Assignment: Look at the History and Discussion tabs of your favorite history subject on Wikipedia. Is this work valuable or valid history, how does the crowdsourcing of history change its meaning, what role does Wikipedia’s terms of service have in the biasing of historical narrative on the site and finally are Wikipedia’s detractors right in their assessment and denouncement of Wikipedia as an academic source? Why? Blog your answers.
The History and Discussion tabs on Wikipedia (which is now named Talk) allows readers to see what the contributors and editors of the page have discussed or what interests are involved with the article. The Talk page I looked at for this assignment was for the entry about Joan of Arc. Interestingly enough, the page was a featured article earlier in 2016, and because it is regarded as one of the best entries on the entire site, new edits must be absolutely necessary and grounded with solid sources.
I am somewhat reluctant to say that the crowdsourcing of history changes its meaning, which is quite a vague concept, but I would say that it does change how historians are able to challenge pre-existing arguments or collaborate with one another. The crowdsourcing of history allows for academics to propose multiple and diverse views of historical topics, providing various revisionist paths as opposed to a singular, unchallenged narrative.
Creating a solid historical narrative is easier said than done, though. Historical narratives are powerful tools in shaping how people view historical events and personally come to terms with them. For example, Wikipedia’s main article about the American Civil War has to be very well edited and aim to provide an objective and thorough summary of the events or readers of the page could come away with questionable information and develop overly biased opinions. On a smaller scale, there are many examples of poorly written entries on Wikipedia that aim to propose a biased narrative from the page’s creator. Wikipedia’s terms and services on neutrality and proper entries ensure that the entire site isn’t littered with poorly written, or inaccurate articles.
I would agree with critics of Wikipedia who claim that the site shouldn’t be recognized as an academic source. Crowdsourcing is a great thing, but open edit encyclopedias like Wikipedia are prone to inaccuracies and widespread misinformation. Additionally, lazily edited articles usually don’t properly cite the published secondary works which most of the article’s information is from. The listed cons aside, Wikipedia is an awesome tool for students (and anyone with access to the site really) because it freely allows them to learn about almost anything or event that they could want to learn about. Aside from quick searching history events and figures on the site, I also use Wikipedia almost every day just to try to learn something new about the world we live in, so I know just how helpful it can be.