Thursday, June 9, 2011

Sarah Palin, Paul Revere, and Wikipedia: A Teachable Moment?

News came early this week that supporters of Sarah Palin attempted to edit Wikipedia in order for its account of Paul Revere's famous ride to match Palin's version of the event. The incident provides yet another opportunity for educators and others to question the free online encyclopedia's status as the arbiter of all "facts."

Getting less attention than the kerfuffle over Palin's remarks and the Wikipedia "edit war" was the key primary source, an after-the-fact account by Revere himself of the stirring events of that April night in 1775:

I told (the British) …that I had alarmed the country all the way up, that their boats were caught aground, and I should have 500 men there soon. One of the (British) said they had 1500 coming; he seemed surprised and rode off into the road, and informed them who took me, they came down immediately on a full gallop. One of them… clapped his pistol to my head, and said he was going to ask me some questions, and if I did not tell the truth, he would blow my brains out.

The entire document—by the way—is featured in the ABC-CLIO online American History education solution. This database is enhanced and updated daily by a staff of three historian editors. It cannot have its "facts" changed or re-interpreted by political partisans to suit their agenda.

On the chance that the Revere-Palin-Wikipedia contretemps is yet another "teachable moment," we offer three possibilities:

  1. The "he said, she said" debate between Palin's followers and critics on Wikipedia casts doubt on the ubiquitous site's utility as an accurate custodian of American History, especially given that some educators and scholars now consider it a legitimate "first stop" for students beginning their research.
  2. Primary sources are (with proper context and sourcing) often far more interesting (and certainly more trustworthy) than the axe-grinding interpretations of politicians and their partisans.
  3. How relevant and exciting (and politically charged) American History remains. Palin couched her version of the famous ride to Lexington in the spirit of the (not-yet-contemplated) Second Amendment. Why? Perhaps in order to associate her own and her followers' views on gun rights with Revere. Palin's status as one of the standard bearers of the modern Tea Party Movement, and Revere's real-life participation in the "real" Tea Party (Boston Harbor, 1773) makes the story even sweeter.

For more on Palin, ABC-CLIO databases, and the Tea Party movements (original and modern), check out the links below!

--Vince Burns, VP Editorial, ABC-CLIO

Sarah Palin: A Biography
Jacob H. Huebert
This objective, well-researched biography tells the story of the woman whose meteoric rise to the 2008 Republican vice presidential candidacy made history.


From the explorers of the Americas to the issues of today's headlines, American History investigates the people, events, and stories of our nation's evolution.

Jacob H. Huebert

This thorough guide to the burgeoning Tea Party movement goes beyond the typical overheated political rhetoric to discuss where the party came from, what it's about, who's involved, and where it's headed.

Gregory Fremont-Barnes and Richard A. Ryerson, Volume Editors

This work is the most authoritative and wide-ranging encyclopedia on the American Revolution ever created for a student audience.

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