The Carpathian Ethnography Project is an effort by Wikimedia Poland and the National Museum of Ethnography in Warsaw to help preserve the region’s culture using Wikipedia. A joint team of Wikipedians and researchers are embarking on five trips to the Carpathian Mountains to shoot photos, videos and collect material about the region’s folklore.
The project aims to upload over 1300 high-quality photos and 20 videos to Commons, the Wikimedia movement’s media repository, in addition to developing more than 110 articles about the region on Wikipedia.
During each excursion, the teams will record traditional folk dress and artwork, like sculptures, artisan objects, and cultural artifacts, that uniquely represent each region. Volunteers taking part in the project will also gather bibliographic and reference material, which they will later use to write or improve related Wikipedia articles in six languages.
The Carpathian Mountains form the second-longest mountain range in Europe, spanning across southeast Poland, southwest Ukraine, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Romania and Serbia. While it is an area of rich cultural diversity, its traditions and contemporary culture have never been adequately recorded on Wikipedia.
“Wikipedia entries on these forms of cultural heritage are often very basic and only written in local languages,” explains Klara Sielicka-Baryłka, European ethnography specialist at the National Museum of Ethnography. “We are holding this series of joint field trips to change that.”
On these five trips, international teams of ethnographers and Wikimedians will collect reference material (publications, which are frequently rare and difficult to acquire), visit local ethnographic museums and small regional cultural centers, and photograph and film the work of local craftsmen.
Members of the first ethno-wiki expedition team have just returned from the Beskids and Podhale—two mountain ranges that lay within Polish borders—with impressive discoveries. The team photographed some of the oldest surviving relics of original regional clothing from the collections of the Żywiec City Museum and the Tatra Museum in Zakopane, neither of which have articles on the English Wikipedia at the time of this writing; filmed the process of making kierpce shoes and folk musical instruments; recorded short interviews with contemporary craftsmen making jewelry, textiles and leather modeled on historic designs; and brought back a wide range of subject literature in the form of publications and book scans made on location.
The close collaboration between professional ethnographers and Wikipedia volunteers was key to the success of this project. “Gathering documentation of this type requires the professional expertise of museum professionals and qualified researchers. But the knowledge they collect is often locked in museum archives and university libraries,” says Tomasz Ganicz of Wikimedia Poland. “The museum contributes background knowledge, bibliographic research, field skills and local contacts, while Wikimedia volunteers contribute their knowledge about best practices, the process of editing Wikipedia, the basics of licensing, and general enthusiasm about participating in a truly unique adventure in research.”
Both sides end up acquiring new skills, as museum professionals learn more about open standards, licenses, and the inner workings of Wikimedia projects, and Wikimedia volunteers learn the basics of ethnographic field research.
“It wouldn’t have been possible to carry out this project without the museum team on board,” Marta Malina Moraczewska from Wikimedia Polska stated. “To bring valuable images of folklore to Wikimedia Commons, we need not only the knowledge about regional customs and the artwork; we also need to be able to identify the items and to get in touch with local craftspeople and artists. Maintaining and cultivating these contacts is a key aspect of an ethnographer’s work. We also rely on the museum’s help when it comes to the descriptions of all images uploaded to Wikimedia Commons.”
“The team has organized a workshop to present the basics of editing Wikipedia, uploading files to Commons and understanding GLAM-WIKI for the staff of the Żywiec City Museum and local photographers, who can expand the project by releasing some of their own images under free licenses. “We received a very warm welcome, both from local communities and the museums,” says Moraczewska. “Apart from the images, we left with quite a few books on the subject and ideas on further collaboration offered by local staff. We look forward to keeping in touch!”
This is not the first partnership between Wikipedians and the National Museum of Ethnography in Warsaw. During the Ritual Year with Wikipedia project in 2015, Wikimedians and ethnographers traveled around Poland to document folklore rituals and customs. Many of these were ancient and enduring in the context of Polish history, yet almost extinct in the online realm and known only to a limited group—sometimes only a single village. The project resulted in close to 1000 images and several films uploaded to Wikimedia Commons, and over 40 articles written or expanded in several languages on Wikipedia.