Wikipedia….nuff said.

I was excited for this practicum because not often does a professor give you permission to go on Wikipedia for a class. I was also excited because I had never thought to look up wiki articles and trace back the edits to see how the information of the article had changed over time. I chose to look at articles that peaked my hobby history interest, criminal history. I chose the “Axeman of New Orleans,” which is more of a local history, and the “Zodiac Killer,” which has become meme worthy in the past few years. I wanted to make sure that the articles I chose had a range of fan bases to see if that changed the way people edited them.

I looked at the “Axeman of New Orleans” wiki page first. The very first post about this subject was made on July 9, 2003. Just that day there were three edits to the page, not including the original post. The information went from a basic explanation of the crime to the mafia being behind all of the murders within hours on the first day of being posted. Over the years a few pictures were added, as well as how the case played into pop culture over the years. There seems to even be a song written about the case. Editors also began to list to victims and the suspects to the article. There also seems to be much more references used in the more recent years. This makes me a little happy for multiple reasons but mainly because other readers can at least look at these sources to find out information on their own.



The next page that I looked at was the “Zodiac Killer.” This case seems to be more popular within pop culture. I would say that most everyone has heard of the Zodiac Killer, even if it’s just the comparison between Zodiac and Ted Cruz.


Because of this popularity, I wanted to see if the edits on this page were any different than those on the Axeman page. At first glance on this page, everything seems wonderful. The page was started on June 30, 2003. There are over one hundred resources to go through as well as five primary sources (FBI documents) that viewers of this page can use for their own research. A few things that differ from the Axeman page are the logs of deletions. The Zodiac page show multiple deletions from recent years. There’s no way to tell if these deletions were good or bad though. The amounts of edits on the Zodiac page in 2007 is 1,798 compared to Axeman’s 32 edits in 2007. Obviously more people know about Zodiac which lead to all of the edits. Each amount has it’s pros and cons though. The more people editing, the bigger chance for a mistake. The smaller the amount of people editing, the less vetting of the information that is happening.

Wikipedia should NEVER be considered a scholarly source by ANYONE. Most people know this. One thing that is good is the sources that follow the articles. Sources allow people to investigate on their own. People should keep in mind while visiting any wiki page that the people behind the page’s content don’t always know what they are talking about or have the sources to prove what they are saying.



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I am a graduate student at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette studying Public History.

One thought on “Wikipedia….nuff said.”

  1. Beautifully written and illustrated Abbie! As you said, Wikipedia should never be used as a scholarly source but more of a starting point for researching sources. Along with the edits mentioned, it does bring up the question what exactly was deleted in the edits, given that anyone can change anything on Wikipedia (like what casehist451 showed in their findings that was on the wiki article Holocaust, the word “nazi” was changed to “german,” two totally different meanings and context to these words). As historians, seeing people in charge of history without a degree in what they are talking or writing about, makes one cringe in all the wrong things that might be done. As public historians (for me personally anyway) it’s nice to know that there are those out there that want to share knowledge (hopefully right as it can be) and are just as excited about history as us. For really, most of the world is going to learn history through these people on posts, comments, Wikipedia and what not before historians/public historians show or teach them. Which is why what was done in the articles by Causer and Wallace and Frankle (“Building a Volunteer Community” and “More Crowdsourced Scholarship”) having “fact checkers” with degrees go behind those that contributed to make sure what is going to be published online will be correct and not completely biased, is a good way to start this new digital history era.


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