Remember the War: A Website Review

Like Eva, I found it quite difficult to find a ‘historical’ website, since we are inundated with a plethora to choose from, all of varying qualities and purposes. However, thanks to Liz and her recommendation of StumbleUpon, I came across (or is ‘stumbled upon’ more apropos?) Remember the War, a site that, according to its official Facebook page, allows an audience to ‘experience the history of World War II Britain in a whole new way.’ 

Launched for Remembrance Day of 2011 as a tribute to those who ‘died, suffered, and survived,’ the site is basically a timeline that marks the major events of World War II, while taking special note of British contributions, and one simply navigates seamlessly from one event/page to the next with the click of an arrow. While this hardly seems innovative, its visual appeal and integrated use of archival media footage makes this site particularly interesting. The site itself is nicely and neatly designed for the most part, while the multimedia elements are cleanly integrated into any given page. Each event is clearly noted along with the necessary dates, along with other tidbits of information where necessary, all corresponding to, at the very least, a photograph that depicts the event at hand. The site makes good use of radio recordings and film footage, and coupled with the chosen visual representations, is able to bring history to life. For me, the site does a wonderful job of appealing to the sensory perceptions.

However, there are a number of problems that I encountered when evaluating it from a historical viewpoint. First, there are no external references to any of the events in question, which brings up some questions for me, namely the accuracy of the facts being presented, and, assuming that such facts are sound, how familiar an audience has to be with the events to take the facts as truth – are these events general knowledge, or would they only be general knowledge for someone who has prior or extensive knowledge of British history, or the role that Britain played in WWII?

As well, in looking at the creators of the site, I discovered that they are web designers, which brings to mind the heart of the readings of the past two weeks, namely to whom does authoritative retelling of historical accounts belong to, and specifically Carr’s reading and The Valour and the Horror. As web designers, would their account of history hold the same weight as an account told by a professional historian? Also, in creating a site that is meant as a tribute to those who were involved in some way with the war, how much of this account is a glorification of valiant efforts in a specific way, and with a specific audience in mind?

Finally, although I loved the archival footage, I found myself wanting to know where such sources came from, and was unable to find any credits, which gives rise to the question of copyright and accessibility. It would be great to incorporate archival footage into our final projects, especially any aural or video media. However, if such materials don’t exist in the public domain, are they easily accessible? And even if it were the case that sources came from a private collection, credit has to given where it’s due.

While I doubt that I would be able to create a site that’s nearly as visually appealing or technologically savvy, the site highlighted to me that visual presentation, amongst other factors, is key. In making a clean website, the creators did much to whet my appetite, and further engage me in their project, especially since I had no idea what site to review when I first started. And perhaps, in presenting the historical events as they did, with more emphasis on the presentation of multimedia, the creators allow the audience to let the archives speak for themselves, creating a greater chance for critical evaluation, albiet outside of the scope of the site itself.

 

STA#1 – Wikipedia

Being a second generation kid, I grew up immersed in the Canadian history that was taught to us in school, and the Philippine history that I learned from my family. As such, I decided to look at the Suez Crisis and the Marcos Administration.

I found that the Suez Crisis article succeeded in its attempt to bring the events to life, reading more like a narrative than a dry text, enticing and engaging the reader, though it may be contested whether such a style of writing falls under the Wikipedian mandate of unbiased information. What surprised me was the great detail that went into its writing – the final note count numbered 369, not including references or external links. The external links also contained a number of media links, which I found to be promising, but was ultimately disappointed upon finding out that as of December 2009, they have ceased to work. As well, in looking at the notes, there are certain sections that are heavily reliant on one or two sources, which suggests two things to me: 1) Any biases the author of the source might have may be reiterated in an article that’s meant for public consumption; and 2) Issues of plagiarism may arise, even if done so inadvertently, or with the best of intentions behind it.

