I’ve been writing a good bit this year about the Wikipedia as a tool for history students and teachers. Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m more sanguine than many about the possibilities of wiki-history and that I don’t dismiss the Wikipedia outright as is fashionable to do these days. This is not to say that I encourage my univesity students to rely on any encyclopedia as a source in their research–I firmly believe they ought to be moving on beyond their habitual reliance on textbooks and encyclopedias into the secondary literature and the primary sources.
But I can say this to them until I’m blue in the face and they are still going to use the Wikipedia–at least as a starting point. Here’s a case in point:
This week students in my introductory Western Civ survey are thinking about individual rights in ancient Athens and Rome. Because our Western Civ course traverses all of Western Civ in one semester (don’t ask), this is also the only week we’ll be devoting to the ancient world. Because I like to know what the Wikipedia (or at least the most popular websites served up by Google) says on a particular subject I have assigned–so that I’ll recognize it if it shows up in their writing–I typically do a skim read of the most relevant Wikipedia entries for this week’s class.
If one types “Roman Republic” into Google, one gets the Wikipedia entry as the first hit. For me, this entry turned out to be a perfect teachable moment this week because the version I happened to get when I went to that page included this example of vandalism:
I pretty sure that commentary on Justin’s intelligence and physique and hate speech about gays has nothing to do with the history of the Roman Republic. So, I deleted these offending items from the sidebar (you can read the history [of the sidebar] of the entry to find them again if you like). Needless to say, this made a great case in point for my class today. One doesn’t often get this lucky, which is why I pass it along to you for your own use if you choose.