Posted by: constantinakatsari | May 13, 2010

Wikiality and History

For this week’s task we were asked to look at one scholarly website and say what the pros and cons of it are and how it helps our research. I don’t really think I am fully answering the question but I decided to look at Wikipedia, the website where the ‘average Joe’ could get any amount of information about anything, be it right or wrong for free. Slavery is a very sensitive subject and Wikipedia has the power to seriously change people’s minds and feelings towards subjects, so I have decided to look at the pro’s and cons of Wikipedia as a scholarly website (I know it’s not exactly scholarly but I’m sure we’ve all used it at one point within our research!)

Pros:

Free education, the fact that anyone can go on and read something which they can learn from. It offers information easily and quickly to anyone who wants it.

Cons:

Anyone can change it. I remember an American Satirist saying we should all go and change Wikipedia to say that the number of elephants in Africa is doubling every year, because if we all say it it will come true. Although it was said in jest he is right, especially when it comes to history, where there is no “proof” as such. Not just Wikipedia, but all technology must be seen as a threat to the core understanding of history. For if everyone reads Wikipedia and it says the British sent the slaves over to Africa on cruise ships including the Titanic, how many people, and how long it will take until this becomes the popular historical view. I know this is a bit radical but it must be seen as a serious threat.

Throughout my degree I have been told to ignore Wikipedia. Professors are like ducks if I close my eyes and can’t see it, it’s not there. Maybe the scholarly world and the popular history should look to work together on Wikipedia to make sure history isn’t changed and manipulated.

Just to prove a point I have now become a part of the Slave abolitionist movement in America, So along with people like William Lloyd Garrison there is “Alex Everden – who started the hug a slave system”, I wonder how many essays I will end up in? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slavery_in_the_United_States#Abolitionist_movement)  1323-  10/05/2010

Alex Everden

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Responses

  1. If Wikipedia volunteers had not deleted your clumsy attempt, you would perhaps have gone into a few highschool essays. So what? Do essays written by American schoolchildren have any importance in the grand scheme of life?

  2. I’d like to add the (very true) story of teachers who change correct facts on wikipedia to falsehoods to catch their students out on purpose to this discussion.
    At least Alex’s edit was obvious and quickly dealt with for what it was – a prank. I think that rather than belittling wikipedia, if educators got on board and stopped being scared of their knowledge being disseminated wider than they’d like it to it could be a fantastic source. No one’s said it should replace proper research, but for quick fact checks like names and dates and brief definitions it’s perfect.

  3. Grouch, I think you miss my point. My bit of Wikipedia graffiti was a way of showing how easily wiki-history could be manipulated. I never planned for it to stay up too long.

    My point is that with subjects like slavery which are close to people’s hearts someone, anyone can add anything to Wikipedia. To believe that Wikipedia is only read by schoolchildren is misguided. Many people go on to read about the past, and the way the people see the past will possibly effect their lives and thoughts. If people go on to educate themselves they will possibly read the webpage as fact, so what if an extremist imposes information on there which is more subtle it could really affect how people think on an issue. This is why I think historians should get on board instead denouncing it at every turn (like Mary points out).


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