  I got quite emotional seeing the rainbow flag flying over Somerset House. Sadly, when Mashrou’ Leila played in Cairo a few months later, seven concert goers were arrested for raising that same rainbow flag and were subsequently charged with promoting sexual deviancy.

Mashrou’ Leila, Somerset House, CC BY Lorna M. Campbell

Wiki Loves Monuments

I’ve meant to take part in the Wiki Loves Monuments photography competition for years now.  I’ve taken hundreds of photographs of monuments over the years and they really should be in the public domain rather than languishing on various ancient laptops.  But it took my fabulous colleague and University of Edinburgh Wikimedian in Residence, Ewan McAndrew, to prod me into contributing.  Ewan made it his mission to get as many photographs of Scottish monuments uploaded to Wikipedia Commons as possible, and maybe try to beat the Welsh in the process.  The whole competition was hugely enjoyable and got very competitive. By the time it closed at the end of September over 2000 new images of Scottish monuments had been uploaded, and 184 of my old holiday snaps had found a new lease of life on Wikimedia Commons. Hats of to Ewan and Anne-Marie for the hundreds of amazing photographs they submitted to the competition.

A few of my pics…

Women in Red

In 2016 I was honoured to join Wikimedia UK’s Board of Trustees but it was in 2017 that I really started editing Wikipedia in earnest.  I created a number of new pages for notable women who previously didn’t have entries.  The ones I’m most proud of are:

Mary Susan MacIntosh, sociologist, feminist, lesbian, and campaigner for lesbian and gay rights.  MacIntosh was a founding member of the London Gay Liberation Front, she sat on the Criminal Law Revision Committee which lowered the age of male homosexual consent, and she played a crucial role in shaping the theory of social constructionism, a theory later developed by, and widely attributed to Michel Foucault. MacIntosh’s Wikipedia page still needs a lot more work, so please, if you can help, go ahead and edit it.

Elizabeth Slater a British archaeologist specialising in archaeometallurgy. She was the first female professor of archaeology appointed by the University of Liverpool.  Liz was also the only female lecturer teaching archaeology at the University of Glasgow when I was a student there and her lectures made a huge impression on me. I was chuffed to be able to build a Wikipedia page for her.

Open Tumshies

Mah tumshie appeared in The Scotsman online! And you can read about it here 🙂

Open tumshies ftw!

Audierne Bay

In July my partner drove our aged VW camper van all the way to Brittany and we spent two weeks camping in Finistère with our daughter.  While we were there we visited Audierne Bay, where the Droits de L’Homme frigate engagement took place during a ferocious gale on the night of 13th January 1797.  This engagement was the starting point for the book Hornblower’s Historical Shipmates, which I wrote with my dear friend Heather Noel-Smith.  The day I visited Audierne Bay was bright and sunny and the beach was filled was families and holiday makers.  It was a sobering thought to stand there and look out at the reefs where hundreds of men lost their lives two hundred years before.

Audierne Bay, CC BY Lorna M. Campbell

CMALT

Finally, after years of procrastinating, I wrote my portfolio and became a Certified Member of the Association for Learning Technology.  And I did it all in the open!

Me and inspirational ALT CEO, Maren Deepwell, CC BY, @ammienoot

UNESCO OER World Congress

In September I was honoured to attend the UNESCO OER World Congress in Ljubljana to represent the University of Edinburgh and Open Scotland, along with my colleague Joe Wilson. I’m so glad we were able to attend because, along with the fabulous Leo Havemann, we were the only people there from the UK.  It was a really interesting event and I hope the resulting OER Action Plan it will help to raise the profile of OER worldwide.

UNESCO OER World Congress, CC BY Slovenian Press Agency

Louvain-la-Neuve

In November I was invited to give a talk about OER and open education at UCLouvain. It was a brief but enjoyable trip and I’d like to thank Christine Jacqmot and Yves Deville for their hospitality and for showing me around their unique city and university.

Mural, Louvain-la-Neuve, CC BY Lorna M. Campbell

Tango

I don’t get to dance much these days, due to work, commuting, childcare etc, but I did get to have one or two tango adventures this year.

A wedding and a ridiculous frock

In October my sister got married in Stornoway and I promised to buy the most ridiculous vintage frock I could find for the wedding.  I think I succeeded.

Channelling Abigail’s Party…

These guys…

Nike & Josh, CC BY Lorna M. Campbell

Also these guys…

We had a family of foxes living in the garden this year.  When I was working from home through the summer months I often had two or three foxes curled up sleeping in the sun outside my window, if not even closer!

