I'm finding the moderation on the history.stackexchange.com network a bit too stifling. It's all well and good to strictly separate computer programming Q&As from any semblance of morality or emotion.. but the same attitude cannot be applied to a subject like history. History is inherently connected to morality, etc. It cannot be separated.. doing so ends up creating a bias that says that everything is fine that way it is and we won't tolerate you saying otherwise.

Particular question highlighting this : Name one on-ground war that has not seen major sexual violence committed by any of the warring sides

What are your thoughts?

  • 2
    If you want a page for amateur and professional historians alike the answer is a resounding yes. If you want a pet project of anal computer science engineers the answer is maybe. Commented Sep 21, 2015 at 20:23
  • 2
    Moderation conducted on the principle that "History is inherently connected to morality, etc. It cannot be separated." would definitely be stifling. History should not be a theocracy; history should grow and change in ways that morality does not permit. "justification" is for the priest, explanation is for the historian.
    – MCW Mod
    Commented Sep 25, 2015 at 16:43

5 Answers 5


Rather than "stifling" moderation, IMHO H.SE does a poor job of aiding new users ask questions. It appears that the interface offers little (relevant or up to date) guidance for asking questions that meets the expectations and requirements of the community today.

enter image description here
The advice immediately visible to a user asking questions. Not particularly helpful.

The best available documentation is hidden away behind a link unintuitively named "asking help", and in my opinion fails to make it clear that the community has a poor tolerance for list-type questions or questions answered by wikipedia.

I believe that this ambiguity, and the resulting conflict of expectations, significantly contributes to the frustration experienced by new users. I suggest that our asking help page should be updated to better, more clearly reflect the community's rules today.

Moreover, I believe our How to Ask infobox should be rewritten to provide clear guidelines of what to avoid (i.e. opinion based, list type, or wikipedia answers).

Having said that, the rest of this post makes very little sense. The study of history is not at all "inherently connected to morality", a bizarre claim that has no apparent relation to the linked question. AFAIK, that question was closed due to being overly broad, rather than some sort of philosophical differences with the community that the OP seems to believe they are experiencing.

  • 1
    I believe, if you want the wording to change, you need to issue a separate meta post tagged with "feature-request". (Or maybe even issue it on Meta Stack Exchange) I agree that the learning curve is steep and a new user will likely waste time around the site trying to figure out what's wrong with their question. But it's likely that your voice won't reach anywhere in the form of an answer to a "question" from a deleted user.
    – M.A.R.
    Commented Sep 20, 2015 at 20:27

I think we should permit questions which are opinion based as long as the question is not premised on a value judgment. For example, the question did Thatcher's union reforms contribute to modern inequality is a good question, but the question were they good or bad for Britain is not. Both questions are opinion based, but the first one is positive not normative, and so a good question.

  • I would say the first one isn't opinion based - it could be answered by citations of scholarly research and historical evidence. It is hard to answer definitely, but it can be argued objectively. Whereas the second one, being a value judgement as you say, is inherently subjective since it depends on personal definitions of "good" and "bad".
    – Semaphore
    Commented Oct 21, 2015 at 4:29
  • Yeah, but I've had questions similar to the former closed as opinion based, or for some other reason
    – Ne Mo
    Commented Oct 21, 2015 at 9:14
  • Yes, unfortunately some people are over zealous or inconsistent about it, but I've generally observed that some editing to emphasise objective analysis or sources (tag:historiography) tend to do the trick.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Oct 21, 2015 at 9:17
  • 1
    And while I agree that history doesn't have to be founded on value judgments, it definitely isn't a science. Evidence-based, but not science
    – Ne Mo
    Commented Oct 21, 2015 at 9:17
  • Depends on your definitions - the discipline of history is widely considered a social science. But, some people do not consider social sciences to be science, either. A whole other argument I think.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Oct 21, 2015 at 9:56
  • Why should a new user have to bother with negotiating something like that? I've been around for a year and to tag questions that way never occurred to me. So it definitely wouldn't occur to a new user. We should either chill on the close votes or make the (stupid) real rules explicit.
    – Ne Mo
    Commented Oct 22, 2015 at 9:36
  • Or experienced posters should help edit questions from newcomers to fit the community standards. I'm not saying tagging it historiography would make or break the question, I'm saying that's a valid historiography question and not a matter of soliciting opinion. The anger at close votes are completely misguided - the purpose of closing is to prevent an answer in good faith form being posted to a question that could wildly change f.e. if we ask the author to limit its scope or clarify the question. The real problem is that we don't fix the questions and then vote to reopen.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Oct 22, 2015 at 10:42
  • You seem to be saying new users shouldn't be affronted when their questions are closed. Does that square with human nature, to be told you've done something wrong as soon as you enter the new club?
    – Ne Mo
    Commented Oct 22, 2015 at 10:50
  • Putting a question on hold is not saying you've done something wrong, at least not anymore so than commenting "this question is unclear, can you clarify it". If anything is an affront, it's that once the question is put on hold it just dies, since people are far more eager to debate whether a question should be closed than to actually fix questions and or cast reopen votes.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Oct 22, 2015 at 10:55
  • I suppose you would feel that way if you think that the current community standards are right, which I do not.
    – Ne Mo
    Commented Oct 22, 2015 at 11:06
  • No, I simply believe that what the standards should be, is a different topic from how we enforce the ones we currently have. Moreover, unless you abolish all rules, there is always going to be substandard questions, like the two homework questions posted an hour ago.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Oct 22, 2015 at 11:10

I think Semaphore provided a good answer; let me concur, but add a few points.

