Sunday, July 06, 2008

Wikipedia Woes - and the challenges of the on-line world!

One of the key things to remember about history is that a thing does not exist if it is not recorded or written about in some way. It is also true that a thing can cease to exist if people stop writing about it. So to this degree history, perhaps more accurately the writing of history, is a creature of current fashion and interests.

I make this point because of my oft repeated complaint that parts of Australian history that are important to me in a personal sense have diminished, in some cases vanished as though they had never been.

The process can be a slow one and is often unseen.

The theses and journal articles that provide so much of the raw material stop. There are no new books. Those things that have been published go out of print. The topics vanish from school and university curricula. Finally, whole fields vanish or are, at best, relegated to footnotes.

I write in part to try to preserve and present elements of the past that I consider to be important. In doing so, I noticed that Wikipedia was very weak in my areas of interest.

Initially I ignored this. Then I picked up a Wikipedia talk page that mentioned two of my blogs, suggesting that while not suitable for direct citation, they did provide access to useful sources. This set me thinking.

Wikipedia has become a key information source, coming up first on most searches. Consequently, we all use it. This means in turn that if my blogs are not suitable as sources, then I have a major problem.

I need a new writing platform like I need a hole in the head. Still, if the blogs cannot be used as sources, then I really have no choice but to look at Wikipedia itself.

I began by putting up a short historical overview on the New England New State Movement, an overview that a fellow contributor kindly edited to put it in the proper format. In doing so, I struggled a bit with the Wikipedia rules. These preclude original research, limiting content essentially to published sources.

I can understand this. However, it does create a problem where so much of the historical material is simply not available in published form. I almost have to go back to writing for journal publication, meaning that I end up writing material for yet another format.

While thinking about this, I decided that what I could do was to correct some obvious gaps on Wikipedia. So this morning I added a few references to the stub on my grandfather, David Drummond. This one actually cites my original Australian Dictionary of Biography entry as the source!

I have a fair bit more to do on the Drummond article, but in the meantime, I decided to add a short article on a different topic to fill another gap. Now here I wrote the article and then lost the damn thing. Yes, I know that I should have written it in Word and then transferred it, but it was only meant to be a stub for later work.

On a somewhat related topic, Helen (eldest) is presently in Milan, travelling with friend Elise. Yesterday evening Dee and I went over to Elise's parents for a video skype link up with the girls in Milan. Somewhat clunky, but still interesting.

Coming back, I was thinking that I should put up a daily log on facebook to keep Helen up to date.

All this leaves me wondering just how to survive the on-line world. Yes, many aspects are great, but the time demands!

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