Wiki-History

Morrison-Knudsen Corp. on Wikipedia

Morrison-Knudsen Corp. on Boise Wiki

I significantly edited two articles on Wikipedia and added a page on boise.localwiki.org for this class assignment. On Wikipedia, the Morrison-Knudsen (M-K) Company history was a topic under Washington Group International (WGI). I thought this was unacceptable, considering I had a much higher opinion of M-K history compared to WGI – or to use Wikipedia speak: MK was more notable than WGI. Then again, I’m biased. Nevertheless, M-K had four or five paragraphs of content on the WGI page. It seemed to me the M-K content could stand alone on a new page. I thought this might make some waves in the Wiki-editor community, but alas it did not. I moved the five paragraphs, added content, and did not have a single thing altered by the administrators. Overall, I’m pleasantly surprised about this whole experience. I found it much easier to edit Wikipedia than I expected and creating a page on boise.localwiki.org was also a great experience that I hope to continue.

My editorial choices were much different between Wikipedia and Boise Wiki. On the Boise Wiki I discussed the significance of M-K to Boise. I included links to various places in Boise named after the Morrisons, or M-K, and I wrote an extensive history of Morrison’s early life. I thought these two topics would interest local readers. Place names are probably the first things people will recognize about Morrison-Knudsen, so it was an obvious starting place for this article. In the future, I may add more about the operations of the company, including a more significant list of projects they built and perhaps more about some of the other notable employees of M-K. All of these topics are probably not significant enough for the Wikipedia administrators. For that article I focused on national topics.

For Wikipedia I used the International Directory of Company Histories (IDCH) to find the most neutral information about M-K that I could find. I noticed almost every reference in Wikipedia on the M-K and WGI articles were to websites. I only had access to the paper copy of the IDCH, so I thought this might be an issue when I created citations for my additions to the article. So far, my additions have not been taken down. I hope the public and the Wikipedia editors approve of the static references since they do refer to a neutral and secondary source.

After I finished writing both articles, I took a moment to review the articles on the Boise Wiki and Wikipedia. The two articles are very different and I think that is important. The Boise Wiki article is more personal, colorful, and relative to Boise. The Wikipedia article is sterile, generic, and not relative to any single group. This difference highlights the strengths of both mediums of communication. The Boise Wiki can inform the public while keeping the enthusiasm and passion of the writers, while Wikipedia can hypothetically portray neutral information that is theoretically verifiable through sources anybody can easily check. Of course we know this is not always the case.

Although I’m sure I’ll continue to write for the Boise Wiki, I don’t know if I will ever contribute to Wikipedia again. The Boise Wiki can be a great resource if it catches on – I hope it follows the Davis Wiki example and has significant local input. Wikipedia on the other hand is not suited for historians to rely upon to do history. We are too vested in the topics we want to write about. By the very nature of scholarly historical research, we wish to change, challenge or verify the generally accepted historical narrative. To do so, requires hours, days, or months, of digging in resources that the general public has often never seen. This research is then published to a peer-reviewed article or book that again, the public will probably never see. Often, this is the end of a historian’s work – an article in a scholarly journal so expensive only an elite group of fellow scholars will ever have a chance to read. That is not Wikipedia – it maybe the opposite of Wikipedia. A Wikipedia editor may spend an hour using Google News or a directory to find basic information about a topic, edit a page and then move on.

While I sense there is some issues with access to the traditional historian’s method of doing history, that is archival research to publish in an academic journal, I do not think resorting to Wikipedia is a solution to this problem. Wikipedia is not an avenue for professional historians, mostly because Wikipedia’s policies virtually block the type of research historians do. Writing for Wikipedia was like having my hands tied behind my back. I could not include all the great facts of M-K history I had because I found them in an archive. It simply goes against policy and therefore does not suit the work I do.

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