The Old Scholar's Historical Thoughts

September 25, 2009

Wikipedia

Filed under: Readings — theoldscholar @ 6:19 pm

I think the readings about collaboration have a direct relevance to what we have been talking about in our blogs. Mark Kornbluh concludes his presentation with

“It is essential, however, to understand that librarians, archivists, curators, and scholars are as essential to the development of digital humanities as computer scientists and programmers. Digital humanities content requires curation. If we do not get the metadata right, all we have is junk. And if we do not figure out how to preserve digital objects, than scholarship will be fleeting.”

Isn’t that what we have been talking about with Carl’s digitization project and Lynn’s digitizing of the Arlington slave register. If we think about the digital projects we looked at in class, I can see the one concerning medieval canon law being around for a long time. The data is tagged following accepted standards and is presented in a Web 2.0 environment. Another content developer could easily take feeds from that site and create another site with other value added. Compare that with the Cleveland Corridor project, which is very ephemeral – in 20 years that train/bus line won’t exist and the ability to access the Flash will be gone. Since the data is accessed from Flash other sites will not be able to use the data or access it. This limits the amount of collaboration that can be achieved.

I was very impressed with Zayna’s post about the wikipedia articles. In fact I was so impressed I thought I would take our web design discussions to heart and just steal her approach and design. Using Zayna’s successful way to get a starting point I went to look at featured articles and saw a recent featured article was the Ross Sea Party. So that is where I started my review.

Ross Sea Party –

The discussion page only covered trivial, i.e. non-historical, issues. One person thought there was too much detail and since nothing was done in 8 months then went in and fixed the article they way they thought it should be. The other topic of discussion was the use of English grammar versus American grammar. I was intrigued by the amount of vandalism this site experienced after it was named a “featured site.” People put up all sorts of things about Sarah Palin and other foolishness. Perhaps becoming a featured site is not such a good thing for a Wikipedia article. It gets you a lot of traffic, but that traffic includes a lot of crazy people. This problem was covered in great detail in Roy Rosenzweig’s article.

Battle of Grand Port

This article was found using the Featured content off of the main page. This one had very little discussion (None), but had a lot of history as people changed dates of ship launchings, and other small details. However, there was very little evidence of vandalism of the site. If you’re site is not a top featured site I guess the vandalism is not nearly as important.

Second Boer War

I went to this site because the Boer War was the focus of my web site for Clio2. One thing I find amusing is the policy, discussed in Rosenzweig’s article, that all entries have to be neutral. Neutrality is almost impossible in discussing history, and is demonstrated quite convincingly in this article’s history and  discussions. In the very beginning there was a controversy about what it should be named. To most South Africans today it should be called the Anglo-Boer war. To the majority black population it was basically between two groups of foreigners, not native Africans. To some people naming the war one way or another is not only, not neutral, they consider it racist.

An interesting observation is the timing of changes to the article. It seems as if the article is left alone for months, and then all of a sudden there is a flurry of activity with more than one individual making changes, defending the changes and going back and forth.  In some ways, reading the different discussions is more illuminating than reading the article itself.

Can Wikipedia be used by historians and should historians contribute to the project? Rosenzweig gives arguments on both sides, and takes great exception to the “no original research,” and “neutrality” policy. I think we have to look at Wikipedia as a tool that can give some insights but needs to be used with a healthy dose of skepticism. After all Wikipedia only show the conventional wisdom, and using that the Wright Brothers would have believed flight was impossible.

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1 Comment »

  1. You bring up some interesting points. I have to agree with what you said about wikipedia. As Rozenswei points out, there are advantages and disadvantages to the medium that as historians, can we ignore?! I think not. Wikipedia works well as a springboard to broader more comprehensive research but again as Rozensweig mentioned, how often do students use this for a substantial amount of their research paper resources…I think wikipedia has the potential to become something useful to scholars if only it took the precautions AHBO has taken to verify info, but once that is done, it would change the medium entirely…

    On another note, I really enjoyed learning about H-Net and the Quilt Index’s jump into the digital world. Kornbluh simplified the collaborative process with this discussion and I found it quite interesting how extensive a community has come about simply from the collecting and preserving of quilts, bringing to life what could be an uninteresting topic by a world wide collaborative experience.

    Comment by rclarke980 — September 25, 2009 @ 7:27 pm | Reply


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