Is Wikipedia a Textbook?

Is Wikipedia a Textbook?

Let’s Look At The Bronze Age Crisis

Wikipedia is frequently used as a source of information in academic pursuits, in this essay I intend to assess its veracity and style by comparing it to an established source of information: the Textbook. To start, the title of the subject is not consistent. Wikipedia labels the period as “Late Bronze Age collapse”, whereas the textbook uses the phrase “The Bronze Age Crisis”. Interpretively, they are similar but the connotations of the two are distinct, with the former implying a more intense event.

The textbook uses the word ‘controversial’ to depict the prevailing uncertainty on the subject, whereas Wikipedia uses the phrase “A range of explanations for the collapse have been proposed, without any achieving consensus”.

Again, they are both similar, but the connotations of the two remain different. When it comes to actually listing the potential causes of the event, the two sources began to truly diverge. The textbook lists environmental effects ‘earthquakes and droughts’, before practically dismissing both ‘it is not clear either had a dramatic effect’. Wikipedia does almost the opposite, noting that ‘several factors probably played a part’ before listing climate change, sea people, and iron metallurgy.

Perhaps most interestingly is that by the ‘climate change’ entry, Wikipedia mentions only ‘volcanic eruptions’ with no reference to the ‘earthquake and droughts’ the textbook emphasized. When it comes to listing the effect on individual kingdoms the two sources reconverge. The textbook lists 4 empires, the Hittite Kingdom, Egyptian Empire, and the Babyons and the Assyrian Empire. The fate of each respectively was, total collapse, survival, initial military success before being defeated by the Assyrians, and ‘survived and flourished’. Wikipedia notes the same, with similar

language, albeit with much more detail. The final textual distinction comes from the discussion of ‘Sea People’. The textbook regards them as ‘powerful invaders’ that came from ‘Phillistein and other countries’. Wikipedia is not nearly as authoritative or conclusive, despite referencing Sea People dozens of times, it frequently offers one possible explanation, before citing another source that directly disagrees, seemingly vindicating the Textbooks characterization of ‘controversial’. 

While the text of the two sources disagrees with one another, they still seem to find more common ground than not.

They both emphasize the same topics, and characterize events with similar language. It was therefore somewhat shocking when comparing the two maps to see how little they have in common. Wikipedia’s map of the Hittite state has their extent reaching the western shore of Anatolia, whereas the Textbook has them secluded to the south-east.

Wikipedia’s map places the Assyrian empire to the immediate east of the Hittite, while the Textbook places them more southerly, bracketing the Euphrates. Wikipedia includes the Mycenaean Greek empire and places them, unsurprisingly, on mainland Greece and Crete. The Textbook’s map does not include any reference to the Greek Empire. The absence is made even more surprising given the textbook’s subject, and usual focus on the Greek empire. 

In conclusion, while both the Textbook and Wikipedia are very similar when it comes to individual facts, stylistically they are distinct, with the textbook taking a more conclusive tone, and privileging complete historical narratives. Whereas Wikipedia seems to take a more ‘teach the controversy’ approach, citing contradictory sources next to each other, and proffering both, with little affinity for either. Neither method seems inherently superior. But for academic classwork, I find myself preferring the textbook, as Wikipedia’s technique seems overwhelming.

Written by Shmuel Newmark

Sources: 

All references to the ‘Textbook’: Bell, David, and Anthony Grafton. The West: A New History (First Edition) (Vol. Combined Volume). First, W. W. Norton & Company, 2018. pp. 18 

All references to ‘Wikipedia’: “Late Bronze Age Collapse.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 4 Oct. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Late_Bronze_Age_collapse.

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Is Wikipedia a Textbook?