Wikipedia and history

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockheed_SR-71_Blackbird

I love aviation, and the SR-71 is one of its pinnacles in several aspects. The Wikipedia article might not represent them all, but it hits the facts pretty well. In my opinion, this is valid history. It may not be great history, but it is valid at least. Crowdsourcing of the article can be good and bad, but I think most people are reasonable enough to keep it good. It can be easily vandalized, but more often than not someone is ready to make a correction to the page to remove it.

Wikipedia’s terms of service are in some ways the best and worst parts of the site. They make it easy to edit articles and create new ones, and they make their information as open as possible. They also limit the interpretation of topics quite a bit. I don’t think that’s a bad thing as their goal is to be the world’s greatest encyclopedia. Encyclopedias tend to remain neutral and stick to the facts. In this same vein, I think Wikipedia in general should never be cited as a source academically, with the exception of articles which are the only source for a topic. Just as you wouldn’t cite the Encyclopedia Britannica but rather the sources it cites, Wikipedia is a great research tool that needs to be used properly in an academic setting.

2 Comments


  1. What do you think qualifies as “great history” and what would you change about this Wikipedia article to make it better?

    Reply

    1. I think that great history is something difficult to explain. For me, great history means more than just facts on a page with little to no bias. History is a human creation, an art, mostly about ourselves. Seeing that we aren’t without bias, I don’t think history should be without it either. That isn’t to say that I want an incorrect history or some modified history that pushes an agenda, but I think it should tell a story. If I could sum it up in one word, I think great history, like any other art we’ve created, should evoke emotion.

      As for the article, I don’t know if I could make it better even if I wanted to. It doesn’t need to be great history, and in fact I prefer that it isn’t. Its main goal is to inform readers about that topic, not analyze or interpret, and it accomplishes that well. That lack of bias allows readers to see the material for its facts and lets them form their own interpretations. Much in the same way that a dictionary doesn’t tell readers how to use words, but instead gives them a context, Wikipedia informs readers about an item without analyzing it for them. I think that autonomy of readership is a good thing. If you want an analysis, it shows you where you can find it, yet it doesn’t analyze it itself.

      Reply

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