I’m catching up on my reading while on spring break (which is jokingly called “spring pause” at DePaul.) Yesterday I read William Cronon’s “From the President” column in February’s Perspectives magazine. Cronon, who was just installed as the President of the American Historical Association, is a brilliant scholar and innovative thinker, so it seems fitting that he focuses his first column on the controversial topic of Wikipedia.
Many of the respected scholars with whom I am associated dismiss Wikipedia as corrupting. My classmates will not admit to consulting it when discussing topics, even though I can tell from their anecdotes that they have (because I have, too.) There is clearly an issue with rigor, as Cronon notes, but we need to keep that separate from what Wikipedia is: a collaborative knowledge base that will be as good as we make it.
Wikipedia is exciting for the way it reorganizes the process of compiling information. The challenge for historians is to bring rigor to the platform. With scholarly leadership, Wikipedia could be a revolutionary tool.
Which brings me to the second topic and a recent conversation in a methodology class: what is the future of the footnote? In its current form, the footnote cites other sources, provides supportive argumentation, and often engages a historical counter-narrative. Will new digital publishing technologies allow the centuries-old footnote to evolve? With new opportunities like the tablet, I envision the URL as being just the first step in the process. Imagine being able to embed an entire source document into a footnote, or linking to an ongoing professional debate from within a monograph or journal article.
Do you have any ideas? I’d love to hear what you have thought about or incorporated into your projects. The possibilities are exciting!