Forced to edit Wikipedia: it was something I viewed with trepidation. Like most people, I’m grateful to Wikipedia for existing, and I’ve been happy to contribute cash to help keep it going. But contribute knowledge? A whole scary new idea.
Fortunately, as it turns out, I had no choice in the matter. So I had to think hard about what I could offer, and that involved a reversal of my usual thinking. Shades of Kennedy whispered, ‘Ask not what Wikipedia can do for you, but what you can do for Wikipedia’.
It occurred to me that I had once turned to Wikipedia for information on ‘famine roads’, and found nothing. Perhaps I could help with that.
Since I first discovered the existence of famine roads in Trollope’s Castle Richmond (set in 1846), I’ve been intrigued by the idea that a sane administration might come up with a scheme to set starving people with no tools on building roads that lead nowhere. More recently, I found that George Moore, writing in the late nineteenth century, had also alluded to famine roads, in his case without Trollope’s ironic humour and instead with empathy for the famished labourers. Moore’s narrator also asked, ‘How could this be?’
I was hooked. This was turning into a dissertation project.
So I searched Wikipedia again for information on famine roads and came upon Healy’s Pass. This had been identified as a famine road, but the entry, ‘R574 road (Ireland)’, stated the bare fact that the original track had been ‘cut during the Great Famine as a poor relief public works project’. It occurred to me that I could add some context, and create a link to the page ‘Great Famine (Ireland)’, in which a section on the famine roads is lacking.
One of the demands of the #editwikilit event was that we ‘live tweet’. Again, some apprehension. Tell the world I was doing a bit of editing? Seemed on the hubristic side. So this was my reaction when I realised my fellow #editwikilitters were already on the case:
Ok, that was an inadequate response, clearly.
My target page was waiting:
Deep breath. Procrastinate. I needed a record of my Irish Studies pals and Donna (she who makes all things clear, the darkness light, the troubled calm, and even supplies chocolate biscuits with coconutty bits in them) at the coal face (in case my inner canary was about to die):
First attempt, no luck. My edit page looked like machine code. I panicked and started working in my Sandbox instead. That had the merit of calming me down, but if I stayed in there, the world would remain unenlightened on famine roads. On Donna’s recommendation I sent a barely rational cry for help to Smirkybec (don’t ask. Something to do with Sindy):
Text added, heading issues resolved, I had an edited page at last:
Yes, that section headed ‘Famine Roads’ is really mine, and the afterglow is unbelievable!
There was one disappointment. I wasn’t able to link this article to the ‘Great Famine (Ireland)’ page. I selected the word ‘roads’ in the section on relief works, but found the page locked. Having read the ‘Talk’ section of that page, I’m not too surprised. Passions still run high on that topic, and understandably so. I submitted a request. That’s my little line at the bottom. I kept it as polite as possible:
Now I just have to wait to hear back. That was a slightly bathetic note on which to end, so imagine my delight when I found this on Twitter:
Ok, now I know why we were tweeting. I feel properly connected.