Historians of Science on Wikipedia

The search results with the User: pages on Wikipedia turn up a fair number of historians of science, mostly graduate students and professors (and there are probably more who don’t mention their field on user pages). Check it:

Neale Monks

On a related note, I’m starting a WikiProject for history of science. If you’re a Wikipedian (or would like to become one), you should join it.

Wikipedia in the classroom

It looks like I’m not the first one to think of assigning students to edit Wikipedia articles (not that I actually thought I was). T. Mills Kelly at George Mason University reports on his experiments with using Wikipedia assignments (and his experience of receiving papers bases primarily on Wikipedia sources). However, Kelly researches “the influence of digital media on student learning in history,” so (ironically) it’s not just being used for pedagogical purposes in this case.

I’m not sure how much say I’ll have when I’m a TA next year, but I’m going to start my Wikipedia assignments then if I can get away with it.

knowledge wants to be anthropomorphized

Nature has an article comparing Wikipedia to Encyclopaedia Britannica. It focuses on science articles, but the results are great news for fans the Wiki concept in general and the whole “knowledge wants to be free” crowd.

Wikipedia is only marginally more inaccurate Britannica, at least for science-related articles. Not surprisingly, the most error-filled articles were the history of science ones; after all, history of science is much more cognitively sophisticated and complex than science itself.

(I say that only half-jokingly. Recovering the complexities of past knowledge is quite a bit harder than finding the current scientific version. However, the history of science articles were biographical, so factual errors and mistatements were mainly the issue.)

Then again, when you have Michael Gordin reviewing Mendeleev articles, he’s bound to be able to find errors in just about anything not written by him. I have his Mendeleev book (and it’s excellent); I wish I had time to go through it again to fix the article, as there aren’t many historians of science editing Wikipedia.

Fellow STS blogger Joseph Reagle has a nice graphic in his post about the WikiBedia/Encyclopaedia Britannica comparison.

Maupertuis on Wikipedia

I finally finished Mary Terrall’s marvelous “The Man Who Flattened the Earth,” a biography of Pierre-Louis Moreau de Maupertuis. Anyone who has read even a small part of that book could verify how bad the old wikipedia entry was. I’ve taken the liberty of making some improvements, although it could still use some work.

Meanwhile, school starts up for me next Wednesday. I’m still not totally sure what classes I’ll be taking, but the frontrunners are:

  1. Narrative and Other Histories – John Demos. I’m fairly sure I’ll take this, as I’ve heard great things about it.
  2. Fabrication and Uses of Knowledge – Ulrich Schreiterer. A sociology of knowledge class would be great, but I’m not sure how undergrad-oriented it is.
  3. Intro to History of Medicine and Public Health – John Warner. All the people in my year were supposed to take this last year, but Warner taught “Grounding of Modern Medicine” instead. This one will have all the new first-years and should be fun, but I’m not certain he wants people who took the other class last year to take this.
  4. Science, Technology and Modernity – Ole Molvig. This is a research seminar and Ole says it worked well with two grad students and the rest undergrads last year, where the grad students helped push the class along. The topic is something historical on the interaction of people with some concrete aspect of science and/or technology.
  5. Political Economy of Nature – Steven Stoll. This class is cross-listed History and Forestry & Environmental Studies, and it deals with the foundations of political economy and the historical ways nations have dealt with resources.

I’d like to take the top three, but I might have to take one of the last two to fulfill a research requirement. Actually, if I could manage all of the top 4 that would be great. If I could audit John Warner’s class and take all the others but the last that might work.

Also on the radar for sitting in but not actually enrolling for credit are:

  • Archeaometallurgy
  • Nicholas of Cusa and Alberti
  • Introduction to Geochemistry
  • Humans and Animals since Darwin
  • Economic Sociology