Wikipedia: Improving Traditional Encyclopedias

According to Roy Rosenzweig, historians pride themselves on writing original pieces of texts, yet Wikipedia, an open-source free encyclopedia, directly challenges the “professional norms” that historians practiced for so many years. Since anyone can contribute to this database, most people argue that the information embedded within the one million plus articles is quite unreliable. However, as this articlepoints out, Wikipedia isn’t such a bad resource.

While most of the vandalizing and discrepancies are fixed within minutes, one thing editors cannot really moderate is the opportunity for writers to place a biased spin on their submitted works. Rosenzweig claims, “People are inherently biased,” therefore effecting content on Wikipedia. (Rosenzweig) However, isn’t this the case for professional historians as well? Sure, encyclopedias try to present unbiased information regarding their various topics, yet with this burden of inherent partiality, even these conventional encyclopedias can offer slightly skewed opinions.

After reading Rosenzweig’s article, Wikipedia seems like a historians nightmare because it contains “biased” text, but also unoriginal articles ripped straight from the Internet. Taking its contents with a grain of salt, Wikipedia can be quite the fruitful resource. Rather than wasting time sifting through Google or Encarta results, I can quickly look up an article that oftentimes exactly mirrors the information found on the abovementioned search engines. This time efficiency is what continuously reels myself, as well as others, into this database. (Weisenthal)

For historians, Wikipedia can be used as a positive research tool. Since we all know that information thrown on the Internet never really disappears, a little Internet excavation on Wikipedia can lead to a documentation of diverging opinions throughout certain time periods. As this article notes, Wikipedia excels where Microsoft’s Encarta lacks since this online database boasts a plethora of articles on random contexts. On more than one occasion I have resorted, to using Wikipedia as a starting point for those subjects that are seemingly impossible to research. Granted, Wikipedia may not provide articles embellished with artful quotations, it still conveys the meaty context of most historical events. Additionally, Wikipedia and Encarta articles generally contain about the same number of historical errors! To save a pretty penny I can definitely part with beautified writing.

Weisenthal, Joe. Is Wikipedia To Blame For Students' Laziness? [1]. Feb 20, 2008.

Rosenzweig, Roy. Can History be Open Source? Wikipedia and the Future of the Past [2]. Feb 3, 2008.

Doug: I think it is a good idea to add some additional links to the web page. For example, a link for Encarta or Google might be useful if for some reason the reader is unfamiliar with them. -Chris