“The Iraq War: A Historiography of Wikipedia Changelogs” is a twelve-volumes book. It contains all the changes to the Wikipedia article on the Iraq War. The twelve volumes cover a five year period from December 2004 to November 2009, a total of 12,000 changes and almost 7,000 pages.
It contains every change, from small typo fixing, to important changes up to vandalism edits such as when someone erases the whole article and just writes “Saddam Hussein was a dickhead”.
The author, James Bridle, explains on his blog that:
In a world obsessed with “facts”, a more nuanced comprehension of historical process would enable us to better weigh truth, whether it concerns the evidence for going to war, the proliferation of damaging conspiracy theories, the polarisation of debate on climate change, or so many other issues. This sounds utopian, and it is. But I do believe that we’re building systems that allow us to do this better, and one of our responsibilities should be to design and architect those systems to make this explicit, and to educate.
One of the ways to do this might be to talk more not only about history, but about historiography. History not as a set of facts, but as a process, and one in which, whether we agree or not with the writers, our own opinions and biases are always to be challenged.
Wikipedia (…) is not only a resource for collating all human knowledge, but a framework for understanding how that knowledge came to be and to be understood; what was allowed to stand and what was not; what we agree on, and what we cannot.
As is my wont, I made a book to illustrate this. Physical objects are useful props in debates like this: immediately illustrative, and useful to hang an argument and peoples’ attention on.
and concludes with
And for the first time in history, we’re building a system that, perhaps only for a brief time but certainly for the moment, is capable of recording every single one of those infinitely valuable pieces of information. Everything should have a history button. We need to talk about historiography, to surface this process, to challenge absolutist narratives of the past, and thus, those of the present and our future.
George Orwell said “He who controls the present, controls the past. He who controls the past, controls the future.” Now, for the first time in history, we have the possibility of controlling present, past and future together, thanks to Wikipedia.
(Credits: I discovered the project via an email by Dror Kamir in the very interesting mailing list of Critical Point of View (CPOV) Wikipedia Research Initiative (Critical Point Of View is a clever play with one of the pillar of Wikipedia that is Neutral Point Of View)
Two images (released under Creative Commons) of the book:
And the entire slideshow:
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