This weekend I examined three separate Wikipedia entries talk sections in an effort to peek behind the curtain of edits that give each article form. The three entries I examined all deal with 19th century American history, specifically the “Indian Wars” and two of the primary motivators of American western policy at that time, William Tecumseh Sherman and Philip Sheridan. What I choose to look at was not only the varying degree of “completeness” of the articles but the inherent controversial nature of the American displacement of Native Americans and how that influenced the debate. Of the three articles Sherman’s was the most highly regarded, and had very little of note in the talk section which surprised me. What was interesting was the personal tone of two of the entries, Sherman’s Children, and Hirshon, where quite comically decorum breaks down. The entry reads:
If I ever decide to get around to it, I will post the documented births and marriages which prove that I am a descendent of William Tecumseh Sherman, on my mother’s side. We always suspected it, but only proved it about 8 months ago. In case you can’t tell, I feel cool to be able to be related to someone with a Wikipedia article. — Preceding unsigned comment added by 184.108.40.206 (talk) 00:40, 5 July 2012 (UTC)
Even if he was a professional killer? Stevenmitchell (talk) 21:02, 8 July 2013 (UTC)
Later under Hirshon a troll commented on his inability to find one of the referenced authors.
who the hell is Hirshon???
I googled the damn son of a bitch and found nothing
Following this I examined the Philip Sheridan page, and the debate became more formal. The first commentary discussed the entry being too pro-Sheridan, and outlined the violence of Sheridan’s winter campaign. While the poster’s argument is valid, it would seem to replace one extreme with the other. Additionally Sheridan’s quote “the only good Indians I ever saw were dead” is of debatable authenticity. Even in Sheridan’s day he vehemently denied speaking the phrase, while several journalists quote him as saying it, as such it cannot definitively be proven. Later in the talk section another poster takes a polar opposite opinion that the article is too negative of Sheridan specifically in his Civil War record. The contentious nature of Sheridan’s career seems to have created two distinct camps.
Finally I took a look at the American Indian War’s page and was interested in the nature of the debate, which had two important elements. First the title of the article was chosen as to reflect a desire to avoid an American historical perspective on the wars and leave room for the addition of Canadian, British, and other European conflicts with Native Americans. In fact some posters took issue with the term Native American as far too American an expression. It is interesting that in the spirit of political correctness Americans have phased out the word Indian, while obviously international posters have no such reluctance. Following this discussion I discovered a debate concerning a POV fork, which as I gathered meant the existence of a parallel page from an opposing perspective. Upon reading the summary of style rules, basically it states that each topic must be presented in a single article with difference of opinion resolved by consensus. This is a clever way for Wikipedia to address what could potentially be disastrous to the quality of its articles.
Links to each article below: