Monday, February 06, 2006

Wikis and academics

The following message was posted to an online discussion forum that I'm involved in, called H-Sci-Med-Tech (for "history of science, medicine, and technology"). It concerns the contradictory place of Wikipedia in academic publication and teaching, and I think it makes some productive suggestions:

List members with concerns about or active interest in Wikipedia may be interested in WikiProject History of Science, an effort to organize and improve the history of science, technology and medicine content on Wikipedia.

A small number of historians of science are already active editors on Wikipedia, but there is much more work to do.

Project page:

Share your thoughts on the discussion page:

As Wikipedia becomes more sophisticated, undergraduates will increasingly rely on it as a starting point (and ideally only a starting point, but often more) for writing papers. So even if you have no desire to contribute to Wikipedia, it pays as an historian to familiarize yourself with it.

At least one historian (T. Mills Kelly) has begun to use Wikipedia as the focus of assignments, having students correct shoddy articles or write new ones. As you might expect, students gained more of an appreciation of the potential pitfalls of using Wikipedia as a source after trying their hands at editing material with which they were familiar.

See Kelly's blog:

I think Wikipedia has the potential to be an extremely effective way to promote our discipline, especially by the creation of many high quality ("Feature" quality) articles, which can be promoted on the main page (and and thus read by thousands of people).


Sage Ross
Graduate Student
Yale University
Program in History of Medicine and Science

As we work through our own Wiki on library history, we might consider what's available on Wikipedia on the topic, and whether it meets the standards we would wish for our field.

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