Josh & friend, CC BY Lorna M. Campbell

Inevitably there was some real low points and losses during the year too.

I had a horrible medical emergency while travelling to Brittany and had to get blue-lighted off the boat in an ambulance and carted off to hospital in Morlaix.  Never, ever, have I been so glad that my partner is a nurse and stubborn as hell.  Without him, I don’t know what would have happened.

Public Transpot

I don’t drive.  That’s a choice, not an accident.  But I travel continually so I spent a lot of my time on public transport. I take the bus and the train to work, which is a four hour commute twice a week.  When public transport isn’t available, I use a local taxi firm.  I never use Uber, because fuck that for a business model. I keep reading all this stuff about automated and driverless cars but tbh, I don’t want any more cars on the road, driverless or otherwise.  I want decent public transport, which is regular, reliable, clean, and safe for women travelling alone at any hour of the day or night. Oh, and I also want the people who work for these public transport systems to earn a decent living wage.  Is that too much to ask?

Maryam Mirzakhani

Maryam Mirzakhani was an Iranian mathematician, professor at Stamford University and the first woman to win the Fields Medal for mathematics.  In March I was invited to speak at the International Open Science Conference in Berlin and I took the title of my talk, Crossing the Field Boundaries, from an interview with Maryam.

“I like crossing the imaginary boundaries people set up between different fields—it’s very refreshing. There are lots of tools, and you don’t know which one would work. It’s about being optimistic and trying to connect things.”

A Tenacious Explorer of Abstract SurfacesQuanta Magazine, August 2014

Four months later, I was deeply saddened to hear that Maryam had died of breast cancer at the age of 40.  The loss of such a gifted woman is unfathomable.

Bassel Khartabil

In August we heard the devastating news that the detained Syrian open knowledge advocate Bassel Khartabil had been executed by the Syrian government in 2015.  I never met Bassel, but I was deeply moved by his story and I contributed to a number of initiatives that tried to raise awareness of his plight. I will never forget that this man lost his liberty and his life for doing a similar job that I, and many of my colleagues, do every day.  This is my memorial to him.

Open Tumshies for Hallowe’en

My colleague Anne-Marie Scott has written a lovely blog post about an obscure 17th century map of Iceland that was released under open licence by the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Research Collections and found fame on the Commons thanks to Wikipedia, the Euro 2016 Football Championships and Creative Common’s State of the Commons Report.

It’s a lovely story, you should go and read it.  And here’s another nice little story about the kind of thing that can happen when you release content under open licence…

Last year for Halloween, Wikimedian in Residence Ewan McAndrew ran a spooktacular Samhain Editathon at the University of Edinburgh complete with Fairy Porters, skull candy and Jack-o’-lanterns.  Now anyone brought up in Scotland will know that the only appropriate vegetable* for the creation of Halloween lanterns is the humble tumshie.  Unlike that North American interloper, the pumpkin, carving a tumshie require patience, dedication, a sharp knife and a strong elbow.  For generations, Scottish children have quite literally risked life and limb in their attempts to hollow out rock-hard root vegetables.  Now being a bit of a purist when it comes to Scottish traditions I decided that the only permissible contribution to the Samhain Editathon would be a proper tumshie lantern so, heedless of injury, I set about carving my neep. And here’s the result. Spooky!

Samhuinn carved turnip at University of Edinburgh editathon, CC BY SA 4.0, Stinglehammer, Wikimedia Commons

 < cliche > Imagine my surprise </ cliche> when last weekend, a whole year after the editathon, Ewan re-tweeted this article from The Scotsman newspaper.

Scotsman Food & Drink, 26 October 2017

That’s my tumshie!  It’s come back from the dead as a reusable open licensed resource thanks to Ewan uploading his photographs to Wikimedia Commons. Isn’t that cool? The traditional Scottish tumshie lantern lives on on the Commons.

Another neat example of the lovely things that happen when you use open licences.  Now all we need is a tumshie emoji … 🎃

* I know pumpkins aren’t a vegetable, they’re a type of berry known as a pepo.  Don’t @ me.

The Benefits of Open Education and OER

This is a transcript of a talk I gave as part of the Open Med Project webinar series.

What is open education?

Open education is many things to many people and there’s no one hard and fast definition.

