“Improving Wikipedia”


So I’ll go ahead and admit that I use Wikipedia for a couple things related to history.  If I am in conversation, and just want to look up a quick fact to support something I am saying, I’ll go there just to get some basic info.  Or, when I start researching a topic, I like to go on and just look at the timeframe of a person or event, and check some of the big events of the time.

No, I do not use it as a source for research projects — though I am certainly not as skeptical as others may be of this source.  If anything, it is like flint and steel for me before I go into the fires of historical research.  I saw this article on perspectives and thought it was worth sharing, not necessarily because I totally agree with the author — because I don’t — but because I think it shows that maybe Wikipedia isn’t the utter trash that some historians make it out to be on a regular basis.

Here is a taste of that article,

As an American historian who studies the political economy of the antebellum period, I have always been fascinated by the panic of 1837—a financial cataclysm that is, according to one recent book, deserving of the term “America’s First Great Depression.” During the 2012–13 winter break, I typed “Panic of 1837” in the Wikipedia search field and found a disjointed entry listing only a few secondary sources. This was vexing, to put it mildly. The editors of Wikipedia had flagged the entry for biased or incomplete information and solicited a “specialist” in US history for improvements.

I took it upon myself to improve the entry, and in the process I discovered important details behind Wikipedia’s Neutral Point of View (NPOV) policy, the ideologically charged subcultures that often tamper with these entries, and a potential explanation for why I was able to rehabilitate the entry successfully. As recently as two years ago, I was a strident Wikipedia critic, having become frustrated by too many Wikipedia-derived answers on student exams. But as I’ll show further, I have grown more optimistic about Wikipedia’s mission and believe that it embodies many of the values that academics hold dear.


Courtesy, American Antiquarian Society.

A popular political cartoon, circa 1837, blames Andrew Jackson’s hard-money policies for causing the panic. “The Ghost of Commerce,” or “Bank-oh”—a witty allusion to the Shakespearean character—confronts a fear-stricken and defensive Martin Van Buren. An archetypal Irish Democrat from Tammany Hall and southern planter (far left) applaud.

Among scholars there is a diverse spectrum of thought on Wikipedia’s utility. Former AHA President William Cronon saw mostly positives in encouraging historians to contribute more to Wikipedia, while Timothy Messer-Kruse’s ordeal underscores the pitfalls of a website that does not distinguish between expert opinion and that of the layperson and whose policy of verifiability precludes content based solely on inaccessible primary sources—making him a vocal Wikipedia critic.1 My position falls somewhere in between.

Keep reading here.




Christian, Lover of History, Aspiring Teacher

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