An Encyclopedia of Every Edit to the Iraq War Wikipedia Entry

Posted by Andrew Price


James Bridle, a veteran and observer of the publishing industry, has published every edit to the Wikipedia entry for the Iraq War, from the article's creation in December of 2004 to November 2009, as a twelve-volume set.

He has some interesting things to say about the project:

It contains arguments over numbers, differences of opinion on relevance and political standpoints, and frequent moments when someone erases the whole thing and just writes “Saddam Hussein was a dickhead”.

This is historiography. This is what culture actually looks like: a process of argument, of dissenting and accreting opinion, of gradual and not always correct codification.

And for the first time in history, we’re building a system that, perhaps only for a brief time but certainly for the moment, is capable of recording every single one of those infinitely valuable pieces of information. Everything should have a history button. We need to talk about historiography, to surface this process, to challenge absolutist narratives of the past, and thus, those of the present and our future.

Of course, printing the edit logs is just an exercise. A lot has happened in Iraq since November 2009, including the declared "end" of the war, so the living Wikipedia entry itself remains the better resource. But that said, the project does prompt one to think of edits and layers of commentary and disagreement as part of the historical record.

And, as Bridle says, we're creating totally unprecedented amounts of temporally-indexed information about everything these days. That's going to really change how people interpret the past. Imagine if we had a collection of every edit to the Bible, from inception to now.