Sunday, January 24, 2010

Wikipedia and the history of New England

In Hunter Valley calls for a Northern NSW New State I referred to a recent set of comments from the Hunter on the need to revive the New England New State Movement. In saying that I would respond to the comments, I meant in part that I would provide some basic history of the New England New State Movement. This is simply not available anywhere on line.

Remembering that what is not recorded and presented is forgotten, I want to use this post to make a few brief comments about the Wikipedia coverage of New England history.

Wikipedia is very important. For a very large number of people, Wikipedia is the first port of call. If you are not on Wikipedia, you do not exist.

The problem that then arises is that the Wikipedia coverage of New England and New England history is quite dreadful. To understand this, we need to look at the way Wikipedia operates.

Wikipedia depends on individuals putting up content on a voluntary basis. As content is posted, it is amended, extended, by others. Herein lies the problem.

Wikipedia is presently carrying out a strategic review. This is actually very important for all of us who use Wikipedia as a resource.

The statistical data collected as part of this review shows that the creation of Wikipedia has slowed down. Further, the loss of active editors (those who amend or create Wikipedia pages) is now getting close in numbers to the creation of new editors.

The problem is most acute for what we can think of the minority topics, the narrow slices, where content actually depends on a small number of people or even single individuals. Problems with whales attracts many, the entire sweep of New England history attracts few.

Fair enough, some might say. However, it means that the single most important source of on-line information about the history of specific areas such as New England is completely deficient.

As a blogger, I can and do put information up. However, if you do a web search on New England Australia Wikipedia comes in number one, this blog comes in number eight. Actually, that's not bad, but it still means that those interested in historical material will go to the Wikipedia page.

If you do go to the Wikipedia page, you will see that is focuses on the Tablelands or the New England North West. At one point, I did add some broader material, but it seems to have been edited out. You might think that there would instead be a section on Northern NSW - the area was called the North, Northern NSW or the Northern Districts before the name New England was adopted - but this does not exist.     

The only reference to Northern NSW is the separate Northern state soccer league, something I dealt with in Belshaw's World - Ampol, New States and Soccer. This article is a stub and is also, as I have just realised, factually incorrect. The league's coverage is not limited just to the north coast.

The New England page does contain a cross-link to the New England New State Movement. I edited this one to provide a better overview, but it is still very much a stub. Note, too, from the discussion page that the topic is rated as of low importance in terms of NSW or Australian history.

I plan to amend this page, but in doing so I face some major problems.

The first is that the Wikipedia pages do not allow original research. I have to link to already published stuff. I can do this - the references at the end of the page were added by me - but it is a limit where so much of the history including some of my own work is in thesis form. I also cannot use my blog writing as sources.

The second is that supporting pages that might add credibility but also, and more importantly, allow people to follow up do not exist.  Just to take two examples:

  • there is no page on Ulrich Ellis who was not just the Movement's Director in the last stage, but a historical writer, Page's private secretary and a Canberra self-government activist. The same holds true for most of the other figures in the movement. Those covered such as David Drummond are in the stub class.
  • not one of the Royal Commissions and Inquiries forced by the Movement at either state or federal level are mentioned anywhere, let alone have a page. The current Australian Republican Movement, in fact, seems to get more coverage than a hundred years of previous constitutional discussion.

It is not an easy thing to address this type of gap. I will try because it is important. But lord, the time involved!     


Le Loup said...

Thanks for the Wikipedia post Jim, much appreciated.
Regards, Le Loup.

Jim Belshaw said...

Thanks, LL. Will report progress.

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