Wednesday, February 3, 2010

My Wikipedia Habit

A few years ago I found myself with a fresh MA in History and not much to do. I had a go at publishing my thesis (British prison camps in Cyprus for illegal Jewish migrants to Palestine) but wasn't successful and didn't feel like sending out copies of it to masses of academic journals. 

So I decided to publish it on Wikipedia. I went in and found that there were masses of related items I needed to fix and so spent months working on material related to Israeli history culminating in the development of a page devoted solely to the History of Israel.

The joy of editing Wikipedia comes from realising that what you write there is likely to be more influential then any academic journal.  The problem is that you can't claim ownership or get any recognition and that any Tom Dick and Harry can come along and change your entry.  So if you want to keep what you've done you have to keep a constant eye on the content and be prepared to go in and fix things. Fortunately Wikipedia provides a tool for "watching" articles you are interested in and then the moment someone changes say the entire content of the article on "Israel" to a few rude words you can quickly go in and change it back.  There is also a "discussion" page where editors can debate changes.  These are sometimes longer then the articles.

What this means is that if you want to say something and not have it rapidly deleted, what you say must be uncontroversial. When editing something like Israel the art lies in taking something very controversial and producing a statement about it that nobody can argue with. For example " Israel's democracy has survived under difficult circumstances and the country has prospered despite war, ethno-religious conflict, boycotts, mass immigration and terror attacks"   (that's one of mine).  Things also evolve over time; people come in and copyedit what I write or they change things because they don't understand something.  People kept changing CE and BCE to AD and BC until I added a comment explaining the terms (in History of Israel). Since then that part of the article has remained stable. 

Finding a statement about say Jerusalem's status as capital of Israel that both Palestinians and Israelis can agree on is very satisfying.  In those situations I feel that Wikipedia can be a tool for peace and understanding.

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