Wikileaks as a historical source

The Baseball and Futility series is taking a one-week hiatus because of a lack of time. It should return next week.

On another note, there was a post on H-Net asking about using Wikileaks as source material for research. I am an early modernist so the question is purely academic for me, but hey, that’s why we blog, right?

In my opinion, I don’t see a problem using whatever leaked sources are out there. The original commenter made the good point that this is only a small portion of the vast governmental cache, and that the rest of it will only be available in thirty or so years. The problem then is primarily twofold: the documentation is incomplete and we are unaware of its reliability. Redactions and the potential for Wikileaks releasing only those documents it wants released (and the even more sinister possibility of forgery) will make any researcher wonder about consistency and, without knowing who was reading the incoming cables, importance.

As an early modernist, I would say: go for it. With all the documents destroyed in wars, thrown out, unread, unorganized, unavailable, and so on, I and other early modernists are constantly faced with documentation that we know is incomplete. We are just happy to not be working in an earlier period that has even less available materials.

The important thing is simply to recognize where the material is coming from and to note it in the footnotes. If Wikileaks materials make up a significant part of a thesis or argument for a work, I think any good author already knows to point that out in the work itself.

I’d like to throw this question to the wolves. What do you think about using Wikileaks as a source? What are the academic and ethical dangers? Are the safeguards I proposed enough, or should academics wait on using government documents until they are declassified in thirty years?

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One Response to Wikileaks as a historical source

  1. Pingback: Does WikiLeaks mean we’ll now have agency again? | History and Futility

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