Wikipedia

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Posted 21 Feb 2012 in Uncategorized

For our blog post this week, we were supposed to listen to a ted talk about Wikipedia and look at several historical Wikipedia pages. I greatly enjoyed the TED talk – while wikipedia is not a place to site, I have always found it an interesting place to start looking at material (potential primary sources, for example). It was fascinating hearing about how such a large website is run and monitored. While I think in many ways Wikipedia deserves all of the cautionary tales  surrounding it, I don’t think that means it  should never be used. Instead, I think that means people should think critically about the material they find on Wikipedia. One rarely finds articles that are so bad that they indicate something completely preposterous, like that Pocahontas and Mao were good friends. Rather, one has to look through the material cited and determine if you think the sources are both creditable and properly sited. In some ways, you could say that wikipedia requires that the viewer do what one is supposed to always do with historical documents.

The two articles that I ended up focusing on were the article on Casablanca the film and the article on the Franco-Muslim War. Both of these pages were extremely heavily hyperlinked and included many citations. The materials cited all seemed fairly legitimate, included a large and varied collection of subsections. The Casablanca article, for example, included categories on the plot, cast, and production, but also on things like initial response, lasting impact, and influence on other works.  The Franco-Mongol alliance article broke down how the relationship between the two countries worked, but also the many overtures and myths that contributed to the eventual alliance. Finally, the article discusses views from different historians and reasons for failure. Also, both had extensive revision history. Many of the most recent edits were fixing simple things, like typos or gramatical issues. Nothing appeared to be incorrect, and I was impressed by the sources both articles used. While neither article is something I would site in a paper, I would consider looking at the sources mentioned as a starting point for a research paper.


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