Connecting our audience with the past: Wikipedia and Flickr

Wikipedia:

Wikipedia is a free, open-access, online encyclopedia. We all have used Wikipedia before, whether to read about the cast members of a Netflix show we recently binged, or to learn more about an obscure historical event — but how much thought have we put into the background of it and how it works?

As Roy Rosenzweig wrote in the article, “Can History Be Open Source? Wikipedia and the Future of the Past” Wikipedia is constantly changing and adapting, while also running into some drawbacks, including the difficulty of historians collaborating on writing/editing entries. Rosenzweig states, “The lack of a single author or an overall editor means that Wikipedia sometimes gets things wrong in one place and right in another.” (128)

The first example I want to take a look at is a Wikipedia page. There are many different tabs that one could explore. The “Talk” tab opens to a page where the editors of a page can discuss improving the article page.

This page lists information and guidelines for the user. Another tab is the “Edit” tab, which takes you directly to the coding of the page, where you can edit and then submit to be reviewed. An important tab I’d like to focus on is the tab, “View history”

The tab “View history” details every change made to the Wikipedia article. The top of the page offers a key to help the user understand the changes that were made. For example, “m” equals a minor edit, which is visible on the edit that was made on January 30, 2021. This article is relatively active with the changes made to it, as already in 2021 there were edits to the page almost every day.

In digital history, Wikipedia can be an important resource, as long as we understand how to read articles effectively. Although written fifteen years ago, Rosenzweig’s article offers valuable insight on knowing when it is useful to use Wikipedia.

Flickr:

Flickr is a website that hosts images and videos uploaded by users. I created a free account, where you are able to write a bio, follow accounts, upload your own media, favorite images, and even create your own galleries showcasing media you come across.

Searching is relatively easy on this platform. To continue with my Watergate theme, I searched Richard Nixon. There are many ways to refine the search, and I left open the tab to refine search by license. This is important in a website like this, as copyright restrictions are necessary to understand and use in our practice of digital history. The U.S. Department of State even has a Flickr account that is regularly updated, as these images were taken and uploaded on February 5, 2021.

An important feature of Flickr is the Flickr Commons. According to the main page, “The key goal of The Commons is to share hidden treasures from the world’s public photography archives.” Flickr is utilizing its platform in collaboration with archives to help increase the accessibility of photographs. This is important, as it allows the public to not only view these images, but to interact and contribute knowledge to them as well.

I grew up going to The Field Museum in Chicago, Illinois, and I was excited when I saw they were a “Participating Institution” while exploring the Flickr Commons. They have a plethora of images viewable by the public and the screenshot is open to view some of their albums.

This is an example of an album titled, “Early Field Museum (1919-1922)”.

As digital historians, it is important to know that these resources like Wikipedia and Flickr exist, and how to properly use them. I hope this overview is a good introduction to these not only as we have known them, but as valuable tools as we continue to learn and become professionals in the field. I’m looking forward to taking you through these in class next Wednesday.

2 Replies to “Connecting our audience with the past: Wikipedia and Flickr”

  1. Hi Ellie! Thanks for these demos of Wikipedia and Flickr. I’m sure like many others, I am pretty familiar with Wikipedia, but I am not familiar with Flickr. I’ve heard the name but never explored the site itself. I am curious how you think Flickr may be most useful for public historians engaging in digital history? I really like the idea of having a place to explore images on one subject and from various archives. I’m thinking of it as almost working backwards, like searching Richard Nixon and finding an archive that holds images of him, vs. searching that archive to then search for images. Do you think most people use Flickr to search archival photographs or to upload their own media? I’m almost thinking of Flickr as a cross between an archive, Pinterest and something like VSCO or instagram? Is this correct or is there something I’m missing?

    1. Hi Rosie,

      Thanks for your response. I think for the general user of Flickr, it is a photo sharing site for their own images, and to look for others in their community. However, I still think it has the opportunity to expose these users to historical images from institutions and elsewhere, with necessary context or further information on how to learn more. As digital historians, I think it is useful, especially in the Flickr Commons, as it offers one place to easily search for archival images — rather than having to go to each separate archive to search their digitized collections. I think it is its own thing, separate of any of the social media sites listed, as it seems to have a unique community of users. It seems to be a platform that can be used for fun and personal exposure, but also a place where people want to share their images with others (see licensing), and can be used for digital history. It is a platform I am definitely still figuring out!

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