I asked this question with an answer in mind.

What were General Johnston's options during the Atlanta campaign?

In the opening paragraph of my answer (posted several days later), I expressed the fear that "some Southerner, particularly Georgian" with a better knowledge of the local terrain would point out that Johnston had blundered because Atlanta was a "second best" defensive site compared to say, Kennesaw Mountain. Or that Hood was correct in his apparent belief that "the terrain around Atlanta was better for offense than defense," when he adopted a risky strategy of trying to "pick off" Union armies one by one.

I was much more confident of my answer when no such "pushback" occurred.

Another example is What are exceptions to the hypothesis that "climate determined "regional" loyalties in the U.S. Civil War"?

I had a thesis, and had identified one exception (California) that I could explain to my satisfaction. Basically, I wanted to know if I had overlooked other counterexam;ples that were not so explainable.

So is it okay to ask, "I believe that such and such was true historically. Do you know of any counterexamples that would invalidate my thesis?"

One of my bosses once said, the thing to fear most is not what you know about your job, but what you DON'T know.

2 Answers 2


I think that these types of questions can be okay if it is a rather specific type of question. For example, if you are asking a broad question that tends to be readily answerable, and you just want to confirm what most people already know about the topic, that is probably not okay. Now if you are asking about a really specific event within a larger framework, such as your Atlanta campaign question, that I think is okay for a couple of reasons. First, when you get down to that level of granularity there is probably more effort required to answer such a question, thus making it a better fit for the stack format. Secondly, in my mind part of the objective for questions is to inform people about parts of history they don't already know. I am constantly learning about new areas of history from the questions people ask on this site.

  • 1
    In "Atlanta," I thought I knew the answer but wanted to check to see if some "local" with a better knowledge of the terrain would point out some hidden flaw in my construct. This, in fact, happened with my other example, of hot and cold regions.
    – Tom Au
    Apr 11, 2013 at 21:35

The problem I tend to have the few times I've asked questions I thought I knew the answer to is what to do when you don't get the "correct" answer you are expecting.

Do you just leave it with no answer selected? Do you accept what you consider a wrong answer purely based on upvotes? Do you answer it yourself and accept that (probably with a 0 vote answer in the face of higher-rated answers, which looks really suspect)?

For that reason, I try to avoid asking questions I (believe I) already know the answer to.

  • Basically, I vote on what the answer does for me. If I learn something new and useful, I will upvote or even accept a "wrong" answer. ("Wrong" in this case means, "I don't agree with you," not "objectively wrong.) The WHOLE IDEA is to learn things you haven't thought of.
    – Tom Au
    Apr 10, 2013 at 12:52

You must log in to answer this question.

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