Reenactments and Wikipedia: A service or a disservice to history?

This weeks articles discussed two sources average people use to access history: the historical reenactment and Wikipedia. One of the questions that kept popping up while reading the articles was are they providing a service or a disservice to history? They are both two very different ways to access historical information, yet there seems to be a lot of controversy surrounding their relevance or their honesty to history.

The reenactors for example are providing viewers with a visual on what historic battles were like. Sure, they are able to get the tactics down, the look of the uniforms and the weapons, and they are able to recreate the sequence in which the battles took place. However, are they providing the public with valuable information? “Embedded with the Reenactors” seemed to say no, they are not. Nick Kowalczyk mentioned how the battle seemed to be just a lot of yelling, gunfire and smoke. Well, how does that contribute to a positive understanding of history? Sure, war is terrible, but it didn’t seem so bad to the little kid who kept pretending to kill enemies on a battlefield. That part really jumped out at me and made me question whether or not the reenactments of these brutal battles is a service or not. As Little pointed out in “The Limited (and Queer?) Vision of American Historical Reenacting,” we have plenty of brutal battles in today’s world with wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, why do we feel the need to recreate those of nearly 300 years ago? While battles are important as far as how they shape history or a specific war, how often is that conveyed to the crowd watching a group of men charge at one another with weapons? Something is lacking within reenactments, especially if the only thing that occurs is yelling, gunfire and smoke. Add to that the SCV’s song about killing Yankees,  and you have a public history source that seems to lack interpretation and any positive influence. If done properly, reenactments are an important tool in bringing history to the public.

Wikipedia is another source that, although has its own set of problems,  contributes both a positive and negative service to historical study. As “Define Gender Gap” showed, Wikipedia is a male dominated website. Definitely a negative aspect because women should contribute and should feel invited to contribute more. However, I don’t feel that it is a gender issue in the sense that men don’t want women to contribute, it’s just that women feel they are not welcome to contribute from what Cohen said. Instead of complaining about how “Sex and the City” has little detail on each episode, change that. There were no situations mentioned where a woman tried to edit something, only to be turned away because of her gender. There are many articles on Wikipedia that men find interesting that are short and lacking in sufficient information. Articles on  medieval warriors like La Hire and Jean de Dunois, who fought alongside Joan of Arc in the Hundred Years War, have articles with little information on them. I did not feel the issue had to do with a sexist editing policy adopted by Wikipedia, it had more to do with women not feeling comfortable doing it, which is a shame.

However, the issue of Wikipedia’s honesty was tackled by “The Undue Weight of Truth on Wikipedia” and Weighing Consensus.” I understood Timothy Messer-Kruse’s frustration and argument, however I side with Wikipedia on the issue for many reasons. While I understand his position on the events of the Haymaker riot was the correct one, he expected Wikipedia to allow him to edit their article by using his own sources to replace a majority view with a minority view? Yes, Wikipedia will state the sky is green if the majority say it is, however the minority is using their own works to state the sky is blue. As Famiglietti stated in “Weighing Consensus,” the scholar may have an ax to grind or is wanting to find a soap box to then rant off their biased viewpoint. By acknowledging the large body of work scholars have done on a certain subject, Wikipedia really is respecting scholars in the sense that they take what the majority of them say seriously. There are many scholars out there trying to promote a biased agenda, trying to grind that ax, and how can you tell which ones are honest or not? The Wikipedia editors have to deal with many self-proclaimed experts, many of whom are probably frauds or conspiracy theorists. Allowing one scholar to change what a majority of scholars have said, all while using his own source, could lead way to conspiracy theorists changing articles on 9/11, or the Holocaust, because they have sources as well. While Wikipedia is not the place for scholars or students to research history, it provides the general public with an overview of what scholars have said about a certain subject. In that sense, it is doing history a service by bringing a consensus on World War II or The Great Depression to the public.

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