How to Read a Wikipedia Article

Of course, the answer to “How to Read a Wikipedia Article” seems fairly obvious: just read it! However, as I discovered when I came across an article that described Rupert Grint from the Harry Potter movies as “totally going out with Emma Watson in real life,” the information on Wikipedia isn’t always very accurate. Fortunately, there is some accountability, and it’s easy to basically CTRL+Z a page when someone goes rogue on it, which is why you don’t often see profanity-laden articles about digital humanities. If you click “View history” in the upper-righthand corner of the page, you can suddenly see a log for all the changes made to a page. Time, date, and contributor are all listed, as well as the significance of the change. Was the contributor fixing a typo? Is the contributor a general Wikipedia editor who religiously monitors the pages, a person who knows a lot about the page he/she is editing (like the majority of the editors of the “Digital humanities” page), or is it a bot or a random person looking to stir up trouble (usernames like Cheryl27 seem an easy target here)? This log isn’t very intuitive, so the information listed first and foremost is most recent. If you want to see when the page was created, you have to click on the “oldest” link above the list. (That’s how I found out that the “Digital humanities” page was, in fact, created by a digital humanist, Elijah Meeks.) If you’re more of a visual person, check out the “Revision history statistics” to see tables and pie charts, as the bland list isn’t very compelling or easy to understand.  If you like comparisons, you can compare how the page looked yesterday with how it looked a few months ago, and see where the changes are. (Unfortunately, you can’t really compare a page today with how the page was when it was created–at least as far as I can see.) When you’re done trawling through edit history, it’s worth checking out the “Talk” link next to the “Article” link on the upper-lefthand corner of the article page. This page documents the controversies (and there can be surprisingly many), from misquotes to arguments over what quotations mean. You have editors justifying their actions (including Elijah Meeks’s “meh” approach to creating the “Digital humanities” page). People can submit ideas for page changes here, as merely changing a page yourself tends to lead to wrath from the misogynistic Wikipedia editors. (Internet editors hate when newbies encroach on their turf, and this bullying has been well-documented by reporters and insiders.) I see the Talk page as a comments or reviews section underneath a online newspaper article or product advertisement. The discourse does tend to take itself too seriously, but it serves as a warning before someone reads an article and blindly takes in the information. Of course, even I wouldn’t look at the Talk page every single time I checked out a Wikipedia page–especially when I’m just checking for plot summaries of musicals, since that’s what I do in my spare time–but for academic perusals, you definitely should. Citing Wikipedia is always a dangerous game; the librarians at my high school would remind of us this by telling the story of a student who wrote a paper on the faked moon landing based on faulty internet sources. However, the “References” and “Further reading” can lead you to primary and secondary sources that are scientifically or historically robust. For the “Digital humanities” page, the list of institutions can show you where to find well-known scholars and projects. In general, Wikipedia is good for summaries and overviews–when you have no idea what game theory is and only have the patience to read one sentence about it. But as with anything free and just lying around, be sure to figure out where it came from. 🙂