The fact that the Marcos Administration article started off with the dreaded ‘needs additional citations’ disclaimer suggested that I was going to be somewhat disappointed. On the one hand, the article did lay out the facts more in the traditional encyclopaedic style. However, the lack of notes, references, and external links (the total of which combined numbers eight) may bring into question how much of this information is assumed to be general knowledge, and whether it can actually be trusted. Another point I noted was the fact that this article was relatively short for one that discusses over 20 years’ worth of history, especially in comparison to the length of the Suez Crisis article, as well as the duration of the crisis itself.

After consulting the talk and the edit pages for both Suez and Marcos, I found several main points to consider in determining whether a Wikipedia article can be deemed successful. The first is whether there are the materials readily available to consult and share. There are far more articles and written or media resources on the Suez Crisis than there are for any component written about in the Marcos Administration article, and aside from the heavily reliance on a few resources in Suez, there are enough external articles that can be looked at if one wanted to do further research.

The second point I noted was that the success of Suez was also due in part that there has been ongoing discussion of the article since it was first written. The earliest date given for the Suez Crisis is 2002, and although there haven’t been minute-by-minute changes, as might be the case for more popular articles/subjects, the fact that there have been changes each year suggests that there has been enough interest in the article to ensure that academic merit remains inherent. In the case of the Marcos Administration article, which dates back to 2007, there hasn’t been the same monitoring found in Suez, which may be related to the earlier point of available resources to write a comprehensive article.

However, this leads me to a third observation that may be considered more ominous about Wikipedia as a ‘”multilingual encyclopedia of the highest quality,”’ and that is the fact that there may be a bias towards events that have affected the western world, and perhaps not as much emphasis on events outside of this. This may again be due in part to available resources for a given topic, but if there simply isn’t the interest in a given topic, as seems to be the case for the Marcos Administration, then whatever information is given on Wikipedia is subject to non-questioning, that is to say that it simply remains as is. As well, I was also a little disappointed to see that even though there are quite a number of languages represented, thus substantiating the claim to be multilingual, there actually wasn’t one for Tagalog (Filipino), which I imagine may discourage people, in this case Filipinos, from contributing to the article.

STA # 1: Learning about WIkipedia

The articles I choose for this assignment were the ones on Franklin D. Roosevelt and Pierre Corneille. The first part of this assignment will consist of my assessment of what qualities make the FDR article better than the one on Pierre Corneille. The second part will explain my reasons why these qualities seem to be and involves. However, while I will be labeling these articles “good” and “lousy” that does not necessarily make them so. As Wikipedia states, “…encyclopedia articles focus on factual information to cover the thing or concept for which the article name stands.” Therefore I have based this assessment on their ability to provide information on their topic to the viewer.

Part 1: What aspects makes an article better then another?

One aspect that makes the article on FDR better than the one on Pierre Corneille is the amount of information present on the FDR article. As viewers look upon the FDR article they are treated to information ranging from his personal life such as how he became a paralytic, his affair with Lucy Mercer,  as well as information about his political life such as the formation of the “New Deal” and his Foreign policy before and during the Second World War. Pierre Corneille’s article on the other hand does not share this abundance of information. Viewers only have access to basic information such as were he was born, information on his most famous play du Cid, and a list of his other work. Viewers have access to only bibliographical information while the FDR article provides a huge cashe of information about not only his personal life, but on other things such as his policies and ideals. This in my assessment makes Cornellie’s article “lousy” and FDR’s article “good”.

Another aspect that makes the FDR article better then the Pierre Corneille one is that the FDR article is that it is able to provide the viewer with information without having to actually read the article. This is primarily due to the amount of visual and audio media that the article displays. Readers are able to gain a personal sense of the 32nd president by looking at his pictures, seeing who he was affiliated with, and by listening to the speeches he had made. Immediately a viewer gains a sense of importance that FDR had during his time.

They gain a sense of his political values while listening to his “fear itself speech” showcasing the type situation that FDR had to deal with during the depression. They also give the viewer a sense of the relationships he harbored with other political figures of the time, such as Stalin and Churchill. Without reading the article, the Viewer is able to gain some knowledge about FDR.

