Rosenzweig- “Wikipedia: Can History Be Open Source?”

Rosenzweig- “Wikipedia: Can History Be Open Source?”

Rosenzeig begins by stating what makes Wikipedia different from other historical works. The main points he lists are: multiple authors, usage, free use, and price. He states that most historical works are written by one singular author. Sometimes, although rarely, historians can find works written by two maybe three authors. However, with Wikipedia most of its articles have at least a dozen “co-authors” if not more. He also includes evidence of its wide usage. It is used more than many other news and information outlets. Rosenzweig also discusses the freedom with Wikipedia; not only is it free to look at its articles, it can also be used very freely. People can take the information from with website and use it without having to worry about possible copyright problems. All of these things, make Wikipedia unique in the field of historical writings. The author makes a point to note that the things he’s writing about are true for the time he is writing it. Wikipedia is constantly changing making it almost impossible to write a 100% true article.

Rosenzweig then goes on to discuss the origins of Wikipedia which was just one of many “encyclopedia” sites. It began as a site call Nupedia, but the creators were forces to make a new site when their idea in their original website was not fully supported. They wanted to have the public post content and that have it reviewed  by experts in that field. As the technology boom waned the creators of Wikipedia were forced to lay off employees. One of the creators of Wikipedia left the website early on. The other left later when his original ideas were not met. Focus has shifted to the public writers rather than the expert. These “encyclopedia” websites are different from others as they try to express more unbiased opinion, they were viewed as more factual. There problems with non-expert opinions being posted in articles.

Next the author discusses the use of Wikipedia with history  research and its potentially problem. The name one is that Wikipedia can be adjusted by the general public. The cite is generally adjusted by everyday people instead of excerpts in the field of the article they are arresting. Although experts may review changes to the article, a bulk has been written by everyday people . Despite the lacking professional opinion, many of the articles are very good with few outright mistakes. Additionally, he notes that it’s not uncommon to find mistakes on were published by those in the field as it is difficult to get every single fact completed right. Something interesting that occurs with the Wikipedia is the way information can changed between two sentences in an article. An article could mention 2 things twice and be right in one spot and wrong in another because two different people made posts about that information. Rosenzweig states that it is important to note that Wikipedia will not be replacing historians any time soon as historians provide contact to history that is just not seen in Wikipedia articles.

Another point the author makes in regarding the actually writing of Wikipedia. With so many people adding to the articles it is impossible to have one cohesive style throughout the article. It also causes the articles to be generally void of opinion. Likewise, Wikipedia tries to stay away from controversial topics in their articles. Without the added layer of opinion, the articles become very banal compared to works by historians.

With so many articles and so many people making corrections, it is very difficult to manage and edit everything available on the website. There are many newer articles that may be below the usual Wikipedia standards because people just generally aren’t able to review them quickly. There is also a problem with people posting fake facts in Wikipedia. With so many edits to go over, it is not unheard of for people to change a page and under the radar for a little while. Wikipedia is working on upgrading their review system, but they are not there yet. One of the changes that they have made is requiring users to make an account before editing or creating a new article. This way, if they find any one user is creating multiple false edits, then their ability to edit articles can with removed.

Rosenzweig then goes on to discuss why historians should care about Wikipedia. The main reason he gives is that students will see it and will probably use it to get information for papers. When students have not been taught how to analyze sources for their credibility and usefulness, they may rely heavily on Wikipedia when researching and it has articles on a wide variety of topics and is one of the first things to pop up when making a search on a search engine. While he notes that Wikipedia can be a good sources for basic information, it should not be the only source that student use. Wikipedia  can be very useful for finding articles on books on that topic, but students should read the sources that the article is based on rather than trusting the articles information and interpretation implicitly.

Wikipedia is a very unique source in historical writings. However, it is not a scholarly work and therefore cannot be cited as a credible sources of information. It can be very useful for finding basic information, but its authoring process and fact based over interpretation of history hinder its usefulness in academia.


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