But I Can’t Cite It?

Students have a secret– something that lurks in the shadows, a spectre that haunts all of our papers. Deny it all you want, but the truth remains . . . we use Wikipedia. We don’t care. We love it.

We use Wikipedia more than any scholarly source. We use Wikipedia more than we use the OED (blasphemy!). Guess what happens if we didn’t understand what you said about Nietzsche in class? Wikipedia. What if we didn’t quite finish off the that tome of a Victorian novel? Wikipedia.  What is the difference between metonymy and synecdoche? Wikipedia. Who is William Shakespeare, and why should I care? (Just kidding!) but if I didn’t know, I would go to the source of all knowledge: WIKIPEDIA.

All this to say, I think that our annotated version of The Tales of John Oliver Hobbes is actually remarkably useful, just like Wikipedia articles are useful.  Okay, so we don’t have PhDs, nor do we technically have our Masters degrees. But we are competent people! If we are capable of shaping the young, vulnerable minds of first year students as Teaching Assistants (too much credit?), then I think we are more than capable of linking to various words and phrases on the internet in order to elucidate a text.

The importance of our annotations is that we draw attention to words that you think know, but might not understand  within a Victorian context. Or maybe you don’t know a word, but you are too lazy to look it up yourself (don’t lie– we’ve all been there). The definition is at the bottom of the page, conveniently located to enlighten the reader. Of course, annotating is necessarily subjective, but that is not to say that our editorial choices don’t contribute to a more nuanced reading of the text.

Annotating was a good exercise for us because we were forced to consider words and objects outside of our contemporary cultural centre. Yes, we always consider books in relationship to the context in which they were written. However, words and details that may elude the modern mind remain unexplored as we leaf through the pages.  What is the history of the word “footman”? What precisely is a dowager and does she actually matter? These are words that we may take for granted, but when annotating we pay attention to them and we develop an understanding of history and language that was previously neglected.

My problem now is that I just want to cite Wikipedia. If the annotations in Wikisource are perhaps more conscientious than the ones found in a published book, then why must we feign distain for an incredibly useful resource?  I think its limiting to force both students and scholars into believing that Wikipedia is taboo in the academic sphere. Our annotated edition was compiled by students, and should be considered a valid source of information for other students and like-minded individuals.

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One Response to But I Can’t Cite It?

  1. laura.chapnick says:

    I think that Marge brings up some interesting points here. Nevertheless, if we are going to allow or even encourage students to use Wikipedia as a resource then they must be taught how to use it properly and discern the difference between reliable and unreliable sources. Subsequently, research tutorials given by librarians and professors would need to include a section on Wikipedia. With this in mind, introducing Wikipedia as an (at times) reliable resource could help students learn how to better evaluate sources as well.

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