Wikipedia, like any good encyclopedia, is a great way to learn about our world.  It’s just that, unlike most other encyclopedias, Wikipedia is free, and huge.  The open-source nature of the project has allowed it to balloon to millions of articles, most of which being highly detailed.

This is one of the best resources for learning out there, probably the best resource for learning about the history of anything, whether its the history of ideas, science, kingdoms, religion, whatever.  It also contains a fair amount of process-related knowledge.  There is almost no topic that is too specific or too niche to have its own Wikipedia entry….and if it’s not there, you can always get it started and hope that others will also help thresh it out.

Wikipedia continues to be a shining example of the power of collaboration

There is also a Wikiversity, that is aimed more at structured content and specific learning communities that seems like it has some promise, but I prefer following the traditional approach of just jumping straight down the rabbit hole – look up an article of something you are interested in, and then follow the hyperlinks.  This will deepen your knowledge of whatever it is, as you then end up reading about related theories or periods, different influential figures behind and beyond the ideas, different social currents, etc.  I started reading about Russian Orthodoxy, and currently have 394 tabs open of further reading available, now branching from different theological positions, to Russian and Chinese history, to Roman Catholic saints, ancient Persia and the founding of America.   It’s truly a wonderful thing.

(just a side note – I keep a separate instance of Chrome open dedicated to these tabs, so I’m not cluttering up the rest of my browser activities with hundreds of tabs that may take me months to get to.  I try to read at least one or two per day, but find that the more I read the more the list grows rather than shrinks, due to the aforementioned rabbit hole)

Two things to keep in mind when trawling through Wikipedia:

Keep in mind that you may be hearing a biased version of the story – someone who has taken the time to write a detailed article about some part of Russian history almost certainly has at least moderately strong views on the subject.  A lot of editors do a good job of keeping things objective, but there is always some flavouring in each article, ESPECIALLY if it’s a currently controversial topic.  You can always look at the editors notes for a given page to see some of the back and forth between multiple editors, as everyone battles to get their version of the story to become the official history of it.  The more current the article, the more likely you are to see this, although you will still come across it with afficionados of ancient history, say.

One way to help offset this often invisible bias is to read the stories from both/multiple perspectives – so if you are reading about the Franco-Prussian war, try to find the French views, the Prussian views, and the greater European views of it.  Wikipedia is pretty good for this; often articles will contain multiple perspectives, as well as call out directly any particular controversy related to the subject.  And of course, the references, notes or further readings found at the bottom of articles provide a wealth of further sources that could be pursued.

The other thing to be aware of as you read through the annals of Wikipedia is that EVERYTHING comes out of some context.  Wikipedia is great at linking things back to the greater context (thus the rabbit-hole effect).  This can deepen the appreciation one has for dependent origination, cause and effect, or ‘standing on the shoulders of giants,’ so to speak.  No one creates in a vacuum, and it can help to identify and realize the number of different social dynamics that converge to create any particular thing, cause or effect.