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NARA, Wikipedia, and the Day of Infamy

This image of the USS Arizona from the National Archives appeared on the front page of Wikipedia on December 7, 2011. (ARC 5900075)

No, I’m not talking about January 18, when English Wikipedia went dark in protest of the House’s  proposed Stop Online Piracy Act and the Senate’s PROTECT IP Act.

(Just 10 years ago, having no Wikipedia would not have fazed me in the least. We still had a dial-up Internet connection, and I regularly visited a brick-and-mortar library for reference books and articles. How things have changed . . .)

No, January 18 made me think of the original Day of Infamy,  December 7.

Last month, I was contacted by NARA’s own Wikipedian in Residence, Dominic McDevitt-Parks, regarding Wikipedia, NARA, and the events of December 7, 1941. Although we are more than a month past the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, Wednesday’s events reiterates the significance of Wikipedia and reemphasizes NARA’s involvement with it.

In commemoration of the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the featured article on Wikipedia’s main page was the ”USS Arizona.”

“Not only are there multiple NARA images on the article, it also includes two of the images that were digitized on request by Benjamin Christensen from Still Pictures,” McDevitt-Parks said. “They are the articles lead image, and then the second one down. The first one is really useful because it actually gives a full-length side view of the ship, unlike most other images.”

“When I met the primary author of the article, Eddie Erhart, at the Wikipedia in Higher Education Summit in July about a week after Ben digitized the photos, he came to the presentation I gave there about my work and was very appreciative,” McDevitt-Parks said. “He also promised to get the article promoted to featured status, a months-long process of collaborations and peer reviews, in time for the anniversary, and he did just that—it was promoted after an expedited final review. So, thanks again to Ben for all the work you did!”

McDevitt-Parks added that, normally, an article will receive between 20,000 and 50,000 click-throughs from the main page just on the single day they are featured, plus the several million views of the main page itself. The images themselves will likely each get a couple thousand additional click-throughs from the article as well.

It’s amazing how fast technology changes the way we perform our everyday tasks, how we learn, and how we do research. For example, in writing this article, I’ve used Wikipedia six times.

Through NARA’s continued involvement with Wikipedia and the great efforts of McDevitt-Parks, our nation’s historical records are available to millions of people with just a click of a mouse.

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