The prelude to Wikipedia and the history of its first year were the subject of a feature in the Atlantic Monthly that came out last week.
The article, by historian Marshall Poe, appeared in the magazine's September issue. Its online version included links throughout the text to Wikipedia articles about some of the concepts discussed. Accompanying the feature were an exploration of neutral point of view in the context of abortion, along with an interview with Poe himself.
In particular, Poe considered in depth the backgrounds of Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger. Going back before Wikipedia and even Nupedia, the article discussed their business and academic experience, as well as their Internet activity on mailing lists and elsewhere.
The debate over whom to identify as the "founder" of Wikipedia was not explicitly covered, but did figure indirectly. Poe related Sanger's story about having dinner with a friend that inspired the Wikipedia proposal. Regarding their respective roles in the project, Poe wrote, "Wales's part in it was clear; he owned Wikipedia. Sanger's role was murkier."
The murkiness was partly due to Sanger's decision not to import his Nupedia title of editor-in-chief, but simply call himself "chief organizer". The authority issues manifested in the description of Sanger's disputes with The Cunctator and his eventual departure from the project.
In his separate interview, Poe explained his methods for reconstructing this history. As befits his field of expertise (early modern Russian history), Poe focused mostly on the documentary record, such as mailing lists and talk page discussion.
The interviewer noted that the article never quoted Sanger and Wales as primary sources (although it does quote their words). Poe said that he emphasized the documents, although he did interview both Wales and Sanger, because people's stories about events 5-10 years ago are often inaccurate. He commented that he was fortunate that Wikipedia has "a remarkably complete record of what had been done."