Reading Across Time

This week I started reading A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change by Douglass Thomas and John Seely Brown. One of the more interesting concepts that they developed was the idea that writing on sites like Wikipedia can provide a better historical record than traditional print media. According to the authors, Wikipedia is able to show in detail how the entry was created and the controversies that have been addressed regarding the information that is being presented. Unlike print media, one is able to see the process and the potential flaws in the work as well as actively participate in its creation. Interestingly, the author’s noted that neither form of information seems to be more factually accurate, however there is much more transparency as to how the knowledge was constructed with Wikipedia.

While this information is not exactly new to most people who have used Wikipedia, I had never thought of looking at past edits as incredibly useful (unless one was looking to add to the post). For entries like Christopher Columbus, it can definitely be a very powerful tool to assess where the scholarship is currently sitting and how, in many cases, our interpretations of people or events may be changing. Likewise, if there has not been very much conversation and editing, this can be very telling as well. Either way, this was a useful way to reexamine the strengths of Wikipedia and sources that are based off of collective knowledge.

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While the final product can seem a blur, we can also slow things down and look at the individual steps that were taken.

2 thoughts on “Reading Across Time

  1. I thought that looking at wikipedia edits was an interesting as well, and I never thought about the academic implications of it. A history teacher could use selected articles to show how bias has been recognized over time and new perspectives incorporated into the discourse. You could also use those edit records to evaluate if a wikipedia page is likely to be credible or not. Lots of edits that have been removed? The page is likely a hotbed for griefing, and you need to take more care to ensure that page is accurate. While print and digital encyclopedias may have similar amounts of errors, those errors might be easier to spot on a digital encyclopedia.

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  2. I’m always surprised at how little attention people pay to the edits/ discussion back matter on Wikipedia and with you, find it incredibly interesting to track over time. There is a lot of mischief as well as a great deal of intellectual work going on behind the scenes.

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