January 20, 2015 by nsakas1
There were a couple of interesting things this week’s readings brought to mind. The thoughts I had this week centered primarily on the discussion of Wikipedia. With the articles in the book Writing History in the Digital Age, some questions about what constitutes as historical scholarship should be asked. It is painstakingly obvious that the internet has brought our society into a place where information can be created and accessed in an instant. However, in the world of academia what is considered historical scholarship is still primarily the traditional extensive archival research project followed by a monograph detailing the latest ideas of the researcher about a particular historical topic. It seems like there is a hesitance in the professional historical community to acknowledge the impact digital media can have on historical scholarship. It seems that open source sites like Wikipedia have tarnished the possibilities that digital media can have in the production of history. Now I am not advocating that PhD candidates begin taking over the production of Wikipedia entries, in fact that would go against what is good about Wikipedia. However, digital media has created a platform where historical scholarship can be enhanced by cutting edge technology, much like the online museums and digital history projects we have previewed this week.
Another thing that came to mind during this week’s readings about Wikipedia is what makes the site an important resource rather than a running joke throughout the historical community. I am not claiming that Wikipedia is without faults, but it is certainly undervalued for the resource that it is. We can all agree that the fact that anyone can edit Wikipedia makes it unreliable to base an entire research project on. However, what is missed by not using a site like Wikipedia is the opportunity to get a first-hand look at a particular subject. For most of us, we start a research project with little to no knowledge about the subject other than the interest that attracted us to the subject in the first place. Wikipedia allows a researcher a jumping off point into a research project. A researcher can get a moderately unbiased set of facts about a particular subject along with some cited sources that can be used to delve deeper into the subject. As historians we are responsible for evaluating the sources we use for their value to our research. Wikipedia is no different. As long as Wikipedia is used as a starting place rather than an all-encompassing source in our research, it can jump start what can become some excellent work in history.