Majd from Beirut: Knowledge Equity Calendar

Map of Majd’s grandparents’ village Lubya in Palestines, ~1940s, from palopenmaps.org. Survey of Palestine (a British Mandate institution), Map of Lubya, Palestine, 1 to 20,000, 1940s, marked as public domain

December 12

To me, I think “knowledge equity” means that we apply the principles of democracy and self-determination to the landscape of knowledge production and dissemination. This translates to a lot of things in practice: it is about actively including voices that have historically been silenced; it is about making sure that the ways in which they understand the world are a core part of the way that we design our repositories of knowledge. It means that institutions that claim that knowledge equity is a part of their mission actually provide ecosystems located in our countries for us where we can work, think, and produce.

Majd, the first Bassel Khartabil Free Culture Fellowship fellow. Sebastiaan ter Burg, CC BY 2.0

My most recent work was supported by the Bassel Khartabil Free Culture Fellowship, which is a memorial fellowship named after the Wikimedian and free culture activist who was killed in Syrian regime prisons. Through the fellowship, I worked on two projects:

 Palestine Open Maps: a set of maps of Palestine, made by the British colonial authorities in the 1930s and 40s, that I worked with the project team to stitch together and post on the project website as a composite map. The next part of the project is setting up the open source infrastructure powering OpenStreetMap to extract the data out in the historical maps. Using this infrastructure, I have been running so-called “Map-a-thons (19 so far!), where I get mappers to help me out in extracting the data. This is inspired by the work of the New York Public Library Space/Time Project

– The MASRAD:platform: an open source platform for archiving oral history. It came out of the need that there are no open source platforms for archiving oral history that put the user experience of the archivist front and centre. The platform is under development right now, and it should come out early next year. The first users will be the Syrian Oral History Archive, which has been recording testimonies from women and youth living through the war in Syria.

Unfortunately, we encounter a lot of different problems concerning our projects. First, there’s a problem with funding: we need more money to support the producers of knowledge out of the region. We’re tired of foreign academics coming to Beirut to write about, e.g., how the revolution in Lebanon is actually one big party. Second, we need more technologists who produce open source software that we can use. For example, I started coding the MASRAD:platform about 8 months ago, and I’d like to get help in coding it, but in Beirut, the good developers have immigrated overseas, and they often work for tech companies that have questionable values, out of necessity. I’d like to retain the developers who are based here, and I’d like open source contributors to help me in coding the platform as well!

Finally, I was heartbroken when the GLAM-WIKI conference happened in Tel Aviv last year. This is a huge challenge for us: citizens of Arab countries are not allowed into Israel, and especially those of Palestinian descent. Does that mean that the Wikimedia community does not want us to attend? Does not value our voice and our presence? I am sure that it is not the case, but it is always disheartening when such a misstep happens.

In the future, I’d like to see at least 5 more fellowships similar to the Bassel Khartabil fellowship created so that we can have more opportunities for my peers. I’d also like to see a Wikimania conference happening in the MENA region. 

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