Wikipedia and Historical Research: Where You May Be Going Wrong

Chaos in writing

 

Loved a recent post by Lucienne Boyce with Self-Publishing Advice about historical research and in particular the use of Wikipedia. Opinion: Why Wikipedia isn’t Real Research for your Self-published Historical Novel

I can’t agree with Boyce more. Wikipedia is like an enormous bag of delicious snacks, with all kinds of pages on the most obscure to the famous. It’s a fun source to get a feel for someone or something you’ve never heard of before, but as a research tool, it’s quite unreliable. It depends on mostly lay people to add content, and therein lies the problem. Academics, historians, the lot, study, train, discern, discard and sift for facts and truth. Their view may be skewed culturally or societally, but they figuratively have the chops to write reliable content.

Wikipedia has become a crutch for students writing homework papers, writers looking for a quick reference or links, and the curious. Sometimes the Wiki entry is very slanted or has uncorroborated information which then is swallowed up whole by unsuspecting readers. Like the saying goes “if it’s on the Internet, it must be true.” Wink, wink.

It’s like the pitched battle among the Ricardians, who think Richard III was a victim of Tudor propaganda, and the pro-Tudor faction. Lots of passionate and persuasive books and articles have been written about Richard III, and no one’s giving ground. So if a pro-Tudor revisionist rewrites the entry for Richard III on Wiki, then it’s rewritten by a Ricardian, how can you rely on the information?

Not just the Internet, which is rife with error itself, but research using interlibrary loan, college libraries, book purchases, and visiting sites associated with your writing are the best way to go. You still have to discern and winnow out the chaff from the grains of goodness you’ll use, but you won’t be spoonfed errors by Wiki content providers. And you’ll have your own notes to fall back on.

 

 

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