Historical Fudgery: Using Wikipedia as a Portal

When I spoke about Historical Research at the DFW Writer’s Conference earlier this month, one of the things I mentioned was using Wikipedia.

Now I always suggest taking any Wiki with a grain of salt. As a user, you don’t know who’s posting the info there. But I wanted to mention one way in which Wiki became invaluable to me in researching 1902 Portugal.

I used it extensively as a portal to Portuguese Wikipedia.

Let me give you an example:
Here’s the English Wiki Page for Matosinhos, a town where part of The Golden City is set.

screen

As you can see, there’s hardly anything there. Apparently English speakers don’t care much about this town.

But if you look down the left sidebar, you can see several other languages available.

When I click on Portuguese, I get this version of the page:

screen 2

You can see that there’s a LOT more information on this version of the page. There are also dozens of links on the Portuguese version that I can follow, both to other pages in Portuguese Wikipedia, and to external sites. Each of those might have links to dozens of other sites…and on it goes.

So I’ve used Wiki this way to help me slip into Portuguese research. If I tried to do research via a search engine in Portuguese, I would be overwhelmed. I wouldn’t know where to start or which sites had any validity. With Wiki’s help, though, I have a starting place.

But I don’t speak Portuguese!, you complain.

I speak very little, and that I had to learn for writing these books, but there are always machine translators out there that can give you a leg up. I mostly use the Bing Translator, but Google has one as well. (Keep in mind that these are machine translations, and are only ‘better than nothing’.) Between my poor Portuguese and the machine, I do a decent job.

In addition, if you hop to another Wiki page, you can double check to see whether there’s an English version. That page may have similar information.

To research for Book 3, The Shores of Spain, I’m now having to hop over to Spanish Wiki a lot. Since my Spanish is better than my Portugese, this is easier for me.

It’s still proving a very useful research trick.

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