  • A practice?
  • A philosophy?
  • A movement?
  • A licensing issue?
  • A human right?
  • A buzz word?
  • A way to save money?

This is one description of the open education movement that I particularly like from the not for profit organization OER Commons…

“The worldwide OER movement is rooted in the human right to access high-quality education. The Open Education Movement is not just about cost savings and easy access to openly licensed content; it’s about participation and co-creation.”

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Ada Lovelace Day – Professor Elizabeth Slater

Today is Ada Lovelace Day and unfortunately I am stuck at home waiting for a network engineer to come and fix my intermittent internet, rather than joining colleagues in Edinburgh for this year’s event celebrating Women in STEM.   Ada Lovelace Day is always one of my favourite events of the year so I’m gutted to miss it, especially as there will be periodic table cup cakes as designed by chemist Ida Freund! However I’m planning to participate remotely so that I can defend my Metadata Games crown and I am also hoping to write a Wikipedia article about a woman from this field who was an inspiration to me when I was a student.

Vulcan hammering metal at a forge watched by Thetis. Engraving by Daret after Jacques Blanchard. CC BY, Wellcome Images, Wikimedia Commons.

Dr Elizabeth Slater was a lecturer in archaeology when I studied at the University of Glasgow in the late 1980s and it was as a result of her lively and engaging lectures that I developed an interest in archaeological conservation.  I believe Liz started her academic career as a scientist, before developing an interest in archaeometallurgy, and from there moving into archaeology. Liz taught us material sciences, conservation, archaeometallurgy, early smelting techniques, chemical analysis, experimental archaeology and the use and abuse of statistics.  It was her lectures on archaeometallurgy that really fascinated me though and it was from Liz that I remember hearing the theory as to why smith gods in so many mythologies happen to be lame.  One of the most common native ores of copper, which was smelted before the development of bronze, is copper arsenic ore, and when it’s smelted it gives off arsenic gas.  Prolonged exposure to arsenic gas results in chronic arsenic poisoning, the symptoms of which include sensory peripheral neuropathy, or numbness of the extremities, and distal weakness of the hands and feet.  It’s not too difficult to imagine that early smiths must frequently have suffered from chronic arsenic poisoning and that, Liz suggested, was why smith gods were portrayed as being lame.  This appears to be a relatively widespread theory now and I’m not sure it can be credited to any one individual, however it’s a fascinating story and one I always associate with Liz.

Liz left Glasgow in 1991 to take up the Garstang Chair in Archaeology at the University of Liverpool.  At the time, I believe she was the only current female Professor of Archaeology in the UK, Professor Rosemary Cramp having retired from Durham University the previous year.  Liz had a long and active career at the University of Liverpool, where she also served as Dean of the Faculty of Arts.  She retired in 2007 and died in 2014 at the age of 68.   In 2015 the University of Liverpool commemorated her contribution to archaeological sciences by opening the Professor Elizabeth Slater Archaeological Research Laboratories.

Liz does not currently have a Wikipedia page, but hopefully I can do something about that this afternoon.

ETA And I did! Liz Slater‘s new Wikipedia page was published on Ada Lovelace Day 2017.

Wiki Loves Monuments – An amazing contribution to the commons

The Wiki Loves Monuments competition came to a close last Friday and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I was still uploading ancient holiday snaps at quarter to midnight.  Who knew I had so many pics of ancient ruins?!  By the time the competition closed, a staggering 14,359 new images of UK scheduled monuments and listed buildings had been uploaded to Wikimedia Commons, over 2000 of which came from Scotland.  And what’s even more impressive is that 1,351 of those image were uploaded by colleagues from the University of Edinburgh 💕 That’s an amazing contribution to the global commons and a wonderful collection of open educational resources that are free for all to use.  Our most prolific contributor was our very own Wikimedian in Residence Ewan McAndrew, who we have to thank for spurring us all on, closely followed by Anne-Marie Scott, who contributed some glorious images of Pheobe Traquair’s murals at the Mansfield Traquair Centre.  And the diversity of the images uploaded is just incredible.  Everything from castles, cathedrals, country houses, churches, cemeteries, chambered cairns, terraces, fountains,  bars, bridges, brochs, botanic gardens, and even a lap dancing club (thank you Ewan…) I managed to upload a modest 184; my oldest monument was the Callanish Stones on my home island of Lewis and most modern was a picture of Luma Tower in Glasgow that I took out the window of a passing bus!  You can see all my pics here, and not one of them was taken with an actual camera :}