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September 7, 2010 7:03 AM   Subscribe

On Wikipedia, Cultural Patrimony, and Historiography. "The Iraq War: A Historiography of Wikipedia Changelogs" is a twelve-volume set of all changes to the Wikipedia article on the Iraq War. The twelve volumes cover a five year period from December 2004 to November 2009, a total of 12,000 changes and almost 7,000 pages. The set is part of a project exploring history and historiography facilitated by the internet, and visualising information, opinion, narrative and discussion, by James Bridle.
posted by shakespeherian (38 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Interesting I'm sure, but history as written by undergrad wanna-be journalists with time on their hands and a requirement to pay lip-service to a "Neutral Point of View" makes this of dubious value for actually understanding more than how Wackypedia (doesn't) works.
posted by orthogonality at 7:09 AM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


...with an entire volume devoted to the drive to Bagdad by General Chuck Norris.
posted by victors at 7:11 AM on September 7, 2010


Interesting I'm sure, but history as written by undergrad wanna-be journalists with time on their hands and a requirement to pay lip-service to a "Neutral Point of View" makes this of dubious value for actually understanding more than how Wackypedia (doesn't) works.
How so? This seems like a very useful (if dense) tool for understanding just that -- the strengths and weaknesses of how WikiPedia collapses the wave function of many opinions into a pseudo-neutral article.

It's how bacon gets made, and that's something that's useful to know if you're deciding what to eat.

My metaphor is straining.
posted by verb at 7:13 AM on September 7, 2010 [11 favorites]


I was hoping this would include some kind of interesting critical discussion of competing edit-war forces or careful curating of the edits to highlight culturally significant trends or something but no, it's just a 7000 page printout of "View history." I guess that's the difference between "making an art project" and "writing a book."
posted by theodolite at 7:15 AM on September 7, 2010 [7 favorites]


I think it would be interesting to find self-deletions, which might indicate someone with inside information who gets cold feet after posting. Most of it, though, is probably a bunch of Lame Edit Wars™ fighting over whether a paragraph ought to be written USMC or US Marine Corps.
posted by crapmatic at 7:17 AM on September 7, 2010


Somehow I first read "historiography" as "hagiography".
posted by wierdo at 7:19 AM on September 7, 2010


undergrad wanna-be journalists with time on their hands and a requirement to pay lip-service to a "Neutral Point of View" makes this of dubious value for actually understanding more than how Wackypedia (doesn't) works.

Does Not Remember Life Before Internet
posted by DU at 7:25 AM on September 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is fascinating, thanks!
posted by cirripede at 7:40 AM on September 7, 2010


Does Not Remember Life Before Internet

LOL, too true. How quickly we forget.
posted by Theta States at 7:42 AM on September 7, 2010


This is sure to be a scintillating read.
posted by John Cohen at 7:51 AM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm skeptical as to whether a printed book was really a good choice of medium for this. Since it's not really a 'book' in the sense of having any sort of narrative or explanation of the changes — it's literally just the changelog — I think they could have represented it differently.

I'd like to see some sort of time-lapse video of the article changing over time. That ought to be possible with the same data, and it would probably make more sense and be more approachable.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:58 AM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I love this.

If you read history, not just history but the history of history, it's fascinating the way that stories change and move over time. Instead of looking at 600 years of documents, letters, scholarly articles, and encyclopedias to find out how our view of [x] has changed (and those things are heavily priviledged to certain kinds of people with certain kinds of information and biases) we can look at wikipedia and read people's minds as they all change, collectively, and decide on a communal reality.

A book would be the equivalent of an edit--someone putting out a single point of view, interpretation, organization of facts. Completely different from an overview of all the books (and arguments between scholars, and arguments between regular people, and political operatives and, and, and...) on a single topic.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:01 AM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is sure to be a scintillating read.

I dunno, "All your oil are belong to U.S." did make me smile.
posted by Beardman at 8:08 AM on September 7, 2010


"Hey guys. Y'know what's cool? Check out the history tab on the wikipedia page for the Iraq war. It's totally awesome. Why is it awesome? You just gotta see for yourself!"

Can I have an FPP now?
posted by Galaxor Nebulon at 8:20 AM on September 7, 2010


Can I have an FPP now?

Here
posted by DU at 8:22 AM on September 7, 2010


Okay, the book itself is probably not that interesting, nor that useful, but the linked post does feel like it nicely encapsulates the beauty of Wikipedia as an idea.
posted by hoyland at 8:25 AM on September 7, 2010


We have at least reached the moment in human history when the writing of that history will include, however briefly, every bit of research eliminated in favor of the phrase "Saddam Hussein was a dickhead."

One imagines Edward Gibbon was often tempted to write the same about Caligula.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:37 AM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


The odd thing is that the content shown in the book doesn't match the old revision of the page. The previous edit contains the engaging read.

