Update: Due largely to the feedback provided below and the proliferation of increasingly intriguing questions on this site, History SE is now public. Congratulations! Thank you for your feedback — Enjoy.

The original message:

I believe the recommendation will be to close this site on the basis of the "How Things Work" problem. I would like to recommend keeping it open by improving the scope of the site… but I need your feedback.

What is this site about?

Generally, Stack Exchange sites are built for academics and experts to solve specific problems you encounter in you day-to-day work. It's been suggested that since "History" is a chronological account of events past, there are really no problems to solve, per se. It's a bunch of reference material for your to look up and share.

If that ^^^ statement above doesn't make your blood boil, we're probably building this site for the wrong audience.

History is not about asking about past events. The FIELD of history (to an expert historian) is about scholars who examine and analyze events and perform objective investigations, determine cause and effect, look for apparent biases, etc.

Is this site about history trivia?

We've already talked about answers that just regurgitate content from other sources (Warning about answers that just copy online sources). But the actual problem is not that answers are being copied… It's that the questions solicit answers that are eminently copyable. Many of the questions sound as though they're written by students the night before their essays are due.

I honestly don't know what an expert historian does all day, but I'm quite sure they don't sit around quoting encyclopedia articles. So my question is this…

Finally, a question…

I'll make this a free-for-all, pile-in-your-thoughts question on any of the following:

  • What are you getting out of this site?
  • Why should it exist?
  • What purpose does it serve and how does it make the Internet better?
  • Do we need to re-scope this site to appeal to the more academic nature of historians and historical study?

If the history experts on this site don't have problems to solve that aren't already well-documented in "General Reference" sources, this site has already failed. We don't need a site that only adds another level of indirection between the question and the cited answer. We need a site that does something more.

What is that "something more"?


"I prefer my history dead. Dead history is writ in ink, the living sort in blood

Yep. Blood boiling ;)

What are you getting out of this site?

  • It is fun. Researching questions that I wouldn't have ordinarily have thought about is awesome.
  • I am working on a collaborative project to map historical conflicts in time and space. Sometimes the Internet fails to deliver accurate geographical information in all cases. I see this StackExchange as a way to get answers to my questions and to add those missing pieces of information to the Internet.
  • I want to pillage the personal libraries of strangers.

Why should it exist, what purpose does it serve, how does it make the Internet better?

This follows my last point on the previous question. Books are stubbon things. They give up their knowledge when you pull them from the shelf and pry them open, they require you to be in the same geographical location and they fail to be indexed by Googlebots.

In the past few days I have dug some interesting pieces of information from my personal library and added it to the Internet:

Prior to this answer, Lincoln's inaugural address existed on the Internet, but without this particular context in mind.

Before this question, the Internet's response to 'When and Why was the samurai class abolished' talks about the fact with little concern for the reasons. This answer makes the connection to to the Meiji Restoration's Charter Oath, which previously existed on the Internet without that context (and with a different translation).

These are examples of knowledge and context that was previously hidden away in books and now exist online and we have more work to do.

How can we, potentially, re-scope this site to appeal to the more academic nature of historians and historical study?

I was ready to rant that we need to be more aggressive about closing questions that can be answered trivially on Wikipedia, but looking at the home page this morning, I don't see any questions like that. I have only suggested closing one question in the private beta and even that proved to be ambiguous.

I agree 100% we want to attract historians to the site, but I am not sure we are doing any thing right now that would preclude that.

Given my personal historical projects over the last few years I have had a need for good quality history Q&A. I have tried most of the other Q&A platforms with this purpose in mind. I went as far as to compare Mahalo & Vark.com for a particular question, they both failed to deliver a satisfactory answer.

They failed because they lacked the laser focus of a community that have books about history on their shelves. This site succeeded where those other sites failed.

  • Thank you for the long, thought-out response. I hope we get more like it. Usually these posts are met with either rallying cries or outrage. So far, the response on this site has been... tepid. – Robert Cartaino Oct 17 '11 at 23:40
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    @robert-cartaino No problem. I am hoping the rest of the community starts chiming in. I have wanted this site for a long time and hope it gets a chance to succeed (cannonade.net/blog.php?id=1511) – RedBlueThing Oct 17 '11 at 23:51
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    @RedBlueThing I was going to respond to this question, but quite frankly you did it better than I could have. Spot on, wish I could up vote this multiple times! – BrotherJack Mar 29 '12 at 18:48
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    +1 for the ASOIAF quote ;) – NSNoob Feb 15 '17 at 13:58

I am by no means a history expert so I also have no idea what historians do all day long (well, almost none). I will try to explain how I see this site however.

