As a historian I know that while information (or in this case answers) are vital, but perhaps more important to good historical research are the sources consulted. Should we, as History.SE'rs, include referenced sources in our answers to add an air of legitimacy to both our answers and this site?

  • At what point should a source be required? Does every answer need at least 1 source? Every point? Would this mean for example that I need to find a legitimate academic source stating that the Middle Ages refers roughly to AD 500-1500? Commented Oct 12, 2011 at 14:45
  • A single source would be sufficient, by why limit it there? If multiple sources are consulted, then list as such. Should we have a site filled with historical claims with no actual merit to back it up? If that's the case, then what purpose does this serve other than providing speculation? Commented Oct 12, 2011 at 15:41
  • I guess what I'm asking is that for simple questions/answers where we don't have to consult a source to know the answer, do we still need to look up an academic source to back us up? Can there be a question where a cited source is not necessary? Commented Oct 12, 2011 at 16:28
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    @TravisChristian Again it comes down to a want for credibility and authenticity. See Hauser's response below. Without sources it comes across as speculation or memory, both of which often prove to be wrong. History isn't a science of guesses, it has to be backed up by verifiable fact, not conjecture. Commented Oct 12, 2011 at 18:16

6 Answers 6


I know it's considered in bad form to answer your own question, meta or not, but I feel that it is appropriate here.

I think that sources should be listed to, as stated above, add legitimacy to our site as an academic resource but as well as to ensure that the information being posited as answers is in fact correct and not baseless interpretation.

I know this question might open up a can of worms regarding what source material is more "legitimate" than others, but I think that listing sources is a step in the right direction at the very least. (We can save the Wikipedia discussion for another meta question!)

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    In other SEs, it's fine to answer your own question.
    – user39
    Commented Oct 11, 2011 at 20:02
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    Especially in metas. Commented Oct 26, 2011 at 8:27

I agree with GPierce. I browsed for few weeks now skeptics.SE. It deals also with alot history questions ("Did this really happen" and similar questions). Links/Quotes are prescribed for answers over there and it is imho a unique selling proposition vs. sites like reddit.

There are also pretty important and known effects in psychology concerning memory fallacies & deceptions (false memory syndrome) People have been interviewed and told wrong memories (unconscious lying). This happens esp. after decades (social memory and changing of history as it actually happened)

It really doesnt cost so much effort to find & include at least one link. I want to read facts here, no personal beliefs, no stories told by grandparents, opinions and interpretations, esp. for history of the 20th century.


What is dangerous about the long-term health of this site if we agree to not require sources is that people can feel free to post whatever they want as answers. This does not necessarily mean that these answers will be wrong, or not useful. But the purpose of ALL sites on Stack Exchange is to make the internet a better place, and to do so by providing useful information to those who seek it (among other things).

Undocumented answers are not necessarily the plague, but answers that lack utility are. When left to answer freely, users may feel it is acceptable to post answers that include opinion or subjective or superfluous material-- which is counter to everything that we're doing here.

Making people take the time to cite their answer and provide evidence may force them to do what many of us had to do when we first started using Stack Exchange sites (or Stack Overflow)-- learn how to to provide quality answers (and questions, for that matter).

For the record, I'm divided on whether or not History should require sources, because I agree with @Andrew Turvey's belief that this may scare people away. But as a historian, it makes me uncomfortable to provide or accept an answer without documentation to back it up.


I think if you know the source, then yes list it. Sometimes people don't know the source though and I think we'd be in poor form to require all answers to have a source.


I think it's very important to include sources, but I don't think there should be too much of a minimum bar. In general, I can look up sources fairly quickly to estimate the quality of an answer, and I think people will provide better answers if they are required to do minimal research to back them up.

When I discovered the site today I searched on "Northern Ireland" to see what it turned up. I went to one question and most of the answers don't include any sources, but the comments do in rebuttal. If people had actually done research they'd have easily turned up many useful titbits of information on this subject from Wikipedia. I guess the question is: how do you encourage people to focus on answers and not on comments?


Yes, of course we should encourage people to provide sources. However, requiring it will inevitably mean that fewer people will contribute and there will be a bigger bar to new people joining the community. I'm not sure that's a positive change.

  • While I agree that requiring could be problematic, the question then becomes: is it worth having more users if they're going to post undocumented, unsubstantiated or potentially-incorrect information?
    – stevvve
    Commented Jun 7, 2012 at 23:54
  • I would say "yes". If you have several people answering a question, the one person who posts an unreferenced answer would not be selected as the top answer, so would not be prominently displayed. However, their answer may spark a thought from someone else who ends up giving a better answer as a result. Commented Jun 17, 2012 at 22:17

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