I’m with Geeky Mom: how many times do we have to have this discussion?

I’m using Wikipedia this semester where it seems appropriate: to provide quick, condensed background on a historical subject as preparation for a more general discussion. Next week, for example, the students are having a quick look at the Malthus entry as part of a broader discussion of critiques of progress in the Enlightenment.

Big deal. The folks at Middlebury are perfectly correct to say that students shouldn’t be using Wikipedia as an evidentiary source in research papers. That’s got nothing to do with Wikipedia’s “unreliability”, or the fact that it’s on the web, or anything else of that sort. It’s because you don’t cite an encyclopedia article as a source when you’re writing an undergraduate paper in a history course at a selective liberal-arts college. Any encyclopedia is just a starting place, a locator, a navigational beacon. I’d be just as distressed at reading a long research paper in my course that used the Encylopedia Britannica extensively. As a starting place, Wikipedia has an advantage over Brittanica, though: it covers more topics, is easier to access and use, and frankly often has a fairly good set of suggestions about where to look next.

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