Long ago, there was a contest to create scripts that would animate wikipedia history.
posted by hoppytoad at 8:40 AM on September 7, 2010


Can I have an FPP now?

They're not, like, awards.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:42 AM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Histiography is important, in particular for topics that don't have a clear consensus, such as the decline/fall of the Roman Empire; or history of ideas that change over time, such as Dark Ages.

A Wikipedia changelog is not histiography, it's sociology or perhaps cultural anthropology. Printing it out in bound volumes is crazy and seems useless, but an interesting exercise.
posted by stbalbach at 8:48 AM on September 7, 2010


I'm going to make a printout of my checking account activity, call it Fool's Paradise: A Transactional Case Study in Hegemonic Lifestyle Choices in Post-Bailout America, and sell it in a gold-leaf volume with an introduction by William H. Macy.
posted by swift at 8:53 AM on September 7, 2010 [9 favorites]




Histiography is important, in particular for topics that don't have a clear consensus, such as the decline/fall of the Roman Empire; or history of ideas that change over time, such as Dark Ages.

A Wikipedia changelog is not histiography, it's sociology or perhaps cultural anthropology. Printing it out in bound volumes is crazy and seems useless, but an interesting exercise.


As a sociological exercise it's interesting.
As history... well wiki never was any good for history. I've found that their articles are(SEEM) great on topics I know nothing about. Quick overview, but I worry that I walk away with more misconceptions than knowledge. Because, when I DO understand a topic, the wiki articles are invariable horrifically inaccurate.

Therefore, I'd argue that Wikipedia DOES NOT represent our knowledge of history, or any other topic. It does however represent the more common, "layman's" understanding of it, complete with misconceptions and bad information.

So can we understand society through wikipedia changes? Perhaps, if we're careful. History? No, not at any academic level at least.
posted by Stagger Lee at 9:02 AM on September 7, 2010


Er. Which is to say, I guess I agree with stbalbach, or at leaast I think I do. ;)
posted by Stagger Lee at 9:03 AM on September 7, 2010


This is terrific. I remember reading through the discussion pages for the "Abortion" entry on Wikipedia about seven years ago and thinking "This is going to be incredibly useful for some historian some day."

It is historiography, though of a different kind than we've ever had. Most history is written by historians (either professional or semi-professional). This history was written (mostly) by non-historians, and thus it gives us a kind of historiographical knowledge we've never (or at least rarely) really had. Though I wouldn't go so far as to say it's what the "man/women on the street" thinks about the history of the Iraq war, it's certainly closer than what a professional historian has to say about it. It's a window, though a narrow, skewed one, into popular historical consciousness that goes well beyond "Johnny doesn't know when the battle of Gettysburg was." It shows us people thinking about history. Remarkable and useful.

(Full disclosure: I'm a historian).
posted by MarshallPoe at 9:07 AM on September 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is terrific. I remember reading through the discussion pages for the "Abortion" entry on Wikipedia about seven years ago and thinking "This is going to be incredibly useful for some historian some day."

It is historiography, though of a different kind than we've ever had. Most history is written by historians (either professional or semi-professional). This history was written (mostly) by non-historians, and thus it gives us a kind of historiographical knowledge we've never (or at least rarely) really had. Though I wouldn't go so far as to say it's what the "man/women on the street" thinks about the history of the Iraq war, it's certainly closer than what a professional historian has to say about it. It's a window, though a narrow, skewed one, into popular historical consciousness that goes well beyond "Johnny doesn't know when the battle of Gettysburg was." It shows us people thinking about history. Remarkable and useful.

(Full disclosure: I'm a historian).


I agree, and I've often thought that part of our issue with historiography in a century is going to be the glut of documentation. (Although the massive forgetfulness of digital medias might change that a bit, it's just not as stable as say... physical artifacts.)

As compared to study an isolated topic in the medieval (or god forbid, pre-medieval) period and trying to base your study off a few pieces of literature, prayer tracts or court records, we'll have a massive onslaught of unreliable and difficult to categorize documents.

I wish future generations the best of luck with that. Some unfortunate research assistants are going to have their hands full skimming archives of everything from wikipedia to 4chan.
posted by Stagger Lee at 9:12 AM on September 7, 2010


...with an introduction by William H. Macy.

If you put his introduction fee in there, it turns into a recursive, postmodern New York Trilogy sort of affair which, along with its nature as a Memoir Of Our Times, will score you a book and movie deal almost simultaneously. Are you okay with Shia LaBoeuf playing you? He can be aged with CGI/secret Hollywood time machine if necessary.
posted by griphus at 9:23 AM on September 7, 2010


It will be very necessary.
posted by swift at 9:27 AM on September 7, 2010


I don't think it's possible to age Shia LeBeouf with any technology.
posted by blucevalo at 9:46 AM on September 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


a 50 pound bag of fertilizer is much cheaper, not any heavier, and will make flowers grow much better

not to say that this won't be invaluable tor future specialists
posted by pyramid termite at 9:48 AM on September 7, 2010


I haven't listened to the talk yet; I'm excited to when I get home.

