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 “What I did 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.
OER is my conference. I’ve never missed a single one since the conference 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 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.
— ℳąhą Bąℓi مها بالي (@Bali_Maha) April 6, 2017
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.
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.
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.
Mah tumshie appeared in The Scotsman online! And you can read about it here
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 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 Surfaces, Quanta 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.
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.