Wikipedia and history: a worthwhile partnership in the digital era?

It is hard to ignore the changes that have occurred to history-making in the digital age. Historians in the academy have observed, critiqued and, in some instances, engaged in the different forms of contemporary history that are related to the integration of the internet and related technologies into everyday lives. While digital history takes many forms, this paper examines Wikipedia as a mode of historical expression in the context of a project on the history of the Australian Paralympic Movement. Wikipedia’s key core content policies of verification, no original research, and neutral point of view (NPOV) as well as the collaborative premise that underpins the online encyclopaedia are the focal points of analysis. This analysis demonstrates that Wikipedia challenges historians who have traditionally produced the professionally approved artefacts of monographs and journal articles. In essence, Wikipedia requires historians to produce knowledge as part of a collaborative community of practice and, in the process, abandon popular theories of truth that underpin empirical-analytical history. Even given these challenges, the history of the Australian Paralympic Movement shows that Wikipedia can be important to history-making in the digital age in at least two ways. Wikipedia provides a mode of historical expression that is complementary to the narratives of traditional books, and the online encyclopaedia generates a community which has produced articles that have enhanced knowledge about the history of disability sport.