Today I read seven articles on Wikipedia, written by historians, assigned by the professor of my Digital History class. I wish I’d read the articles before I practiced being a Wikipedia editor. Knowing nothing, I quickly reviewed a few tutorials on Sunday and jumped right in. After creating my account I attempted to create a new biographical entry, using a peer of my subject as a model. I soon set that project aside, realizing I needed to take more time and care before putting my ‘name’ on this content. Instead, I added one historical fact to my hometown Wiki page. Then I added one more and assigned this page to my watch list. Not surprisingly, no one was interested in my changes. Today I made a third change. Still no response. My source is an 1884 atlas. Will that be considered a primary source if anyone ever looks?
Last night and today I read through all the class readings and the blogs of my classmates. Some of the things I learned in the course readings: Wikipedia discourages original research and citing of primary sources. The average age of contributors is 26 and few are professional historians. Wikipedia is really more popular history than leading-edge history and not always accurate or complete. I’m impressed with how some of my classmates researched and composed some excellent content and placed it in an area that would get noticed. Can I say that, had I read the articles first I would have made a greater effort to exercise the features of this tool and work to get my edits deleted or contested?
In any case, I did play around a little more today, seeking out some pages that had a lively talk page and interesting history of posting. One of the comments I found indicates to me how some members of the crowd-sourcing reviewers want to keep Wikipedia untainted by professional historians. This person first complained that a citation came from a source that required a subscription to read and then suggested that Wikipedia “limit citations to articles that do not incur costs.” Since this action would eliminate most peer-reviewed scholarly journals, it would elevate popular histories as major sources of information and downplay the work of the professional historian.
Ultimately, people need to realize Wikipedia is a useful, but somewhat flawed tool. Reader Beware.