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We all love History Stack Exchange, but there is a whole world of people out there who need answers to their questions and don't even know that this site exists. When they arrive from Google, what will their first impression be? Let's try to look at this site through the eyes of someone who's never seen it before, and see how we stack up against the rest of the 'Net.

The Site Self-Evaluation review queue is open and populated with 10 questions that were asked and answered in the last quarter. Run a few Google searches to see how easy they are to find and compare the answers we have with the information available on other sites.

Rating the questions is only a part of the puzzle, though. Do you see a pattern of questions that should have been closed but are not? Questions or answers that could use an edit? Anything that's going really well? Post an answer below to share your thoughts and discuss these questions and the site's health with your fellow users!

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What is the mark next to the hallmark on this silver object?

Trivia. Should have been / been closed. Excellent answers.

Where was the furthest extent of Arabian trade explorations?

Needs improvement, there's extensive Indian Ocean focused studies available from the last 10 to 20 years. Existing answer is adequate.

Time it takes to build siege engines

Trivia. Should have been closed pending improvement to the question (serious improvement). Answers are okay.

What were the crime rates In the American Old West?

Skipped. I have a Conflict of Interest.

In U.S. military forces, did black soldiers suffer a heavy racial segregation during World War II?

Needs improvement. Primarily in the question. Should have been closed pending improvement. Answer is adequate but a bit weak.

Why didn't America finish Saddam Hussein after the first Gulf War?

Satisfactory. (I'm surprised given the question title). Despite being ESL and a new user, the questioner cited an influence and asked a reasonable question. Answers were satisfactory.

How widespread was the practice of chaining slave rowers to the ships?

Satisfactory. