I'm no history buff; I have a general interest in history which extends about as far as regular, common-spoken, well-known facts (or potential myths, depending on one's sources). Now, however, my interests have suddenly and temporarily changed and I am desiring in-depth information about a topic in history (a foreign field of study to myself).

To exemplify, say I want to learn about the Mongolians and their social-cultural interactions and interchanges with other cultures of nations throughout their prehistory and antiquity. This would effectively be their history of developments and influences.

May I request a canonical resource which most scholars would point to if given the same objective?Ex.: What is a canonical resource outlying the history of the Mongolians?

I understand that this is a heated topic. I've read through a handful of questions debating it, and I can see quite some binary opinions. The main concern is the objectiveness involved with answering a classical Stack Exchange question, specifically, How does the OP pick and choose which answer (of this sort) is most correct?

History, as I understand it as an outsider, is a branch of knowledge seated firmly on a myriad of sources, each with their own varying degrees of credibility. I am basing my assumption that there exist canonical sources within the subject of history which teachers or scholars would utilize by default, given their canonness, based on those utilized in other sciences. For example, one requesting information on the topic of general relativity may be pointed to the canonical work of Einstein's General Theory of Relativity, or subsequent works of other authors given similar degrees of credibility for their works. In essence, this assumption persists by viewing similar instances through my narrow scope of the sciences.

Now, that is meant to more or less define what I intended to convey by "canonical," what about the bigger dilemma? How do I, the OP, conclusively state that one answer over the other presents the more canonical source? (Do mind that multiple canonical sources can exist for the same subject.) This seems to me like a roadblock inadvertently created by the field of study itself. That, and I, the one with the freshly plastic cranial meat on the subject, am wholly underprepared to make that conclusion. I don't know which answer is more canonical than another. I have to ascertain, based on the evidence in the answer, that one canonical work reigns over another.

Surely, this is no sure-fire method, and hence the debate.

However, given the example of a canonical source that I have made, I want to believe that there is a certain obviousness to that aspect. One source, given the education to make such the deduction, is more credible and widespread than another. If it is not, then perhaps the question is off-topic—no clear solution. There will always be the lingering figure of trustworthiness and integrity with any work of nonfiction as discoveries are often disproven. By this, no clear-cut answer to any question exists, and then the discussion diverges into metaphysics.

I believe I'm getting ahead of myself, so here's a restatement of the question:
May a request for canonical resources be made, given that the source is reasonably and widely accepted to be canonical?

  • Canonical resources are good, but be wary for stating your question too broad. Your example, "What is a canonical resource outlying the history of the Mongolians?" Would In my opinion be too broad while I'm not against canonical resource requests.
    – Mast
    Oct 16, 2018 at 12:10
  • @Mast For that example, the history of the Mongolians, what are potential subsets which may lessen its broadness? Personally, I would've thought that one specific culture would have been narrow enough, but again I'm kinda new here.
    – BenjaminF
    Oct 16, 2018 at 13:19
  • The Mongolian Empire's influence once reached from the east coast of China to parts of eastern Europe. Changing it's area (and capital) plenty of times. So there's a lot of history to be had for a single empire. Are you interested in the broader lines? Details from a specific region and/or timeframe? There are simply too many good resources to fit your question as it stands, in my opinion.
    – Mast
    Oct 16, 2018 at 13:27
  • @Mast Ah, okay. I see your point. That is definitely worth keeping in mind when asking these types of questions.
    – BenjaminF
    Oct 16, 2018 at 13:38

1 Answer 1


Excellent question. The community will have to decide, but my personal understanding based on the last couple of times that this question has been discussed is that canonical reference requests are on topic. The definition is as you've stated - references that almost all scholars in the field would point to.

Dissenting opinions?

  • 1
    Requesting canon is so very close to “what is the historiography of (x)” which is definitely on topic. Compare to “what sources exist about the horse stirrup” which is junk, versus “what was the horse stirrup debate?” Oct 21, 2018 at 0:39

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