The Inﬁnite Palimpsest
Liam Wyatt / @Wittylama
University of Sydney
Who are these women;
and why are they important to Wikimedia?
That which was overwritten is
just as important - if not more
so - than that which is kept.
What was discarded can be
Novgorod Codex - the only
known “hyper palimpsest”
This is not about how to use [read] Wikipedia in the
classroom; how to be a user [editor]; or how to use
This presentation talks about Wikipedia as a historical
record in its own right and therefore how it might be
legitimately used as a primary source.
NPOV; V; NOR
Without these three pillars,
Wikipedia would not be of any use
to historical research.
With them, Wikipedia is a
compendium of information -
created by the world in real time - of
It is “the people” consciously
attempting to dispassionately write
their own story.
Given an sufﬁcient amount of
server space and the commitment
to maintain it, a resource already
exists that may not only sound the
death knell of archaeology but also
the opportunity to enable a greater
depth and sophistication of
anthropology than has ever existed
before. So radical an innovation
would this new anthropological
methodology represent that it
deserves its own name.
Call it Wikipediology.
- Andrew Updergrove, The
Wikipedia and the death of
4 types of primary sources
More than just “Recentism",
But not quite “historical POV”.
The ‘diff’ is more
“Australasia - Natives: The natives, wherever they have been met
with, are of the very lowest description of human
beings...” Encyclopædia Britannica 1842:208.
“Australia - Aborigines: The origin of the natives of Australia
presents a difﬁcult problem. The chief difﬁculty in deciding their
ethnical relations is their remarkable physical difference from the
neighbouring peoples…” 1911:954
“Indigenous Australians: The Australian Aborigines are the
indigenous people of Australia. They were a stone age people who
are belived [sic] to have arrived in Australia about 40,000 years
ago.” August 2002
“ Why the Guardian is changing the language it uses about the
environment: From now, house style guide recommends terms
such as ‘climate crisis’ and ‘global heating’ “ — 17 May, 2019
• English: "Battle of the Macrons" - NZ
• “First Fleet”- Australia/USA
• English: Gdańsk/Gdansk/Danzig
• German: Jänner
• Arabic: وليام ،ويليام ،وليم
• Dutch: Towns in Friesland
• French: Puck/Palet/Rondelle/Disque
• Cantonese: “Common” or “Etymological”
• All: How many continents?
• All: localisation of technical terms…
…and identity politics within/among languages
Worldwide POV &
“Gender vote” on
Liste von Science-
Wikipedia can only has one fact at a time, this is the cause
of editorial debate (for better and worse). Wikidata simply
requires you to ask a different question - allowing different
slices of knowledge.
•2007 Virgina Tech shooting
• 2014 Sydney hostage
crisis # Debate on status
as a terrorist event
A minute by minute
account of the public
record of history.
Wikipedia isn’t the
eyewitness history, it is a
compilation of the public
This is unmediated debate in the frame of describing topics for posterity.
Wikipedia discussion pages are not for conversation but for planning and
debating the best way to convey a topic.
I submit that this transcript is valuable in revealing exactly how a war of ideas is
waged. Wikipedia uses an online collaboration technology that allows its articles
to be freely edited by any Wikipedia user. As the primary article about the
Muhammad cartoons evolved, there also arose behind the scenes a ﬁerce
debate over whether or not the cartoons themselves should be included and
how they should be displayed.
The transcript of the debate captures not only the ideas expressed by the many
contributors and readers, but also the tenor of the debate, the pleas, the acts of
vandalism, the argumentative styles, strategies, tactics and gambits. In other
words, the transcript reveals how some contributors won the debate, how the
others lost, and how each side treated the other.
This transcript reveals the mechanics of the clash of civilizations.
— John Simmons http://www.baghdadmuseum.org/wikipedia/
“...from the philosophical and the poetic to the lewd and
the obscene.” Rex Wallace, An Introduction to Wall
Inscriptions from Pompeii and Herculaneum, 2005
Their banality becomes their usefulness. What
was once discarded becomes important,
precisely because it was never meant to be
kept. Spelling/grammar mistakes, marginalia,
erasures, hidden comments, vandalism…
And old headwords… and edit summaries: