Wikipedia is a great place for quick history and facts about almost anything you can imagine. But how reliable is it as a source, knowing the public can edit its content? The credibility of Wikipedia is something we discussed at length prior to Spring Break. To give students the chance to learn Wikipedia and add to articles that were lacking information for Women’s History Month, Rowan University hosted a Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon.
You can see in this image above that Wikipedia is generally easy to edit and add information to. Here I was adding to the biography portion of Ida Rosenthal’s article. It does feel like you are making a difference by adding onto someone’s article, so their story does not get forgotten.
As a viewer, and Wikipedia user for years, I love that the information offered is free. However, it does make me question how much is true, and I would not recommend citing Wikipedia as a source due to the multitude of authors and chance of running into factual errors.
As an editor, I found Wikipedia easy to use and fairly simple. But it does put into perspective, the ability for just anyone to add something that is incorrect. In class, we based our information off of real sources and scholarly text. This however cannot be said for every editor of Wikipedia.
Roy Rosenzweig, an early leader in the Digital History space, is often referenced in our class. In his article about history being open source, he says, “A historical work without owners and with multiple, anonymous authors is thus almost unimaginable in our professional culture.” He then states about the freedom of Wikipedia, “that freedom includes not just the ability of anyone to read it (a freedom denied by the scholarly journals in, say, JSTOR, which requires an expensive institutional subscription) but also—more remarkably—their freedom to use it.”
I believe that people are quick to judge open source resources, like Wikipedia in an academic setting. I think Rosenzweig brings up a great point, that many primary sources and crucial scholarly articles are behind a paywall, one that is unreachable for students and universities that don’t have access, but also completely untouchable by the general public.
That is why so many people use Wikipedia, and why so many people edit it, even though academic institutions push against it. Wikipedia is a great tool, even with its faults, that is accessible and free to the general public.
- Rosenzweig, Roy. “Can History Be Open Source? Wikipedia and the Future of the Past.” The Journal of American History (Bloomington, Ind.) 93, no. 1 (2006): 117–46. https://doi.org/10.2307/4486062.