I know requests for resources are off topic, and I agree that "Can you do my homework" type questions should be. However, I am wondering if some requests should be allowed.

I have a personal reason for asking, but sure I'm not alone. I'm no classicist, but have recently got interested in M Tullius Tiro, Cicero's slave/freedman secretary, publisher and collator. My Latin is - basic - I'm working on it, but it will be some time before I have any hope of reading the sources (such as they are!) in the original, and certainly cannot afford the expensive Loeb editions. The links in the Wikipedia article https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marcus_Tullius_Tiro are dead, and I have spent hours trying to find accessible sources.

So, my question is - if someone has already done a fair amount of legwork, and has come to an impasse, should requests for help be "on-topic"?

Views welcome.

  • 2
    THis is probably already on topic; I would imagine that there are a limited number of canonical resources; canonical resource requests are on topic.
    – MCW Mod
    Oct 28, 2015 at 12:51
  • @MarkC.Wallace thanks for the clarification.
    – TheHonRose
    Oct 29, 2015 at 1:03
  • 2
    I try to be helpful occasionally.
    – MCW Mod
    Oct 29, 2015 at 1:37

3 Answers 3


I was generally of the opinion that request for resources should allowed if it is a request for something specific. For example, a question like, "where can I find a digital translation of Cicero's Letters to Atticus?" This seems to be the sort of thing you're looking for.

My belief was that the no request rule should only properly apply to questions such as What are the best concise books on history of (insert a dozen countries). Because those are too broad and too subjective, and generally, I am not sure it would be particularly helpful compared to visiting a library.

  • In your opinion, does that mean that asking for help in locating a specific author's work is permissible?
    – gktscrk
    May 31, 2020 at 12:13
  • 1
    @gktscrk Yes, assuming it is not easily found on google. We've had similar questions in the past that are widely accepted by the community, e.g. recently: history.stackexchange.com/questions/58559/…
    – Semaphore
    Jun 1, 2020 at 6:35

A request for a "list" of resources is probably off topic, because we don't know how to evaluate it.

But a question about the value of ONE resource is on topic, but that is something that one can evaluate.

  • 1
    That's not quite my question. As Mark Wallace said, the "canon" is very limited, I was merely looking for pointers to any accessible canonical resources. I did find them eventually - assessing their value I accept as my problem - but tracking them down took hours/days of very frustrating googling, dead links, etc.
    – TheHonRose
    Nov 1, 2015 at 4:55

I'm going to argue that the criteria is

  • If the question can be answered with an unambiguous answer, then the question is in scope.
  • if the answer is opinion related, multivalued or not an answer, then the question is out of scope.
  • If the answer is about a primary source, it is in scope; if you ask for help in interpreting a specific artifact, picture, narrative, document, etc., then the question is very likely in scope.
  • If the answer is a secondary or tertiary source, then the question is probably out of scope; the burden of proof shifts and you should justify why it should be in scope.

  • If you are looking for the canonical source for any question, then the question is in scope (canonical tends to a single source).

  • If you are looking for a specific primary source, then there will be one answer, and the question is in scope.

If you are looking for a good reference on X, or information on Y, then the answer is multivalued and out of scope.

There are some edge conditions that we just have to rely on good will to resolve. If you ask Samuel Russel and I for canonical sources on the source & origin of the great depression in the USA, we're going to refer to different canons; I'm a rabid monetarist with Austrian inclinations; he is a historian specializing in labor theory. We have different understandings of the problem. But there are two important points.

First, when I cite Schecter vs US and he cites some other work, each of us will disagree on the priority & pre-eminence of the work, but we will mutually acknowledge that the other is citing a correct canonical source from their historical perspective. He may say that I'm wrong in my conclusions, but he will (probably) not disagree with the facts, just the interpretation.

Second, and potentially more important, history is a verb - history is a process of creating narrative from sources. We all acknowledge that we bring different perspectives to the table. I continue to cite Mr. Russell because although his perspective is so alien that I almost need a dictionary to understand it, he is always civil and respectful, always focused on the facts, not on ad hominem. So long as we follow his example, we can resolve differences of opinion about whether a source is canonical or not.

Most importantly of all, disputes about canon are an opportunity to discuss the practice of history and to educate - which is I think the core value of H:SE.

I'm going to put my soapbox away now, and hope that it hasn't been resting on anyone's toes while I've been speaking.

  • 1
    @MarkCWallace I tend to agree broadly, but I feel your criteria are too complex to be communicated clearly, particularly to new/inexperienced users, who are the ones (probably) most likely to ask for resources.
    – TheHonRose
    Dec 31, 2015 at 17:31
  • If asking for a specific source, how can one verify that the question can be answered unambiguously without having found the answer themselves?
    – gktscrk
    May 31, 2020 at 12:16

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .