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Recently we had another instance of an anti-pattern that I call, "Good question, wrong forum" "Is there more modern history book with the same scope as Gibbon's The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire? [closed]. This is an interesting question, and the original poster was very cooperative in editing it to try to get within H:SE guidelines. Several of us discussed ways that we might alter the question to avoid closure and/or to provide a useful answer.

I'd summarize the question with two themes - first that the question is too broad, and second that the question is fundamentally bad subjective. The question is good; I wouldn't mind knowing the answer myself. But H:SE isn't the right place to ask that question. There is probably another forum where the question is more likely to get a useful answer.

Not every question is appropriate for H:SE; that doesn't mean they are bad questions, just that they aren't appropriate for the venue. I'm hesitant about offering an analogy, but there are some conversations I'd have in a noisy nightclub, other conversations that belong over an intimate dinner table, and still others that can be carried out in a sacred space. Starting the right conversation in the wrong space will be suboptimal.

I want to compliment the several people who offered constructive suggestions in comments. I am not fond of comments, but I have grown to like our custom of offering constructive answers in comments in response to questions with challenges. I like the notion that we can be helpful even when we're unable to be fully responsive.

I'm going to mark this community wiki, and hope that we can use it as a reference. It is difficult to explain "good question wrong venue" in the limited space available in a comment. I suggest that we edit this question use it as a link target in the comment so that we can offer a friendlier response.

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Posting my suggestion from the chatroom:

Given that we get such requests semi-regularly, there is clearly some demand for resource recommendations. At the same time, the community has maintained that such requests are off-topic. Can we perhaps create a dedicated space to accommodate requests, without opening the floodgates to all such questions?

A proposal:

  1. One big Community Wiki post dedicated to collecting recommendations. Working title: "Community Resource Recommendations by Subject".

  2. Each "answer" will be a list of recommended sources for a given subject

  3. The main body of the "question" then indexes the subjects that has been posted so far, with direct links to each answer for easy navigation.

  4. Future source requests are closed as a duplicate of this wiki, and a new "answer" is created for the requested topic if one doesn't already exist.

What does everyone think about this? Would people be willing to participate in a project like this?

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  • It might be worth checking what the practical limit on the number of answers to an SE question is. Potentially this sort of wiki would need to be able to handle dozens of answers (depending on how broad or narrow each request was). Also since each answer would be a list of recommendations (some good, some less good) voting would be essentially meaningless, so is it possible to turn that off for a community wiki?
    – Steve Bird
    Oct 20 '20 at 13:30
  • @SteveBird I'm not sure if there's a technical limit, but there is a SO question with 518 answers. I don't think we can change the default sort order, though it is possible to manually switch to sort by activity/age. In practice, what I am envisioning is to create an index containing direct links to each answer, saved in the body of the question.
    – Semaphore Mod
    Oct 20 '20 at 13:42
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    It's a nice idea but I think it'll need some careful planning. For example, how would it handle nested categories? If there's an existing question for recommendations of overviews of WW2, would a resource request about the WW2 Pacific theater be handled entirely separately or would it be a subcategory of the WW2 overview question, etc? Oct 20 '20 at 14:12
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    @KillingTime I would be inclined towards handling them separately, as in list the resources in separate answers. But then we can format the index to display the links in a nested format, and this can also be painlessly tweaked and changed until we find something that works.
    – Semaphore Mod
    Oct 20 '20 at 17:28
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    I really like the idea of potentially helping people develop a deeper interest in history. I think this is a good proposal which we can work with and tweak over time as needed (on the assumption that we won't be able to anticipate every flaw from the outset). Problems over time are almost inevitable but I don't think they will be insurmountable, and the benefits of this proposal will surely outweigh any drawbacks. Oct 23 '20 at 3:28
  • One question that occurs to me: who decides whether "recommended" sources are actually acceptable recommendations for History:SE? For example, consider the example of David Irving. His 1989 biography of Göring is supposed to be excellent (with the caveat that Irving's conclusions about Göring's character are questionable at best). Every professional historian that I have spoken to about it has said that the book should be required reading for anyone whose research involves Göring in some way. However, Irving's other works are rather more problematic. (1/2) Oct 26 '20 at 23:04
  • So what should we do if, for example, users recommend books by Holocaust deniers & Hitler apologists like Irving? How about books by Vichy collaborators like Sisley Huddleston (we have already had one question based on his works, and based on comments by that OP, I have no doubt they would be happy to add books by Huddleston & others with similar views to our "community recommendations")? (2/2) Oct 26 '20 at 23:14
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    @sempaiscuba Hmmm I just assumed moderators and other interested users would gatekeep the recommendations. I'm not sure there's a good mechanism possible here.
    – Semaphore Mod
    Oct 27 '20 at 5:10

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