Wikipedia Article on Tammany Hall

Posted: February 20, 2013 in Uncategorized

This week we were tasked to write the historiography of a Wikipedia article on a topic related to nineteenth-century cities. The Wikipedia article I chose was on the infamous Tammany Hall.

The Tammany Hall Wikipedia article is broken up into a few different sections ranging from the history of the Tammany Society in the late 18th century through more modern times. For the purpose of this assignment I am primarily focusing on the area through the 19th century.

I started by reading the article itself. The article is written as a political history with elements of social history mixed in throughout. This makes sense because of the nature of Tammany Hall and its influence in New York City politics.

Next, I looked at the sources that were used in the composition of this of this article. Over half of the citations used for the writings of this article come from two sources. (Once again a reminder I am talking specifically for the time period I am focusing on.) One of the main sources used The History of Tammany Hall was written in 1917 and the style seems to be one you would find in an encyclopedia. This source also, is not a primary source for the timeframe in which it speaks to. As well the other source heavily relied upon for this section is a book entitled, Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898. This book is thought of as being very well written because it contains a large volume of facts and switches from “Big picture themes to provide insights on day to day life.”(NY Times review can be found here.) Also, it can be frustrating when you click on a source only to find that particular source link is broken. There is also another interesting aspect of the sources that needs to be considered. The sources mainly pertaining to immigrant support were written in the 1960’s, which coincides with the rise in popularity of social history. This is opposed to the earlier portion of the article, which was taken from a source written in 1917. This is important because you see a difference in writing styles. This is true in the case of the 1917 source which, as stated earlier seems to mostly be a big picture narrative focusing on a political history.

For the most part I am usually very skeptical of Wikipedia, in that I generally only use it to start my research on a particular subject. Wikipedia to me is more of a sample of popular opinion than on actual fact. The example I would use is the article we read for last week’s class, “ The Undue Weight of Truth on Wikipedia”, where primary sources were used to substantiate the claims of someone trying to correct a Wikipedia article and his changes were instantly changed backed. By relying purely on secondary sources opinions can miss the truth completely due to another’s misconceptions of the facts. And by basing one’s conclusions on the interpretation of fact by another, a chain reaction ensues and the truth itself can be lost.

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