Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2018-12-01/Reflections

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Wikipedia, history, and the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day
This Signpost piece is adapted from an email that is part of a semi-regular series on Wikimedia-l and Wikitech-l. The editors of The Signpost would like to encourage those moved by this piece to review meta:Europeana/1914-18 for some of the WWI-related events, activities, and contributions that have been organised over the past few years, and consider their own ability to contribute.

The 11th of November is commemorated in some parts of the world as Armistice Day, Remembrance Sunday, or Veterans Day. The year 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day. I would like to take a moment to reflect on the subject of Armistice Day, and on the roles of Wikimedia – especially Wikipedia – in sharing knowledge of history and being a repository of our collective memory.

"Armistice Day is commemorated... to mark the armistice signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany at Compiègne, France, for the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front of World War I, which took effect at eleven o'clock in the morning—the "eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month" of 1918."[a] World War I was one of the deadliest conflicts in human history, with a total of approximately 17 million civilian and military deaths.[b]

I would like to share a story.

John McCrae in uniform circa 1914.jpg
John McCrae in uniform circa 1914

John McCrae was a medical doctor and Canadian soldier during World War I. He wrote a famous poem, “In Flanders Fields". The poem refers to the red poppies that grew over the graves of soldiers who died in the Second Battle of Ypres in Belgium. There are variants of the wording of the poem. I quote one of them below.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high!
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Here are a few images:

In our contemporary world where there are many disputes about history, resources are limited, and sometimes it is difficult to be optimistic about human nature, I am especially grateful for Wikipedia's aspiration to be a place to share neutral, reliable, and verifiable information with an open license.

Wikimedia has remarkable success at being a collaborative endeavor for the education and information of humanity. Wikimedia content is collaboratively developed by thousands of diverse individuals, many of whom are volunteers and never meet in person. Content that is shared on Wikimedia sites is viewed by millions of people around the world. Although we sometimes caution the public that Wikipedia is not a primary source, for many people Wikipedia seems to be a good starting point, and the references that we provide allow people to perform their own research regarding history and many other topics.

Thank you to everyone who documents history on Wikimedia, and to the people who support this effort behind the scenes. We all benefit from your generosity to our common memory. By documenting and learning about our history, I hope that we improve our understanding of ourselves and our potential, and can make wise decisions about our future.

I close with a poem by Catherine Munro:


One gateway to the wide garden
of knowledge, where lies
The deep rock of our past,
in which we must delve
the well of our future,
The clear water we must leave untainted
for those who come after us,
The fertile earth, in which
truth may grow in bright places,
tended by many hands,
And the broad fall of sunshine,
warming our first steps toward knowing
how much we do not know.

Ever onward,