In the first quarter of this year, The History Factory took its first steps into the world of new media with our quarterly newsletter, It’s History! With the help of our new media–savvy intern, Blanca Myers, we investigated how the communication of historical information is changing. Today, thanks to the Internet, the public has greater access to historical information than ever before. But new media has done more than that. It has also given the general public the ability to record and publish history on its own, taking history out of the hands of historians and academics and into the public domain.
One of the forums to which the general public can post historical information is, of course, Wikipedia. I mention the site with caution, because here at The History Factory we often scorn it as a source. The information posted there, after all, can be unreliable and difficult to verify. I find Wikipedia most useful for the primary sources that are sometimes posted at the bottom of a particular entry.
But in theory, Wikipedia is a great idea. Not only could it potentially replace the cumbersome encyclopedias I used to pull off my parents’ bookshelves any time a report was due (in fact, some say the Wiki is already as accurate as the encyclopedia), but it also allows for contributions from a much wider range of sources. And while, admittedly, some of these sources have less-than-honorable intentions, others are true experts with good information to share. That’s why I was happily surprised to see the Associated Press’s recent article, “Wikipedia testing new method to curb false info.”
Now, the restrictions they have in mind are minimal—flagging certain pages to refuse new edits until they have been approved by an “experienced editor,” the criteria for which is simply a few-day waiting period—but they hold the promise of a better Wiki to come. My hope is that Wikipedia will continue along this road of increasing oversight without substantively restricting the public’s ability to contribute.
One of The History Factory’s first wary steps into new media was, in fact, this blog. Few of us had any blogging experience to speak of, but we pressed forward, learning as we went, and our blog has continued to grow, both in length and breadth. (It was a banner day when I learned how to upload a YouTube video.) Wikipedia, of course, is light years ahead of us in its understanding of new media, but if it follows the same philosophy—continuing to grow while adjusting and evolving as it goes—I see only good things to come.