I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a Sarah Palin fan. However, I feel I owe her some thanks as a result of her recently informing us that, on his famous ride, Paul Revere was warning the British
“by ringing those bells, and makin’ sure as he’s riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that we were going to be sure and we were going to be free, and we were going to be armed.”
As quite a few have pointed out, secrecy, which generally calls for quiet (i.e., not ringing things like bells), was “critical as Revere sought to carry out his mission to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock that British troops were coming to arrest them,” to quote the New York Times.
Rather than acknowledge her error about one of those basic facts of American history we would hope American school children, whatever the political proclivities of their parents, would know, Palin has defended her mistake as being nothing but the truth. As she she said on Fox News Sunday:
“Part of his ride was to warn the British that were already there. That, hey, you’re not going to succeed. You’re not going to take American arms. You are not going to beat our own well-armed persons, individual, private militia that we have,” she added. “He did warn the British.”
It’s not only Palin who has been revising history, but her supporters. On Sunday and Monday, Palinytes were waging a bit of a “war,” as The Atlantic puts it, revising the history of Revere’s ride as presented on a Wikipedia page in order to square up to Palin’s version. The page — I imagine poor Paul Revere might be turning in his grave over the revisions to accounts of his historic deed, though he might be wanting to ask first “what is this Wikipedia?” — now bears a padlock so, as Wikimedia Foundation spokesman Jay Walsh says in the New York Times, there can be “a cooling-off period” in the wake of “numerous attempts to edit a site.”
The Atlantic article about this whole tempest in a tea party-pedia quotes some of the exchanges between Palinytes and Wikipedia’s voluntary editors. The latter have doggedly been pointing out someone basic dicta of citing sources and writing about historical events, that one must use “reliable sources when making claims” and, too, that one is to “remain neutral in depicting historical events.” Obviously, Palinytes think Palin is a “reliable” source and that she is “neutral” — obviously too, some people may need a bit of a refresher about what constitutes a “reliable source” and being “neutral.”
Which takes me back to why I am finding myself in the unexpected position of sending thanks to Palin. Understanding what is a “reliable source” is something that some (well, Palin’s supporters and Palin) seem to be struggling with. Many college students do too, and all the more so in this age of the Internet and, yes, Wikipedia, which has become so much a part of our lives, culture, everything — that it is seeking World Heritage Site status.
Come autumn when I’m back in the college classroom teaching about ancient Greek and Roman history and culture, I’m going to be explaining about clarifying the “accuracy of sources” and “writing from a neutral perspective” by making reference to the epic Palinyte struggle over the truth about Paul Revere; by using Sarah Palin (and her historical inaccuracy, perhaps inadequacy) to teach students not only about history, but historical accuracy.
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