Journalist publishes the 12,000th draft of history


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A tech writer has put together a five-year history of the Iraq war. But James Bridle’s publication does not cover the military conflict: instead it’s a complete record of the Wikipedia page on the topic.

The idea of the project, which Bridle describes as a “historiography”, is to highlight the effects caused by the fact that live web pages can be edited over time, unlike printed materials. Speaking at a design and creativity conference recently he argued that writing and editing of web pages is as much a story as the final page itself.

Wikipedia was the ideal source for such a demonstration as, unlike most sites, it has an accessible complete history of every revision. In this case, there are 12,000 changes which, printed out, make almost 7,000 pages: enough for a twelve-volume set resembling an encyclopedia. (The set isn’t for sale and was used merely as a physical prop.)

Being a complete history, the project doesn’t make value judgments: it covers everything from thoughtful debate about the precise way to word the record of events with disputed accounts to, well, edits such as this:

According to Bridle, Wikipedia acts as a subset of the entire Internet, which in turn is a subset of human culture. He argues that the format of Wikipedia means its shouldn’t be seen as merely a collection of information, but also an insight into the process by which information is collected, verified, disputed and refined. He also puts the case that we should do more to look beyond the mere “facts” of history and discover the viewpoints and debates that led to facts becoming established as the “true” account.

(Images credit: James Bridle via Flickr)





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