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It seems that daily we receive several "Where can I find references on ABC?" questions. It seems that there is an unmet need amongst candidates for members of this community/stack for reading lists on broad general topics in history. SO, along the lines of various early **list* questions on Stack Overflow. I am wondering if it might be worthwhile to authorize, as a community, and as a community service, a small number of questions listing some well-founded history approachable by the general public.

If so, I see a few issues that would have to be addressed:

  1. How to determine the number of such questions, while still ensuring that this category does not overwhelm the site. One suggestion might be to allow one such question each month/week.

  2. How to determine which question to open each as above? And who gets the final call.

Any thoughts on the merits of the idea, and on how it could be monitored and (if necessary) policed are welcome.

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    On Space Exploration we maintain a Meta question with a list of useful references. – called2voyage Jun 8 '16 at 16:29
  • I'm still confused about the "how", and although I'm sympathetic, I'm skeptical that any implementation would be effective. Can anyone provide a more detailed proposal? – Mark C. Wallace Jun 12 '16 at 11:35
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    @MarkC.Wallace My current thoughts lean towards a community wiki meta question - can you imagine that working? – Pieter Geerkens Jun 12 '16 at 20:20
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    But that wouldn't be a limited number of questions.... Do we open a community wiki reference for every tag? recently we've had "TV Shows" and "Missouri domestic life" (IIRC). What standard do we use for good reference candidates vs bad reference candidates? (bad would include "contentious", and I don't know how we predict/manage that). – Mark C. Wallace Jun 12 '16 at 22:30
  • @MarkC.Wallace 1. No, you have one community wiki reference--no need to have separate questions for each tag. 2. What standard would you use for good/bad reference in a normal answer? – called2voyage Jun 13 '16 at 15:18
  • I'm ever more convinced we're not all talking about the same thing. I don't mean to be an obstacle, but I need more details before I will feel that I understand the proposal. – Mark C. Wallace Jun 13 '16 at 15:21
  • @MarkC.Wallace Check out this Space Exploration Meta question. Ignore the question body. We treat it as a store for all valuable references related to space exploration. – called2voyage Jun 13 '16 at 15:45
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    That's a good example, but the total number of subjects & resources in space exploration are limited. Would we open a corresponding question for every tag? What about questions like "Japanese TV" or "Missouri domestic life?" The proposal was for a "select list of reference questions". I'd be more comfortable if I understood the process by which we select those questions. – Mark C. Wallace Jun 13 '16 at 16:38
  • @MarkC.Wallace Total number of subjects and resources in Math are not as limited as space exploration, I presume? Yet they allow so-called soft-questions (see my answer), which is a much broader (and subjective) category than this proposal. I fail to understand why we, as a community, want to restrict things than allow things. I feel, we should err on the liberal side. – taninamdar Jun 14 '16 at 16:04
  • I think it is time we pulled the trigger on this. Let's try one (or more) of the proposals. – Mark C. Wallace Jun 18 '16 at 11:27
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Yes, we should.

And we can make the answer(s) community wiki, or add a combined community wiki answer. We can sort out the technicalities later.

I am not formally a student of history, so I don't know how the historians decide which questions are objectively answerable (which seems to be the core philosophy of our SE). But sometimes I think the rules for on-topic-ness of our community are too restrictive for its own good.

Other sites (such as Math.SE, Theoretical CS.SE) allow a broad array of soft questions (examples 1, 2, 3, 4 — they're very easy to find because many SEs have a dedicated tag called soft-question), which can be a little subjective, and yet manage abiding to the core philosophy of SE, i.e. not getting converted into a discussion forum. Perhaps we can be a bit liberal in our scope, and be more helpful to a broader class of users.

  • This is sort of a poor-man's version of my old proposal for allowing list questions. That's not necessarily a hit against it, since that proposal turned out to be too complex to be easily understood. – T.E.D. Jun 15 '16 at 20:44
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Since its been a while, and thus I think a lot of people here might not be aware of it, I should probably put up my old Proposal for Accepting Reference List Requests.

The basic idea was to make a single accepted wiki answer, and allow other non-wiki answers with supporting detail from individual users, with the understanding that references in good answers are added (with no detail) to the accepted answer. In theory, the answers for specific references should end up appearing after the wiki answer in the order of user votes for them.

I believe we tried it once, with the result showing that at least one of the (very few) supporters didn't actually understand what I was proposing. I don't think it was tried again.

  • I believe the idea is workable in principle. We were successful in such a maneuver while answering one of my own questions. It's not a reference list though. – taninamdar Jun 16 '16 at 10:46
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    @taninamdar - I believe that is the question I was thinking of. My memory of it was of the whole thing being a hot mess, but looking it over now, the result actually looks pretty good. Should we try this more? – T.E.D. Jun 16 '16 at 13:47
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I am sympathetic to this proposal; I think it will solve a problem. I just don't quite understand how it will work. I'm going to try to summarize the proposal as I see it.

A. Proposal for reference questions

  1. Reference questions are now permitted. The community will be relatively conservative about duplication - we want 1 reference question/topic, we do not want lots of closely related references. We acknowledge that there is an intrinsic problem with the scope of questions and will rely on moderation to converge. (However, B3 below may address this issue). NOTE: This does not imply pre-emptive questions. This merely grants people who are interested to ask questions like, "What are some sources to permit me to research X?".
  2. Anyone can ask a reference question and site will rely on moderation to converge reference questions towards a loose standard.
  3. Reference questions will have a distinctive tag (probably "reference question")
  4. Reference questions will be community wiki so that anyone can edit.
  5. Nobody makes the final call and nobody selects which questions; or to put it another way, the community moderates the site, like all other questions. I would suggest that as a community standard we be very liberal and accepting of reference requests.

B. Potential additions or alternatives

  1. We don't do reference questions - we permit the tag wiki to contain a list of references for that tag. @called2voyage expresses a concern that tag wiki's may not drive enough traffic to make the result reliable. I'm not sure I understand the concern; the proposal would be better than the current reference system for H:SE. I'm not sure I understand the relationship between traffic and reliability (at the core, the problem may be that I don't understand how the term "reliability" is being used). In any case, I feel that I should amplify that I suggest the tag wiki because it seems to me to be the most intuitive place to look for resources, and it re-uses existing mechanisms. It requires minimal cultural adoption, and it scales well. I don't think that any of the potential solutions will be "reliable" and I don't anticipate any of them being high traffic.
  2. In order to avoid debate/discussion, reference questions will have one answer that contains a list of all the canonical or commonly approved sources. Other answers can contain proposed resources. Any source that achieves a minimum score will be added to the canonical. This makes the debate explicit - up & down votes can be used to identify higher quality resources which are then moved to the "accepted" list. NOTE: this seems to have support and will probably be moved to A - the only reason I'm not moving it now is that it will break the references in comments.
  3. Every reference question should have precisely two tags - the "reference question" tag and a topic tag. All references must be tightly relevant to that tag.
  4. We don't delete answers with deprecated references - we annotate the answer with the reason why. (I don't remember which eminent computer scientist ?(Allan Kay?) suggested that the best reference for every topic is "Alice in Wonderland". That is great for humor, but lousy for a source question. We need a way to control both well meaning disagreement, and references with an agenda). (OP asked about how this would be policed; this is my answer, but I invite better answers.

C. Commentary

I remain confused about "select" in the question title and the phrase "small number" in the question body. I haven't seen a practical suggestion to make this a select list - every proposal I see is unbounded (with the exception of a time throttle). I'm hanging a lampshade on that problem and inviting others to address the issue. (might be that it has been addressed and I just don't understand the subtlety)

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    I particularly like points B-2 and B-3. re Commentary: the only intended inference in my wording was to subdue my intent and tone slightly, since I occasionally come across as overbearing. ;-) – Pieter Geerkens Jun 14 '16 at 20:42
  • I don't really like the tag wiki alternative, because I feel like it wouldn't get enough traffic to keep it reliable--but maybe I'm wrong. – called2voyage Jun 14 '16 at 21:02
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    Mark, what I mean regarding the tag wiki is that when a tag wiki is updated, no one is notified (unless there is a suggested edit review--and then only the reviewers are notified). When a question/answer thread is edited, it comes up to the top of the active questions list. This will bring more attention and awareness--and I presume more reliability (as in the list will be updated regularly and frequently peer reviewed). – called2voyage Jun 15 '16 at 13:49
  • A1, A2: How do we reconcile that with scope of questions? Do we have a big question "Roman Principate" whose scope is almost unbounded or do we have specific questions e.g. "Roman-Persian relations under Trajan". In latter case, do we have a new question replacing Trajan with Hadrian? My suggestion - A2 > A1. A3: "Reference question" is preferred over "soft", as the latter is much broader in scope and we're not allowing that. A4, A5: agree, with upvote scheme from B2. – taninamdar Jun 15 '16 at 14:50
  • B1: Disagree. Tag wikis are obscure, need certain reputation to edit, and there's no discussion about edits. Won't solve the problem imo. B2: Agree if implemented along with A4, A5. B3: I don't understand why only 2 tags. What if the question is about Anglo-Chinese relations in 19th century? B4: Not that important concern imo (we don't go back and edit normal answers), but I'm okay with the suggestion. – taninamdar Jun 15 '16 at 14:57
  • I've edited my proposal; don't want to move things because they will break references. Can you clarify A2>A1? Not sure how to edit that in. – Mark C. Wallace Jun 15 '16 at 14:58
  • C I don't understand why it's a problem. In either case, we do get reference questions every now and then - some receive an answer before they are closed, while some are immediately closed, now they'd be more structured. I don't think allowing this will result in the site being flooded with such questions. – taninamdar Jun 15 '16 at 15:01
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    @MarkC.Wallace I interpreted A1 as we as a community will preemptively add ref. questions about "common" topics. But (going with same example), "Roman Principate" has thousands of answers, whereas there are thousands of smaller questions with reasonable scope like "Roman-Persian relations under Trajan". My suggestion - we allow questions of 2nd type, but only as someone is interested in it. We don't preemptively add questions as a community. – taninamdar Jun 15 '16 at 15:08
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Building on Mark C. Wallace's answer, maybe we should have questions for some overarching categories that we decide in advance. The canonical answer can then be further subdivided as necessary. For example:

