The Boing Boing post “19th c. book: Geography for Dixie Children” from Documenting the American South
got a lot of quick attention. It should have. The book is raw history, reflecting the mind of the South. And that mind was not so pretty in today’s light. BB has excerpts (see link above) or go directly to the item at DocSouth (hosted by ibiblio). I sent Xeni a note about the context and a reference to a contemporary echo in Cary that she added to the posting. I’ve included that below.
The textbook, Dixie Children, was printed to provide “education” during the Civil War. UNC holds a lot of material from that period. People who read it are outraged. They should be. These texts are evidence of what the war was all about and of the thinking of the Confederate elite.
At a time when a church school in Cary (just beside Raleigh where the 1863 book was published) is teaching from a pamphlet titled “Southern Slavery: As It Was” which tells us that “slavery was a relationship based upon mutual affection and confidence”, we need to blunt force of historical evidence to impell us to face the sad facts.
See this earlier posting on the Cary school slave pamphlet.
The contemporary authors have tried to hide their book but Amazon’s “search inside” feature lets you know what’s in it.
Just took a phone call from a Daily Tar Heel reporter, Kyle Chorpening, who is doing a story on Wikipedia and the Seigenthaler issue. He had already spoken to Seigenthaler and to Jimmy Wales before calling me. What the heck could I add after that?
Well, maybe a pointer to the video of Jimbo’s talk here at UNC in October and some talk about owning your own words harking back to the WELL and over to Brin’s Transparent Society as a tension point with the American history of anonymous pamphleteering going back beyond the Federalist Papers. A brief mention of the Hitchhiker’s Guide site at BBC as a peer-reviewed encyclopedia too.
My take is that wikipedia is in process. It will change to meet challenges and it has already begun some changes to address problems such as this one. A year ago, Wikipedia was less good than it is today. In five years, it –or it’s online successor– will be much better.
Kyle also asked if I would accept wikipedia as a source in a paper. The answer is that academic papers should use primary sources, not encyclopedias, not Britanica, not World Book, not wikipedia. Wikipedia is a great starting point and often points to primary sources. In that way, it’s great. I would even accept wikipedia as a source for one of several definitions, but not as a major source. Not because of reliability but because good research should go to the source whenever possible.
UPDATE: Kyle’s article is here. I get the last words, but not (appropriately) the most words ;->
Paul Jones, a journalism professor at UNC, said people should be held accountable for content but can’t reasonably be restricted from publishing it.
“What are you going to do? Make people get an Internet driver’s license?” he said.
As Wikipedia has grown in popularity and reliability, students often are using it as a source for research, especially for term papers.
“I use it for general ideas, but not for specifics,” said freshman Russell Johnson. “It gives me a comfortable understanding of the topic.”
Jones said Wikipedia is useful for directing students to good information but should complement other sources.
“Last semester, I returned a paper that was comprised almost solely of Wikipedia entries,” he said. “I think by the time you’re in college, you should be using primary sources.”