Undergraduate Fellows

Wikipedia: telling history in real-time

Wikipedia has always been one of those “off limit” online resources. For years, I have been discouraged in using it as a reputable source. In constructing the timeline of the refugee crisis, however, and understanding that any source is subjected to a bias from the individual who reports the information, I have found Wikipedia to be remarkably helpful and profound in its own unique right.

At the most fundamental level, history is a collection of information. An objective perspective of telling history would be to discover and relay the Truth of events transpired. While information itself certainly exists objectively, it is only through the subjective processes of human interaction and experience that Truth becomes information. At the point of translation from Truth to information, the objectivity of Truth is thus subjected to the unique experience or interaction of its observer. It is thus possible that a number of “true subjective truths” exist. History is the result of assigning information (i.e. subjective truths) meaning through a variety of media, thus compounding the nature of the subjectivity through which information is filtered.

Wikipedia is one of the most effective media in bridging together a vast network of information while simultaneously offering its own narrative with immediacy. In doing so, Wikipedia allows for quick access to information (whether “reputable” or not), and produces a story that accounts for many subjective truths. To me, this seems to be the most powerful tool that history has at its fingertips: a platform connecting a vast array of networks and experiences in real time.

In my research, Wikipedia’s citations have been extremely refreshing. The starting point in understanding a story perhaps starts with a literature search. Where does the non-journalist begin, however, as events transpire around the world? The Internet has allowed for the almost simultaneous transmission and communication of information. Thus, understanding historical events from a variety of perspectives is increasingly important. With a google search of “Syrian Refugee Crisis,” a browser ends up with these options. Selecting the Wikipedia story, one immediately has a variety of hyperlinked options, one of which directs the user to a timeline of the refugee crisis. From here, the course of events is plainly laid out. The short descriptions are layered with citations and hyperlinks connecting a variety of historical accounts.

Consider the day that is largely considered to have sparked protests that led to the Syrian Civil War: March 6, 2011. The Wikipedia page reads:

6 March, in the southern city of Daraa, fifteen[6] teenagers were arrested for writing “the people want the regime to fall”[7][6][8] on walls across the city. Supposedly the military police tortured them,[7][8] or had carried them handcuffed out of their classroom.[6]

Note that each statement is verified and linked to source(s) (6, 7, and/or 8), most of which derive from news agencies in the U.S. (e.g. NY Times or Washington Post) and around the world (e.g. Spiegel or BBC News). In considering Wikipedia’s narrative, one is forced to contemplate the validity of numerous other narratives. In the passage above, three different articles are used which have coinciding accounts of teenagers having been arrested by Syrian authorities and subsequently harmed on March 6, 2011. Ultimately, as I have emphasized in a previous discussion, in constructing my own narrative, I am less concerned with discrepancies in numbers and statistics, and am directing my efforts towards understanding what happened and what did not happen. What is striking to me about this historical account is that it was a group of teenagers standing up for a cause in which they fervently believed who incited an egregious civil war that has witnessed the greatest migration since the end of the second World War. This profound determination may never make its way into a history book.

Finally, while a major component of my experience in Germany will entail reflecting on the current sentiments of refugees and their transition to Germany, I am also interested in mapping the crisis. To do so, I intend to utilize a digital story mapping tool that I will employ on my website. This component of my project will likely be the final of this term before I leave for Germany.

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