Wikepedia Talks


The reading for Thursday is: “The Historian’s Craft, Popular Memory, and Wikipedia” by
Robert S. Wolff . Within the first paragraph, the spread of ideas is discussed. The age of technology allows anyone to have the luxury of information in the palm of their hands. This allows historians to influence a much vaster audience of people but this also allows more people with incomplete knowledge to push a specific view by telling history in a way that skews it in their favor. Before the digital age critiques were left to the “professionals” who can give proof that something should be a certain way, collectively bettering the historical community.

The internet requires no qualifications to use other than a computer with a proper ISP (Internet service provider for those who don’t know) Wolff poses a question: “People with little or no formal training in the discipline have embraced the writing of history on the web, which raises the question, whose histories will prove authoritative in the digital age?” The criteria for what can be used in the digital age has changed since the age of old. Payne’s findings show that Wikipedia’s criteria are as such: well written, broad, stable, neutral in point of view, informative, and verifiable. If the posts on Wikipedia require that the contents be verifiable then why are most educators skeptical about letting this site be used as a credible tool for education?

Old historians who are set in their ways by now are sued to using books as their main primary sources. As time has progressed people have become lazy and impatient. This being said, reading takes too long and is too much work in comparison to searching the web. The first thing people think of when doing a search is google. Google places Wikipedia as the first site on the search page increasing the likelihood of a user clicking on Wikipedia. From a personal search (yeah I went and tested this) a lot of .edu and .gov sites are on the second page of google.

Wikipedia has a talk page that allows people to review any revisions made to a particular post. This page in theory keeps people from editing incorrectly but after some reading of the talk pages it becomes a back and forth between two states of mind. In one instance wolf states “Thus, writing for Wikipedia lets fledgling historians directly engage in the conflicts and debates over who gets to tell which stories about our past.” When a historian takes the time to do professional research and post an intelligent accurate analysis and explanation onto Wikipedia it has a chance of being undermined and flagged as wrong, ignorant, poorly done, and then edited by someone who has no idea what they are actually talking about. This caused the post to be challenged and in some cases deleted off the site never to be seen again.

Discussion questions: Do you think Wikipedia is still a viable source?
Have you yourself edited Wikipedia?
Do you think that just because anyone can post, that means it is unreliable?