What are you getting out of this site?

It is fun. Seriously, I haven't asked a single question so far - yet I learned lots of things about history that I didn't know before. It was mostly details that history books didn't consider important enough. Yet these details help you truly understand an epoch.

Why should it exist?

IMHO the best answers on this site are the ones that show the large picture and put well-known events into a far less known context. Sure, each single fact is usually already available online. But finding the connection between them and explaining how it all fits together - that's something that even many history books fail on.

For example, we all know that machine guns and similar technical advances made cavalry attacks and cold weapons useless in modern warfare. But it couldn't have happened overnight. So when did this change actually happen? How long did various armies hold onto them and why? Now we know.

What purpose does it serve and how does it make the Internet better?

Some questions are far too complicated to be researched in full here. Still, bringing together the different points of view and discussing them does create value because everywhere else you get one point of view and no alternatives. Oh, and I changed my opinion into the exact opposite after researching that question - oops...

But sometimes we seem to dig up something that is genuinely new. Up until now if you asked which Confederate state contributed the most soldiers to the army you were bound to end up with North Carolina. Here we don't only have the correct answer and an explanation as to why the numbers are unreliable, but also the most likely source of the North Carolina theory - some facts have been put together than only existed separately before.

Do we need to re-scope this site to appeal to the more academic nature of historians and historical study?

I don't think that it is a problem of scope. Some questions are simply already well-researched, e.g. history of flight. This is bound to result in lame answers that mostly point to the (easily found) references. As with other SE sites, we need to require research effort here - including showing where you already tried to find the answer.


What I get out of this site is being forced to substantiate, document, and clarify my claims, whether in question or in answer, sufficiently so that they pass the muster of other experts or aficionados of History.

As a former academic, I miss this sort of discipline and rigor, and I find that this site helps to keep me sharp (or re-sharpen myself..) and learn from others more about "how it is done".


Why am I here?

I like history. I have many questions (see the ones I currently asked) that I want answers to but lack the time and resources to buy books, travel to universities and other centres of knowledge, and do research into. Mostly, I am taking the answers on his site with a grain of salt (well DHU!) but if the posters provides a reference, I can check that out. This will never be a peer reviewed journal but it needs not be.

We need a better FAQ, to define what is on topic in questions and answers including what constitute a source.

I think this site has the potential to become rather good but we need to work at it: more good questions, more good answers, more more more more ...


What are you getting out of this site? Well, im hoping to get some really professional help with my re-enactment. While im trying to educate myself on history, in order to re-enact the proper way only with my own research, Id have to make several degrees in history and read through a few libraries. Just starting off with some questions off the top of my mind, since I started only recently

Why should it exist? Why, to have and expert source of up to date knowledge about history. I cant possibly follow every archeological journal, specialist, publication, university, etc etc. We need a source of reliable, scientific, high quality knowledge. The truth is, popular books on history are simply swarimng with errors on almost every aspect. Some of the illustrations of medieval armour are more fantasy than history in books that are supposed to be educational! We need a place where we can ask for info and we will get facts, backed up with finding, iconography, documents from the period and expert analysis of them.

What purpose does it serve and how does it make the Internet better? The internet is cluttered and even more erronous that the books. Most people write about how they imagine history (especially medieval and how its viewed by the prism of knight romances) rather than how it actually was. Also, everything mentioned in previous posts.

Do we need to re-scope this site to appeal to the more academic nature of historians and historical study? Well, maybe a bit. I looked through some of the questions on the site and I dont feel they are answerable in an expert manner. If someone asks about causality of some events, how one thing or person affected another etc. The answer will be either speculative, or would need an entire scientific article or book to write it down. Many questions are really difficult to answer, meaning - it would take an enormous effort to give a reasonable answer. Examples? How did Medieval Armies survive the use of mail armor in the deserts of the Middle East?. The top rated answer took the right course - the scientific way would be to do experimental archeology. In Poland we actually have a group who does such things. They equip them selves nearly 100% historically (they even use hand-woven materials for their clothes) and travel by foot and by horse, eat historically prepped foot on such journes etc etc. They have gained a LOT of high quality knowlege about travelling in the middle ages. Right now theyre getting ready for a 400km journey on foot in the south of the country. Perhaps they could accurately answer the qeustion I linked, if they were to go Middle East ;) Im quite sure they could provide some great community-wiki questions and answers and Id love to see such people here. Im making some questions from the begginer/advanced reenactors point of view, but I feel my questions are of a totally different sort than most of the site. Maybe more such qeustions would interest real pro's? Theyre the sort of question you cant really answer simply flipping through Wikipedia and a book entidled "Knights through history".

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