History is a living, breathing thing. Historical interpretations change as new i

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History is a living, breathing thing. Historical interpretations change as new information emerges, new ideas are developed, and as contemporary events cause people to think of history in new ways.
Much like history itself, Wikipedia is an ever-evolving collection of information on almost every imaginable topic. Wikipedia is crowd-sourced, meaning that different people contribute material, and constantly revise, edit, add, and remove content, much the same way that historians revise the historical record. And, of course, on occasion, trolls edit Wikipedia pages to be funny, racist, etc.
Your task for this assignment is to research a Wikipedia page for a topic of your choosing (*see below for guidelines) and to describe how the record of that page has changed over time. You should aim to find larger trends, explain big changes (or series of changes), and try to offer explanation for those changes. Your essay should not be a description of a historical event/person, etc. as told by Wikipedia, nor should it simply be a list of individual revisions. It should instead seek to explain the “big picture” of how this particular page has changed over time. Imagine yourself knowing nothing about the topic and reading the Wikipedia page for the first time. And then imagine yourself reading the same Wikipedia page prior to significant edits. How might your (the reader’s) understanding of that topic be different based on which version of the page you read? Some questions to consider include:
What kind of material has been added/discarded? Are there common themes regarding these changes?
Are new interpretations (rather than simply fact) being offered in material that is being added/removed?
For factual edits, why might someone be including/removing that material? Could it advance (or counter) an historical interpretation that is not being explicitly advanced?
Do you see trends over time, where groups of chronological-similar edits differ markedly from a set of edits at a different period? – This might particularly be the case for a topic that has great significance/relevance today.
Your essay should be 800-1100 words (roughly 3 pages double-spaced). You should write your essay according to the MLA Style Guide. You will submit your essay via a dropbox on Canvas by the due date as outlined on the syllabus and Canvas schedule. It should be written in complete sentences, organized in paragraphs, with a clear introduction that clearly defines your thesis/argument. Your thesis should aim to distill all of the arguments you make throughout your paper into a single sentence or idea.
Documentation and Citations:
Your essay should be documented, where appropriate. This includes any quotations you decide to include (these should be used very sparingly) but also when you’re drawing on specific revisions to make a point. Citations should be in the form of footnotes or endnotes and should include the URL for the specific Wikipedia revision page you are referencing – you should not just cite the main Wikipedia page for that entry if you’re talking about a specific revision. For instructions on how to include footnotes/endnotes using your favorite word processor, refer to the help section within that program or a Google search. At the end of your essay, you should also include a full citation for the Wikipedia page you have written your essay on, rather than the revision pages you have cited throughout your essay.
I have included a screencast (video) on Canvas where I walk you through the process of looking at revisions for a Wikipedia page and explain some tricks on how to quickly figure out which revisions are most likely to be substantive. I also include advice, some of which I have repeated in this rubric. Please watch this video as you prepare to start your essay.
Choosing a Topic:
I want you to choose a topic that is interesting to you. The only limitations are that it needs to be related to US history some time during the period of our course (either US history up until 1877 for HIST 1301 or US history since 1865 for 1302). It need not be a specific topic that we discussed in our course. It need only be related to American history during the time of our course. For example, you might write your essay on a Wikipedia page addressing women’s fashion trends in early America. Find something you’re passionate about and write on that.
A few pieces of advice on choosing a topic, however, as much of the work for this essay will be in finding a good topic:
I would avoid too broad of a topic, as these sorts of topics will likely have an unmanageable number of revisions and the pages themselves will be very long, making it difficult for you to keep track of how revisions change the overall shape of the Wikipedia page.
I would try to keep an open mind – you may have a topic that is very interesting to you and you’re very passionate about, that simply doesn’t have a sufficient number of revisions or interesting enough revisions to write a good paper. If you find that to be the case, move on to another topic idea. Don’t try to force a paper where there isn’t one.
If you’re having trouble finding a topic with meaningful revisions, try to think of a historical topic that has a lot of relevance today – past pandemics or Presidential impeachments come to mind, for example.
What Revisions are useful?
As your goal for the essay is to look at ways in which the revisions change a reader’s understanding of a topic, there are certain types of revisions you should mostly ignore: copy edits, formatting and stylistic changes, as well as things like revising dead links/citations. While these revisions are very important to keeping Wikipedia working well, they probably aren’t important for our purposes.
Scholastic Dishonesty
Please familiarize yourself with the stated syllabus policy regarding scholastic dishonesty. Except where stated in the assignment, you should follow MLA for all expectations regarding citations, references, quoting requirements, and other issues of proper source attribution. Students who I believe are guilty of scholastic dishonesty will be referred to the Dean of Students Office, who will determine if the student is guilty. If so, the student will receive a 0 on the assignment with no opportunity for replacing the grade. This includes using any source other than Wikipedia (who would have guessed a Professor would write that!). If you have any questions regarding what constitutes scholastic dishonesty, please ask me prior to submitting your essay.
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