The Pierre Corneille article on the other hand does not give the reader as much information as the FDR article does. While it does contain images of the posters for his plays the viewer does not get any information which this man is without reading the body of text associated with them. On top of that, the visual media that is provided does not give the viewer a personal connection to Pierre Corneille thereby making it a “lousy article”.

Part 2: Developed or Underdeveloped

Upon looking over the talk section for both articles it becomes clear why one can be deemed “good” and the other one lousy. In FDR’s article, the talk section is filled with concerns about the how the article can be improved or mistakes that other users have found in the article. For example, one user caught an error in the article in the fourth paragraph were it says “Roosevelt dominated the American political scene, not only during the twelve years of his presidency, but for decades afterward.” But as the user states this does not make sense because Roosevelt died during the course of the war. Another user notes that on the map that shows where FDR visited during his presidency, the map missed out on marking the Crimean Peninsula. This mistake was actually corrected and the map now highlights this area. In contrast, Pierre Corneille’s talk section only has one section where one user calls for a correction in the date that Le Cid was first performed.

This is similar when one looks at the edit history section for both articles. FDR’s article has more edits then Corneille’s, which suggests that there is a more active user base working on the FDR article then the other. It seems as if that the more people who are able to provide insight and knowledge on a topic the “better” the article will become. This is most likely due to the fact that FDR is more renowned then Pierre Corneille. People have more of an interest in him, thus there is a lot more time and effort put into FDR’s article then Corneille’s. When you look at other articles on Wikipedia the most well known ones seem to be more developed then the articles which are not as well known.

STA 01 – Wikipedia

The article, The Upper Canada Guardian, demonstrates a Wikipedia article that illustrates the importance the site can have in understanding and acquiring historical information.  This article is heavily sourced, using a wide range of sources, using both primary and secondary sources.  Important information from primary sources are paraphrased onto the article for readers to benefit from and links readers to places where they can view entire segments of the newspaper (The Upper Canadian Guardian is a newspaper) online.  All the basic information is addressed in the beginning of the article to familiarize the reader with the topic and subheadings are used to organize the rest of the article, making it easy to find information.

On the other hand, the article The Haitian Revolution, is an example of how some Wikipedia sources can be of poor quality, despite the heavy traffic the page may receive.  The page is riddled with citation needed requests and information that is unverifiable.  Statements often assert things and then subtly imply something different and not enough links to relevant articles are used. Additionally, despite the wide range of sources many are used twice, and not enough are used to support such a large article.

Looking at the edit history I found something I did not expect.  The Haitian Revolution article had numerous changes made to it from various contributors. Many of these contributions were redactions and changes to vital information. The article for the Upper Canadian Guardian had very few contributors, some of who were repeat visitors and each seemed to have a lot to offer the page.  The changes made to this page despite its age were few and far between and some of the changes were just changes to the coding, fine tuning the presentation of the information.

The insight this gave me was that articles of a broader topic were more likely to have higher traffic in information.  While this allowed many public historians to share their viewpoints on the subject at hand it undermined the credibility of the information.  This is because many of these contributors neglected to source their information.  Wikipedia does not have time to investigate every single claim on their website, and it seems that many of the changes made are the result of competition between users, not the legitimate sharing of information.  These pages appear to nurture the fierce competitive nature between users and fail to look at the quality of the page.

Lower traffic pages such as The Upper Canada Guardian found less users contributing information but this increased the quality of the contribution.  The more specific a page becomes on a topic, the higher the chance that the contributors have a vested interest in the subject.  These contributors tend to be authorities on the subject and thus have more meaningful sources to share and can provide more valuable information.  Additionally, rather than squabbles over what was on the page and redacting other users contributions the history and discussion shows users working together on this page to provide the best quality information possible.  The broader implication of the Wikipedia Project is that there is a divide in the community based on intelligence.  Intelligent users and subdivided into their specialities and tend to focus on the content of their pages.  Meanwhile, general users focus on broader pages and make changes based on petty grievances with other users in between looking at pictures of the Willy Wonka meme.