…Really just spitballing, here…

…And before anyone accuses me of being grotesque or bringing bodily fluids into this, Answer Girl gives a good definition of the term here. I use the phrase a lot, but sometimes I get a funny look, so I thought I’d start with that caveat…

Before I even knew that this was the week we’re talking about wikis in the history and new media class, I thought of one possible idea for something I might like to do as a project related to that class– just because it occurred to me and seemed like a good idea.  And I guess I’m throwing this out to you all, in part, because I’m wanting to see if anyone else would be interested in working on this, because wikis are so inherently collaborative…

Would anyone else be interested in working on a historiography wiki? It seems like something that could potentially be a useful tool and a edifying thing to work on…

The way I’m picturing it is this: it would work like any other wiki, but specifically focus on the historical, linking history with historians.  You could have pages on historians, which might include major works, their academic/intellectual pedigree, who influenced them, who they influenced, topics and periods covered, etc.  These could then be linked to other entries, about specific books, periods, areas, etc.  The advantage of it would be that, once it took on some volume, you could go to one place to find out who to start with if you want to find out about a specific topic, say, or who some contemporary historians covering your time period are to a text you’re reading. 

I think it’d be useful, too.  It could be a great study tool for people trying to prep for comps– not just as a resource, giving information, but as a way of cataloging what you’ve read.  Writing pages about books you’ve read would help solidify them in your mind.  And the collaborative nature of wikis would mean that others could point you to other readings that might benefit you, via edits and hypertextual connections…

Any thoughts?  Anyone interested? Anyone think it’s a bad idea?  Why?


At any rate, toward that end, I poked around on Wikipedia, trying to get a feel for how complex it was, etc.  I have to admit, it was intimidating looking at all that code!  I wasn’t sure what I was looking at…

Eventually, I figured out that part of the reason is that Wikipedia is coded in XHTML, which is apparently sort of like the bastard child of HTML and XML… And since you might say I have "small HTML and less XML," this hybrid was a bit confusing.  But then I got to thinking: how much of this is just stuff that’s on every page?  So I looked.  I tried to find two pages on two fairly unrelated topics– so they were likely to have few authors in common.  I picked the entries on The Germs and Rodolphe Töpffer. Two fairly unlike topics. Once I did that, I was actually impressed at how similar the two pages were, despite their different material.

The basic Wikipedia format is a standardized Cascading Style Sheet.  Most everything looked the same, when viewing the source code, for several, several lines.  There were some things that were in one entry, though that weren’t in the other.  I started looking at these.  The first thing that caught my eye was that on the entry on the Germs, this section:

The Germs
Origin Los Angeles, California
Country United States of America
Years active 1977 – 1980, 2005 – present
Genres Punk rock
Labels Slash Records
Past members Darby Crash
Pat Smear
Michelle Baer
Lorna Doom
Dottie Danger
Donna Rhia
Nicky Beat
Don Bolles

Is done through a series of tables– though the code that controls a lot of how tables look, their color, things like that– can be found in the CSS.  That makes sense, as you’d want something like Wikipedia to have a fairly uniform appearance… (As an aside, check out who "Dottie Danger" really is– it might surprise you!)

((As a further aside, ’cause I know a lot of you are novice geeks like me, and might not know such things, and be learning by trial and error– I had to edit the above table just slightly… when I just cut and pasted it out of the source code from Wikipedia, it wasn’t redirecting.  I looked at the source code, and figured out what it was: the href tags were redirecting as if you’re already in Wikipedia.  So to make it work, I just had to change this:

<a title="Record label" href="/wiki/Record_label">Labels</a>

to this:

<a title="Record label" href=>Labels</a>

which makes sense– without the http bit, it was trying to transfer it WITHIN the site, and didn’t know it was referring to an outside one…))


Well, I could keep on talking, but I’m probably only proving my ignorance, so I’ll quit with that now– enough "under the hood" talk from the guy who doesn’t know a crankshaft from a carburetor.

However, before I close out this entry, for anyone else who’s interested in getting deeper into this coding and web design stuff, but maybe not the most familiar with the ins and outs of it, you’ve probably found, like I have, that just Googling for unfamiliar terms and tags tends to just give you a lot more unfamiliar terms and tags…  I’ve found’s HTML for Beginners and their CSS for Beginners pages to be pretty simple to read and informative. Once I finish both of them, I’ll check out their intermediate pages, and report back on those. Anyone who knows of other similar sites, feel free to send ’em along.

5 replies on “…Really just spitballing, here…”

I like the idea of connecting historians with their predecessors and influences. You can find some historians referenced in Wikipedia in this manner, but it is only a very small percentage. Were you envisioning a site where a person can find writings and biographic information in the same place?


I was thinking of a site where you could find,

Frank X is a historian who focuses on A, B, and C. His works include 1, 2, and 3. He studied at Yale in 1938 under Professor Z…

on the Frank X page, and could link over to his subject areas (A, B, or C…), a listing of other historians from Yale, or who were hooded around 1938, or who studied under Prof. Z. Or you could click over to X’s “Magnum Opus,” (which is, indisputibly, 2! I mean, 1 is clearly inferior, and he wrote 3 during his Maoist phase!) And get, perhaps, a brief summery, and links to other works or authors that are highly cited or influential on that work…

And so on and so on…

Oh, wow! I do!

I even looked around on the CHNM website a bit, and didn’t find it! Google wasn’t much help, either…

I’d already put out some feelers, and I know some people who’re interested in working on something like this… I’m assuming it’d be cool to pass the address along to them?


Oh, I just saw that it’s only open to Mason Students and Staff… That’s really unfortunate. I know some really decent people who’d like to work on a project like this…

Half of me wants to take advantage of the GNU license and upload everything on here and put it on a more open-access Wiki… Even if it was something where you needed to be “credentialled,” it could still be more open-access than JUST Mason folks…


The other half of me is lazy and cheap and worried about bandwidth expenses…


Oh, and there’s no protocol set up for author entries, either… Just a short bio– CV materials and what can be gleaned from dust jackets– can be very revealing, and help you get to know the field… Who studied what where, and with whom really shapes the discipline…

I think the historiography wiki is a GREAT idea… especially for folks studying for orals. I just skimmed over your entry, but I agree it would be a great project and a wonderful resource…

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