But to me, it seems obvious that the awkwardness of the format - a hulking set of hardcover books that no one is going to want to buy - is part of the point. By taking this socially-constructed history of the Iraq War and presenting it in the same format as authoritative history books, it makes you think about how authority is constructed and enforced.
posted by roll truck roll at 10:21 AM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Stagger Lee:

I've often thought that part of our issue with historiography in a century is going to be the glut of documentation.... As compared to study an isolated topic in the medieval (or god forbid, pre-medieval) period and trying to base your study off a few pieces

Exactly. I was having exactly this conversation just the other day. (Crudely speaking), history as a discipline is in the process of swinging from one extreme to another. From having to struggle to find enough pieces of evidence, and trying to come up with a credible 'filling in the gaps', it's becoming an exercise in which of the far-far-far-too-many pieces of evidence to discard.


As history... well wiki never was any good for history. Therefore, I'd argue that Wikipedia DOES NOT represent our knowledge of history... It does however represent the more common, "layman's" understanding of it, complete with misconceptions and bad information


Rather disagree. I think. Or maybe quite agree.

What we point at and say "this is (our knowledge of) History" (if we do so at all!) is always a collected, sifted, summarised, analysed and judged synthesis of raw fodder. It's always a moving target, as new fodder is discovered, or the same fodder is fed into different frameworks and processes for analysing and judging.

I don't think anybody is pointing at WP and saying "that right there is History - it's What Happened." If they are, then of course they're wrong, and you're right, in that sense WP is 'not history'.

But nobody does that with Tacitus either. Comments on news articles, or WP edits, are as much the raw fodder of history as any other source; they bring a different set of problems, of course, but ultimately Tacitus had misconceptions and bad information too.

Taken to abstract philosophical extremes, the collected-analysed-judged History is a human text borne of its own cultural context and with it's own biases and innaccuracies and so on, raw fodder in turn for the next turn of the wheel - so ultimately I can't see a watertight way of deeming WP any less history than anything else.
posted by Slyfen at 10:24 AM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I roughly agree with that.

I'd love to see the gap close between "history as most everyone understands it" and "history as the academic specialists understand it." But I'm afraid that might be a pipe dream, the intricacies and nuances required to have a high level understanding of it don't always scale down very well. (To be snide, and unjust: Not all information can be presented on The Oatmeal or in a tres chic info-graphic.)

At the Masters level, I started to run into the "this crap is really complicated" problem, and I suspect it only gets worse at the phd/book publishing level.

Then again, dialogue between society en masse and the ivory tower has always been stilted, and a lot could be done to improve that relationship.
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:36 AM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Interesting I'm sure, but history as written by undergrad wanna-be journalists with time on their hands and a requirement to pay lip-service to a "Neutral Point of View" makes this of dubious value for actually understanding more than how Wackypedia (doesn't) works.

Interesting how you dismiss the project, assert that all editors working on the page are "undergrad wanna-be journalists with time on their hands," and claim that "Wackypedia (doesn't) work" all in one sentence.
posted by inoculatedcities at 11:11 AM on September 7, 2010


Yeah, it is an art project, though an interesting one that I will share with my students.

I would love to see a scholarly analysis on one Wikipedia article and its edits. Does such a thing exist? I suspect that someone with the right technical chops could sort users into categories; chart the frequency of edits by time of the day, day of the week, and relevant news stories; map users IP addresses on a Google map, etc. Get cracking somebody!
posted by LarryC at 11:12 AM on September 7, 2010


If any one listened to the audio of the lecture and wondered what the Hague's cultural protection icon looks like here are some examples:

here

  and here
posted by coolxcool=rad at 12:56 PM on September 7, 2010


Well, if some of the data that went into the Wiki pages was gleaned from contemporary American news media sources, then the data is perhaps not perfect, but if you have the patience to dig through the pulp, then there will be a few hilarious and amusing comments buried in there. Swell idea.
posted by ovvl at 5:20 PM on September 7, 2010


I would love to see a scholarly analysis on one Wikipedia article and its edits. Does such a thing exist? I suspect that someone with the right technical chops could sort users into categories; chart the frequency of edits by time of the day, day of the week, and relevant news stories; map users IP addresses on a Google map, etc. Get cracking somebody!

Someone should post this on wikipedia.
posted by empath at 8:28 AM on September 8, 2010


I honestly can barely remember what the world was like before Google and Wikipedia were around, and I was in my 20s, I think. Card Catalogs? Reference books? It seems like another century.

Oh, it was?

I'm getting old.
posted by empath at 8:30 AM on September 8, 2010


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