Question 1:

Resources for Time Periods

Note: Answer categories can be further subdivided by region.

Answer:

  • Neolithic
    • Neolithic Ireland
  • Bronze Age
  • Medieval
    • Early Middle Ages
  • Renaissance
  • etc.

Question 2:

Resources for Specific Individuals

Answer:

  • Philosophers
    • Plato
  • Scientists
    • Einstein
  • Generals
    • Patton

Question 3:

Resources for Specific Institutions

Answer:

  • States
    • United Kingdom
  • Companies
    • East India Company

Question 4:

Resources for Specific Events

Answer:

  • The Black Death

Question 5:

Resources for Historiography

Answer:

  • Comparative history

Question 6:

Resources for Archaeology

Answer:

  • Remote sensing

The subdivisions aren't really important--they can be edited over time and refined since they will be in the community wiki answer. What is important is defining the overarching categories (the bold examples) in advance.

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One idea for consideration: Put "good"/canonical references in tag wikis.

With it done this way, requests for references could be converted into (meta) requests to update that portion of a specific tag wiki.

The drawbacks I see to this are that we probably won't have specific tags for a lot of detailed requests, and its weird enough that it may be confusing to new users.

Also, there are reputation requirements (I believe overall, and tag-based) for tag wiki edits. However, that could possibly be viewed as a good thing.

  • I'm not trying to push this. Its just a random thought that hit my head. I see from comments that Pieter had the same idea, so consider this me putting his idea into "answer" form. If folks think it sucks or think its great I'd be equally surprised. – T.E.D. Jun 15 '16 at 20:55
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    That was what I was trying to say with B.1 in my answer. The objection seems to be that not everyone can edit tag, and there is no way to be notified of changes to a tag. – Mark C. Wallace Jun 16 '16 at 0:40
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    @MarkC.Wallace - Well, again some may argue the former is actually an advantage. We get a lot of people who cruise in here with a single favorite revisionist book they are really excited about. IIRC, you have to have a certain amount of rep in the tag in question to edit its wiki, which would prevent someone like that from adding their revisionist Elbonian Nationalist history book to the list until users collectively decide their posts on the subject are of worth. – T.E.D. Jun 16 '16 at 13:37
  • That's what I was trying to argue in B.2. I think this proposal is a serious opportunity, but any community moderated site has to address the problem you mention "helicopter trolls" who fly in with an agenda different from the site, drop their load and promptly fly out again. My best suggestion is that new references go into separate answers for discussion, and once a reference has been discussed & endorsed it gets moved to community wiki. Deprecated references "A new interpretation of Elbonian history through the lens of phlogiston" remain in downvoted answers with comments and discussion. – Mark C. Wallace Jun 16 '16 at 14:54
  • @T.E.D. I don't think it's an advantage. It may be true that users with low reputation will be able to post their favorite book as an answer, others can always (up/)down vote it and leave comments, and votes on the answer will serve as a fair indicator of the quality of it, as they're designed to be. I don't see why we should treat reference requests in such a special manner. – taninamdar Jun 16 '16 at 20:11
  • And then there's the problem of granularity of reference topics as I've said in another comment. I think it's more useful to have sources about specific topics (of a level that we insist the actual questions should be) than broad ones (of a level that usually deserve their own tags). The concern is that the (main) site will be flooded with such questions, but I think that's not realistic. Also, if we adapt this proposal, and if flooding does happen, then it'll just be diverted from main to meta. – taninamdar Jun 16 '16 at 20:16
  • ??? I envision questions on main, not meta. – Mark C. Wallace Jun 16 '16 at 20:58
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    @MarkC.Wallace Both of the comments were replies to the original post. Sorry for the confusion, if any. – taninamdar Jun 17 '16 at 16:23

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