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Wikihistory: What’s it all about?

12 March 2012

About a month ago I posted a link to an updated Wikipedia page for a 1947 Conservative Party policy statement called the Industrial Charter. That post aims to be the first of a series of Wikihistories. This post asks what they’re all about.

According to its own detailed entry, Wikipedia is home to 21 million articles and is the sixth most visited website in the world. The default point of reference for an estimate 365 million readers the site has amassed a content that would equate to over 125 million printed pages in just eleven years. But it has also been the subject of some notable criticism – not least from some historians – for neglecting references and being open to abuse.

But Wikipedia – alongside other forms of new media – offers a huge amount of potential. Compared to traditional forms of dissemination, it allow wide audiences to be reached quickly and research to be presented flexibly. What’s more, it has actively tried to engage with its critics whilst most academics would – if pressed – admit that they too used the site.

As previously stated, pastpolitics aim is to ‘shar[e] academic insight that might otherwise remain hidden’. Wikihistory posts aim to do just. Some will publicise edits that improve the rigour of current entries. Others will point out new pages that share previously hidden knowledge. To get a sense of the difference this can make, take a look at the contrast between the prior and updated versions of the Industrial Charter post by looking at the article’s own meta-history.

For a slightly dated – but interesting – academic take on Wikipedia’s role in historical understanding see Roy Rosenweig’s ‘Can History be Open Source’. More information can be found on Vitae’s digital researcher website.

I also spoke on this subject at a New Media Conference in 2011.

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