College Archivist Sylvia Kennick Brown comments:

You’re one of a number of alumni who are dedicated enough to research aspects of Williams’ history and write up findings. Many alums work directly with the Archives to access the variety of documents among our holdings. Publication methods are various: Russ Carpenter just had his Field family research published in the Alumni review; another alum is working on the background history of some of the College songs and may be posting in our Williams History web section.

We were contacted this past year by the organizer of Willipedia about a Williams history section there also. I urged him to copy any of our historical essays that he thought might be of initial interest. What I realized, in thinking through Willipedia issues, was that our staff in the Archives was not going to have the time to fact-check all Willipedia entries and make comments. Thus we saw merit in keeping our History web site, since those essays have developed here and been double-checked for accuracy by our staff. In the end, it probably is good to have the two areas that can link back and forth to each other.

We’re in the process of a re-design of the entire Archives’ site/presence, and many changes are waiting in the wings. Among them, of course, are links to the Willipedia and online theses, as well as loading of a cache of essays that we’ve been working on for the past year or so. So stay tuned.

Great stuff! It has been a pleasure to work with Sylvia (and with Linda Hall and David Pilachowski) on a variety of historical projects over the years.

However, I think that Sylvia is wrong, both about what the future of Williams history should be and about what it will be. Currently, there are three main locations for Williams history on the web.

First are the various official sites, which I have tried to summarize. These are worthwhile and professional efforts, but they are hermeneutically sealed from the outside world. There is no easy way for outside amateurs (like me) or experts (like Russ Carpenter ’58 (pdf)) to easily fix and improve these articles.

Second is Willipedia’s history category. Although I like Willipedia and wish it well, I worry about its staying power. Is anyone still working on it? Does anyone care that alums like me still can’t contribute? I have done more than my fair share, but I just don’t see Willipedia as the future.

Third is Wikipedia. I just created a category for all the Williams College related articles. There isn’t much there now, but anyone who pays attention to Wikipedia can see that the future lies in this direction. I’ll soon be porting over all my fraternity related work to Wikipedia as well as adding other material. In the not too distant future, historians of Williams who want their work to be read and noticed will be sure that it ends up in Wikipedia.

What should happen? All Williams history efforts should be devoted to Wikipedia. Instead of our hidden history of Williams presidents, we should create a Wikipedia version. Other people will contribute; more readers will find it; the world will be a better place.

Will that happen anytime soon? Probably not. The College, like every organization, wants to maintain control of its history, wants to tell its story to the world in its own way. The last thing that Sylvia wants to do is have a Wikipedia WatchList with dozens of entries that she needs to monitor every day.

But it will happen. Wikipedia is the future of history. Get on-board now.

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