I think it does really depend on the individual article. I think of it as a place to start, not somewhere to end up, if that makes sense. Wikipedia is good for getting a general overview, then if you want to learn more, check out the citations and sources at the bottom and track those down. From there, you can usually find even more once you have the right keywords or search terms you need to get at what you really want.
For example, if the Wiki cites a book, you can go look up that book and read more on the topic, or learn about the context. Then you can go to that book’s sources and bibliography, and see why they make this or that claim. You can keep doing that until you’re just left with primary documents or objects, and having multiple perspectives on it and adding your own is sort of how academic research and writing is generally supposed to go.
I mean, one of the problems with Wikipedia is that in an article, they’ll phrase something as an absolute, when really there are definite counterarguments with support if you read someone else’s book on whatever topic. Obviously, the farther back you go, the fewer objects and documents that survive, so it becomes more open to individual interpretation.
And one of the problems there is that you get to a point where there are these interpretations that are considered beyond questioning or revising. It’s like, somewhere between “wicked rude” and “you’ll never get funding if you keep on like that”. As if revisiting primary sources is desecrating sacred ground; as if just kind of bypassing Mr. I Wrote The Book on It 300 Years Ago is equivalent to summoning the Elder Gods to consume civilization as we know it.
Which is why I do get messages from historians and “historians” like, “your methods are disgusting and unacceptable!!!” because yes, yes, I’m breaking the rules; yes, yes, I’m Doing It Wrong. I am a Bad Historian. I think this fails to take into account that I’ll go ahead and cite Mr. I Wrote The Book on It 300 Years Ago, because the object or idea will be fully documented there (in other words, ‘proof this thing exists’), but then I’ll have the brazen gall to disagree on the interpretation of that evidence.
Am I wrong about this stuff sometimes? Absolutely! Do I speculate sometimes? Sure!! Do other people exist who know more about this specific detail than I do? Definitely. But the bottom line is, someone needs to be poking at this stuff. Sometimes “this stuff” turns out to be a beehive. Oops.
What does this have to do with the reliability of Wikipedia? Well, firstly, I link to it a lot because it’s accessible to anyone and that’s super important. Secondly, maybe the people who are mad I poked the beehive will go shore up those pages. I’ve already seen improvements and changes that have happened after I’ve linked to something, and I’m quite glad of it. It’s happened with other sites and databases I’ve linked to, and that’s actually an amazing and tangible form of real change.
Which is why I’ll probably continue to “answer” questions that have no answers, or at least none that we can claim are sure. It’s my hope that more people will look askance at those who claim to have easy answers, who claim absolutes about any of these topics, or shut down lines of discussion (no POC, no exceptions!!) that are worthwhile when we talk about art, history, race, and what they mean to us today.
This is exactly my view on the use of Wikipedia. Its a website that’s useful for engaging a general overview and picking up the basic reading of a subject - it’s not the final say, but a starting point. People who loathe Wikipedia are in my mind incapable of understanding the difference between base ‘common’ knowledge research and research that’s more in-depth, or just have a bad understanding of the internet in general.
It’s interesting at a graduate level - we’re actually ‘encouraged’(I emphasize this because our tutors are careful about the wording on this) to get a general overview of a subject from Wikipedia before tackling the huge amount of research behind it. At an undergraduate level it was absolutely forbidden however, I assume because some of the youngsters had trouble discerning between legitimate research and half-assed analysis of a subject someone had posted up a couple of weeks before.
What I will say about Wikipedia just to add to this, and this is perhaps a warning to anyone researching history for stories/art on my blog, is steering clear or at least being careful of unpopular subjects. When I say unpopular subjects, I mean subjects that are outside the norm in anglo-centric historiography (not that some subjects aren’t interesting, I think we can all agree that the certain subjects however have been researched to death while others still have so much potential for a historian to unpack the significance). For instance if you’re studying regiments during the First World War in the British army, you’re sure to find oodles of research, but researching the mythological significance of the Hill of Tara in Ireland, a couple of badly worded sentences if you’re lucky in the Wikipedia article (that I had to add to in my undergraduate ><)
Also can I say, because I probably won’t get another chance your research has been very enlightening on tackling the anglo-white-centric emphasis on visual culture - there’s some things I can disagree with - but I can absolutely see the research behind everything.