A History SE site could potentially cover everything that has happened before now -- from history of programming languages, to history of basket-weaving, to history of synthetic fibers, etc. Each of these would require very technical expertise in each of these fields to provide a decent answer. They might best be answered in the specific SE site for those topics -- ie programmers.SE, basket-weaving.SE, fashion(?).SE.

Consider that SE sites only deal in the facts world, and almost every fact is tied to a well document event in the past. So with enough leeway History.SE could cover every topic.

Where do we draw the line? Do we cover anything that happened in the past?

Would you consider very technical questions "too localized" or "off topic"? For example:

  • What programming languages heavily influenced C?
  • How did quantum theory impact astrophysics in the 20th century?
  • Did Freud's approaches to psychotherapy influence Jung?

This gets hairy fast, certainly military strategy/tactics could be considered their own field. But Military History is also a strong thriving area of research with very strong overlap with strategy/tactics. For example would the following questions be on topic? Or would they be better addressed by

  • Why did Robert E. Lee fail to win at Gettysburg?
  • What tactics did Wellington implement to defeat Napoleon?

It would seem natural for these questions to fall into a History SE site, but also a hypothetical site for expert tacticians or strategists.

tl;dr: To sum up, how do you differentiate a question that is too technical vs one that is appropriate for History? Where do we draw the line between what's acceptable and what's too technical to answer well here?

  • Where do historians draw the line between what their studies cover, and what is outside of their scope? In essence, how do historians define what is a part of history, versus what is a part of computer science / astrophysics / psychology? – Grace Note Nov 4 '11 at 16:32
  • Are questions like "Why did Robert E. Lee fail?" really history questions? History seems to me an account of what did happen, not an analysis of why. The "Why?" type questions seem possibly more appropriate for a strategy/tactics/analysis/philosophy site--depending on the precise subject matter, and if/when such a site exists. – Flimzy Nov 5 '11 at 0:47
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    @Flimzy "Why?" questions are a lot of what historians do. The PhD I intend to do when I retire is "How significant a factor was the impact of the Crimean War on the Russian Army in their decision not to intervene in the wars of German and Italian Reunification?" - which is essentially a "why?" question (and will involve a lot of original research on the army lists of the Russian Army, probably in the Kremlin archives). – Richard Gadsden Dec 7 '11 at 20:03

In my opinion, there shouldn't (or can't) be a hard and fast rule to determine what is and isn't an appropriate history question. As you said there can be a history of anything and in some cases, a computing history question will be more appropriate here than in Stack Overflow, while in other cases it should not be asked here. We should be able to make the determination on a case-by-case basis.

Incidentally, I disagree with the idea that history is just an account of what happened and not study of why. History is as much a study of the why as the what.


At the start this site, contrary to the proposal on Area 51, decided to become a Geo-Political site and thus became the yawn fest that it is today.

People came expecting history.stackexchange.com and got geopol.stackexchange.com

The original idea was to become a Stack Overflow of history with a bunch of tags to separate content, but some people jumped on questions that weren't "academic historical" questions (insulting local historians in the process). Thus sealing the scope of this site to that arena.

  • 1
    Then add appropriate questions – none Dec 10 '11 at 16:21
  • "Insulting local historian in the process"... Could you elaborate? I seemed to have missed this. – Sardathrion Dec 12 '11 at 10:53

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