“Joseph Breintnall and the Red Link: Building Wikipedia Pages in Early American History”


Last week, Joseph Breintnall (d. 1746) had no Wikipedia page. Breintnall was mentioned here and there in a modest handful of extant Wikipedia pages before I started writing this, but he had no Main page of his own. He was, in Wikipedia’s language, a “Red Link.” A “Red Link” is a deliberately placed link to a Web-page that does not yet exist. Red links, then, are an act of encyclopedic hope, a sign that indicates a desire to push against the boundries of what this incredible resource contains. I decided to build Wikipedia pages for both Breintnall and one of his major collaborative-projects with Benjamin Franklin.

The formal creation and acceptance of an appropriate page by the Wiki community turns the disparate red links scattered across the Encyclopedia BLUE and automatically redirects those links to the page when / if it ever emerges. The creation of a central “Joseph Breintnall” main page changes the Red links to active Blue Links, connecting far-flung pages to the new Main Page, so that now entries for Franklin’s JuntoThe Library Company of PhiladelphiaAndrew BradfordNature Printing, are all linked together through Breintnall.


Joseph Breintnall   &   “The Busy-Body

Most of us have cautioned our students about the dubious and equivocal nature of Wikipedia as a robust research source. But I have found the creation / expansion / and connecting of Wikipedia pages relevant to course readings and material to be a challenging and incredibly useful exercise for my students. Non-major students filling a distribution requirement and  who might be hesitant to say much in class, will often find value in researching some aspect of the course and incrementally contributing to public knowledge through sites like Wikipedia.

I decided then to re-appropriate the bibliographic and narrative work of a recent conference paper into the foundation of a Wikipedia entry. While by nature an ongoing and profoundly collaborative endeavor, I am using the occasion of this entry to quietly launch both Joseph Breintnall’s Wikipedia page and that of the Busy Body. As of Wednesday or Thursday, both pages have undergone initial review by the editorial community and are active spaces, although Search Engines have yet to privilege them in response to queries, so are not yet front page results.

Printing of Philadelphia tree leaves made by Joseph Breintnall in the 1730's.
Printing of Philadelphia tree leaves made by Joseph Breintnall in the 1730’s. Courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia.