How To Read a WIKIPEDIA Article

As a teacher, I have always cautioned my students about using  and citing Wikipedia in their research papers. They are told by all of their teachers that it is not a reliable source, we do not know who had contributed to the page, and  the information found on a given page  may not be accurate. The one purpose, however, Wikipedia has always fulfilled is the initial information in a search. I have encouraged my students to scan Wikipedia for basic information to begin their research and to use the references or links given on the site to expand on the research. Which means that both teachers and students view Wikipedia as an unreliable source, but rely on the sources it offers. Thus, we need to re-examine its value and perhaps suggest a responsible approach to using and incorporating Wikipedia into professional research.

According to Ed Galloway & Cassandra DellaCorte at the University of Pittsburgh, “Wikipedia, of course, is not the new kid on the block, having been in formal existence since January 2001. It now contains 30 million articles in 287 languages and represents the sixth most trafficked website in the world” (“Wikipedia: About,” 2014). They make a point in their article, “Increasing the Discoverability of Digital Collections Using Wikipedia” how Wikipedia could become a trustworthy source, and also improved by careful editors that could lead to a shortcut of references to legible links. The Wikipedia project they have conducted at the University of Pittsburgh,  was done with the purpose to enhance the “discoverability of Pitt’s digital collections and finding aids by creating links from Wikipedia articles to relevant content held by the library’s specialized collection units as well as to generally improve the quality of articles by adding additional information.” The interns have editing nearly 100 articles in Wikipedia as they have developed their own strategies how to use and edit Wikipedia efficiently. They made decisions on the types of content to add and the way to present new and adequate information.

Since not all Wikipedia pages have gone through the editing process Galloway and DellaCorte describe, there are some essential questions that need to be addressed for successful use of Wikipedia. Who is creating the entries? Who is editing the entries? What do we know about their biographies? What changes are being made? Can I trust the information?

 Some users may not think about spending extra time to find answers to these questions, however, they can be extremely telling . After having scanned the page for its organization, the way it is divided and what the sections cover, users should go to the “History” tab to see a timeline of edits made. Here they can also check the user profiles of those making major contributions. By viewing the editor profiles, credentials, the frequency of edits, and the genera development of a given entry., users can assess for themselves whether to trust this information.

For instance, the details in the “History” of the Wikipedia page for Digital Humanities provide important factors about its creation and development over the past ten years.wikipedia_1

The page was created by Elijah Meeks in 2006. By looking at his biography, we find out that he is a Digital Humanities Specialist at Stanford University and used to study Wikipedia and open-source culture. The page offered a definition with sections explaining DH: Toolset, Lens, Document, Themes, Standards, References, External Links, and See Also. The definition of DH has gone through changes from the computing aspect of DH project, through a section on Humanities Computing Projects focusing on the digital process rather than on the programming. Not only the definition, but also the application  and scope of DH has continued to evolve in the Wikipedia page. The number of DH projects grew significantly by 2009. Also, a section for Journals in the field were added in 2009 February. By 2012, the Miscellaneous section grew including text mining, topic modeling, and new media. The Criticism and Controversies section began growing in 2013. The objectives/introduction section grew too big by 2014, so it was divided into Areas of Inquiry and Definition of DH. In addition, Meetings were added to the list of links to connect to conferences. In 2016, the sections grew to include 11 areas of concern in DH.

Contributors for the DH Wkipedia come from a wide range of professionals, such as professors, librarians, researchers, scholars in education and in classical studies.  Of course there are others with no profile like John Unsworth, ClueBot NG, or the ones represented with numbers. Several of the professors are associated with the University of London such as Simon Mahoney and Gabriel Bodard, proving that there must be an institutional presence as well on Wikipedia. I was delighted to find a biography on one of my country men, Steven Tötösy de Zepetnek, who is a widely published researcher among other things in cultural studies, media studies, communication studies, literature (English-, French-, German-, and Hungarian-language literatures and cultures), Central and East European studies, Holocaust studies, historical genealogy.

 Besides the history, the editors, and their contributions, users of Wikipedia could examine the references and links keeping in mind credibility ans sources, such as scholarly articles vs. other Wikipedia or Internet posts.  In addition, it is useful to check what sections have been most contested on the page by clicking on “Talk” and viewing discussions between editors . Although, it did not help me much, it was a bit difficult to discern the direction of these discussions.


Overall, it was an eye-opener to deconstruct the DH Wikipedia page and view it from the other side. All these years, I have never considered looking into the making of these pages.  It was also extremely enlightening to read “Can History be Open Source? Wikipedia and the Future of the Past” by Roy Rosenzweig and gain a much clearer understanding of the origins of Wikipedia, its policies and guidelines for users and contributors – especially from the perspective of the deeply individualistic historical scholarship. Both the articles discussing Wikipedia and the Digital Humanities Wikipedia page seemed to be encouraging regarding vandalism of pages and information; the problem is quickly eliminated and corrected. DH is a uniquely newer discipline in the scholarly world, thus examining its developing history on Wikipedia is quiet exciting. The page seemed to represent the evolving nature of this field in Humanities. Other, more commonly known topics might yield different results in the analysis of the page contribution history. Rosenzweig asks, “Can the wiki way foster the collaborative creation of historical knowledge?” As the University of Pittsburgh project shows, it can and hopefully Wikipedia itself will continue to evolve and more institution and scholars decide to improve its pages.

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