Digital history & historiography

Discussing the Past: The Production of Historical Knowledge on Wikipedia

This dissertation investigates how historical knowledge is produced in one of the most central digital communities of knowledge, Wikipedia. In 2001, the American Internet entrepreneur Jimmy Wales founded the online encyclopedia, its main concept being that “anyone can edit any page at any time.” This concept allowed Wikipedia to function also as a common and public space for personal reflection. Wikipedia provides this opportunity through the portal of “talk,” as each Wikipedia entry has its own “talk” area. This study explores how historical knowledge is produced on Wikipedia. The project is based on multiple methodologies ranging from qualitative analysis of Wikipedia pages related to history, survey with Wikipedia editors, to quantitative analysis of participatory practices within the Wikipedia community. The main argument is that Wikipedia allows people to discuss the past, express their opinions and emotions about history and its significance in the present and the future through the portal of “talk” that Wikipedia provides. Wikipedia offers a public and digital space for personal engagement and reflection on the production of historical knowledge. Wikipedia users develop multiple relations with the past, take part in discussions and debates about history and its representation, and in that way produce historical knowledge. This does not mean that all Wikipedia users have the same role and power in the production of historical knowledge. Historical knowledge is not just a product of collaboration and public discussion but result of hierarchy and power. That explains why there is so much discussion behind the main articles, which leads in so little editing. Wikipedia allows all its users to discuss the editing process of a Wikipedia article and express their own historical understandings in the “talk page” of the
article, but few of them, the most experienced editors, can make their contributions part of the main entry.

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