danah said, in Academia and Wikipedia, “All the same, i roll my eyes whenever students submit papers with Wikipedia as a citation.”

I didn’t comment on this at the time, but grading papers over the weekend, I had a student cite the Wikipedia for the first time, referencing its entry on the OSI Reference Model. Seeing it in the footnotes, I wondered what the fuss was about. The Wikipedia article is a perfectly good overview of the Reference Model, and students should document, to the extent they are able, the sources of their research. When they have learned something from the Wikipedia, in it goes; to exclude it would in fact be dishonest.

Curiously, the Wikipedia reference came in the same week that another student was referring to Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, an essay that is tremendously influential and, in a bunch of non-trivial ways, wrong about the inherent politicization of reproducible art, and especially of film. I’m much more worried about students overestimating the value of the Benjamin essay, because of its patina of authority, than I am about them overestimating the value of the Wikipedia as a source for explaining the 7-layer networking model.

And I assume I am hardly alone in the academy. Hundreds, if not thousands of us must be getting papers this year with Wikipedia URLs in the footnotes, and despite the moral panic, the Wikipedia is a fine resource on a large number of subjects, and can and should be cited in those cases. There are articles, as danah has pointed out, where it would be far better to go to the primary sources, but that would be as true were a student to cite any encyclopedia. If someone cited the Wikipedia to discuss Benjamin’s work, I’d send them back to the trenches, but I would also do that if they cited Encyclopedia Britannica.

To borrow some Hemingway, this is how the academy will get used to Wikipedia — slowly, then all at once.

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