Saturday, September 3, 2011

Wikipedia - 1, TEAMS - 0

     Whenever I had an undergraduate essay to write, every professor has said 'No Wikipedia'.  In spite of the excellence of many of the entries on Wikipedia, one would be seriously shamed to admit to have looked at Wikipedia.  In spite of that, any of my fellow graduate students that I have spoke with on the subject have admitted to using Wikipedia as a starting point for its excellent links, etc.. Only books put out by university presses and scholarly articles in peer reviewed journals can be cited safely. They are considered to be far more accurate than the information on Wikipedia.
     The books published by TEAMS, a group which includes the University of Rochester and University of Michigan(hosts of Kalamazoo, the biggest academic Medieval conference in North America), are among those books which would be considered suitable.  In fact, I had been assigned their copy of The Pearl and Gawain for one class.  One should be able to trust the info one would find in an introduction to one of their books, so I was surprised to read this line in their 'General Introduction' to Robin Hood and Other Outlaw Tales "There is the hero himself, banished and outlawed at age eighteen, by King William I" about Hereward the Wake.  I have read Gesta Herewardi in Latin.  I wrote a paper last year for a graduate course on him.  Hereward was banished by Edward the Confessor long before the Norman Conquest took place.  Wikipedia got it right.

   "According to the Gesta Herwardi, Hereward was exiled at the age of eighteen for disobedience to his father and disruptive behaviour, and he was declared an outlaw by Edward the Confessor. It has been suggested that, at the time of the Norman invasion of England, he was in exile in Europe, working as a successful mercenary for the Count of FlandersBaldwin V, and that he then returned to England."

According to a really enjoyable paper written by Elisabeth Van Houts called "Hereward and Flanders" published in the Cambridge journals, there is some evidence that Hereward may indeed have been a mercenary in Flanders while the Conquest was underway, including an Hereward witnessing a cathedral charter. Well, chalk one up for Wiki. Maybe.
      Unfortunately, the Wiki article goes on to say "Geoffrey Gaimar, in his Estoire des Engleis, says instead that Hereward lived for some time as an outlaw in the Fens, but as he was on the verge of making peace with William, he was set upon and killed by a group of Norman knights". I have read Gaimar too.  Hereward did make peace with William in his account and was fighting at Le Mans as William's man but he was killed by jealous Normans because Hereward was so awesome they could not stand it. Plus, in the Gesta, Hereward killed a prominent Norman - Frederick de Warenne - and this could have been a source for the abiding hatred the Norman nobles had for him.
      Point being, Wikipedia is not so bad, books, even peer reviewed ones, occasionally carry mistakes.  Trust only the Red Witch, she is never wrong. :) And hopefully someone at TEAMS has spotted the error and corrected it for print editions even if they have not updated the website.


Tracy said...

I can understand the 'No Wikipedia' rule - they have it at my kids' school, too (though that doesn't stop mine from heading straight to it as the first stopoff) I think, that as a first source, it's very good. There was a study done a couple of years ago, comparing the accuracy of Wiki with that of Encyclopedia Britannica - they were about equal.

As with everything, no matter what the source, typos and errors can always creep in.

Anachronist said...

"No Wikipedia" rule is one big simplification and I am against it. I know it is easier to say simply "no Wikipedia" to your students than to explain how to evaluate a source and how to follow links. Believe me, there are plenty of worse pseudoscientific sites on the Internet than the Wikipedia; at least the Wiki team supervises most of the entries and allow outside people to correct them. Of course you should always be careful even when dealing with primary sources.

The Red Witch said...

Primary sources are full of prejudices and rumour. One definitly has to consider how reliable is the author and even the reliable ones succumb to bias like Gregory of Tours' lies about Amalasuentha or Procopius's Secret History.

Anachronist said...

Primary sources are full of prejudices and rumour.

Exactly. An author is also a human being and all human beings can and are influenced by their upbringing, personal likes and dislikes and such. Moreover in the Middle Ages there was no such notion as "an unbiased scientist" or "an unbiased historian". If you don't take it into account you might make a huge mistake.

Kristin said...

I think it's fine for a starting point. Their cite lists are pretty extensive in themselves and can lead you to lots of other good sources.

The Red Witch said...

It would be nice to be able to credit them or even quote them sometimes when they have a statement that can't be improved upon.