  1. You're getting undeserved criticism; I challenged you to explain why the point wasn't trivial and you responded. I don't think anyone should criticize you on those grounds. I understand why you think the question is non-trivial (I disagree, but respect your point of view). There is an ongoing discussion of how to ask example questions. I don't quite understand it but there are some example questions that seem to trigger an anti-pattern that results in what you've called "stifling moderation" (as good a term as any until we understand it.)

  2. You and Semaphore and many others are right that we're not doing an effective job of attracting and converting new users. Transparency of rules will help. That said, this is a community moderated site; if you want to change the community, you've got to engage with the community.

  3. I must respectfully disagree with your assertions between history and morality. History is a science; I don't recognize morality as a science. Studying history through a moral lens distorts both, confuses both and prevents reaching coherent conclusions about either. We can look at a historical event and discuss what happened, why it happened, and what it meant to the participants. But with limited exceptions, morality takes us into a morass of conflicting definitions.

That said, your viewpoint is not an obstacle to participation. I don't require that others accept my economic analysis, I respect Mr. Russell even though his perspective on labor is so alien to me as to nearly constitute a foreign language, and we all respect Anixx's viewpoints on non-Soviet topics.


This can be seen as a "trivial" question but it isn't.

Most ground wars involve sexual violence. The ground wars that don't are rare, and this is a result of "special circumstances."

The question can be improved by naming noting the general pattern and asking why the war listed in the answer is exceptional, (what are the special circumstances) but otherwise it's a valid question.


I'm not being allowed to add any comments under any of the answers above, so... No apparent relation between history and morality : Ok, so you're saying that the proverb "history is written by the victors" is a figment of my own imagination and nobody else anywhere thinks so. I suspect that. There's a reason why books like "people's history..", "underground history..", subaltern history etc are out there. To ignore these existences is IMHO unscientific. There's a solid chance that the officially accepted, "scientifically approved" versions of history by the mainstream consensus are not everything there is to the tale, and I will assert that this is more for history than for, say, mechanics.

What I'm trying to get at is that if you apply the one-size-fits-all rules and ASSUME that what you have as the status quo is perfect, scientific etc and if you straightaway dismiss anything that is not backed by mainstream institutions, then you are not being neutral or scientific. You are then being biased towards the side that has written history. And that carries moral implications.

The study of whether a certain invasion was justified or not, pretty much depends on whether you have given equal space to all the stakeholders to provide testimony or not. And at present day it might just turn out that one of the stakeholders does NOT have sophisticated and internationally reputed institutions in their country that can properly express their side due to the invasion. Libya, Iraq are prime examples of this.

Noam Chomsky's writings are a great example of the moral implications of which version of history you treat as acceptable and what you don't tolerate on the grounds of it not being mainstream-backed-enough.

  • !Ding! Noam Chomsky for the win! Now that you've identified your inspiration, I understand why we disagree. Dr Chomsky is brilliant on language, but his conclusions in any other field are incompatible with the reality I live in. I don't dismiss evidence that is not backed by mainstream institutions, but I do credit evidence that is widely analyzed and supported, and I prefer evidence that has been peer reviewed over evidence that is derived from idiosyncratic morality. I don't think I can discuss history with a disciple of Dr. Chomsky because I don't share an analytical frame.
    – MCW Mod
    Commented Sep 25, 2015 at 16:40
  • Hmm, I appreciated Noam Chomsky's clear respect of historical events when we wrote that the best way to stop terrorism is by stopping practicing it. I can see why people would hate him for saying things like that. And here I was also going to recommend reading Charles Eisenstein, Osho, Gandhi, Mandela, Marting Luther King Jr, Mother Teresa, Charlie Chaplin, etc. But I can see that what matters to real people is irrelevant to the present status quo of "science" as understood by this forum's active members. Good luck at having any real questions & answers.
    – Nikhil VJ
    Commented Sep 26, 2015 at 14:02
  • I think any discussion of Chomsky belongs in politics, not in history. There has been insufficient evidence to test any of his theories.
    – MCW Mod
    Commented Sep 26, 2015 at 19:54
  • Mark, if you're implying that politics and history have absolutely nothing to do with each other then I'll have to say that it seem's you're a shill or troll or something. And can you please pinpoint and prove exactly which of Chomsky's "theories" cannot be tested?
    – Nikhil VJ
    Commented Nov 1, 2015 at 6:02
  • I believe that I've covered the first question explicitly, which I hope also answers the ad hominem attack. I don't think this is the appropriate place to discuss Chomsky's theories; he comes from a different place on the political spectrum from mine, and we don't share many assumption that would allow from a productive exchange of opinions. Finally, I don't want to carry on a discussion in comments (nor do I want to carry on a political discussion on H:SE)
    – MCW Mod
    Commented Nov 2, 2015 at 13:39

You must log in to answer this question.