Writing What You Don’t Know

Reading & Writing


Anyone who reads my books knows I do a hell of a lot of research, even though I end up using less than 10% of it. For years I obtained my background history from the Encyclopaedia Britannica, but as my hardback set became dated I switched to online use and finally moved to all things Wiki.

This morning (around 5:00am – Yes, I know I should have still been asleep) I needed to find out what Croatia’s role was during the First World War. Wikipedia has this to say about an entire nation’s fate during the world’s greatest war.
O.
That’s right, nothing. Not one word.
Then I looked up the entry on Beyonce Knowles.
Her entry in Wikipedia is about four times as long as the history of any Eastern European country.
For me, the biggest problem with Wiki is its bias toward North America, but this means is that Europeans have been less bothered with adding information, and US residents have been more diligent. So I’ll probably have to go back to the Encyclopaedia Britannica – even though a trawl around their site fails to reveal how much the online edition costs. It’s the price of writing something you don’t know.

3 comments on “Writing What You Don’t Know”

  1. Some of the problem might be that Croatia was part of the Hungarian unit of Austria-Hungary then. (Wiki *does* have an overview of Hungary’s fate in WW1 – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hungary_in_World_War_I – but there’s not a peep in it about Croatia. I wonder whether that’s less Beyoncé’s fault than generations of Hungarian nationalists’, though.)

    If you end up going down the dead tree route, I’d recommend looking at the relevant parts of this: http://us.macmillan.com/theunderminingofaustriahungary (I’ve taught this topic to undergraduates and will probably do so again at some point). There’s actually a nice London connection through the UK-based propagandists, who ended up getting funded by Lord Northcliffe, of all people….

  2. Well, you have to consider Croatia wasn’t really a state during WW1, just a province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It started becoming a state in 1918 (first in a compound state that wasn’t recognized). Of course, I suppose a proper Croatia page on Wiki could do a summary of that — I expect whoever wrote the contribution was being a bit too literal and keeping to Croatia as a full-fledged state, with a hastily-drawn summary of its status before that.

  3. Helen Martin says:

    I complained once that there is a tendency to believe that only Jews were exterminated in the Nazi death camps and I was told that it is the responsibility of the other groups to tell their own story. We oversimplify in order to tell a strong and simple story. Before WWI people certainly said they came from Croatia and thought of themselves as Croatian. Wiki will grow into itself as people add things, but it is up to those who know “stuff” to see to it that it does have an entry and for the rest of us to check the accuracy with other sources. Try Croatia’s home page or the history of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

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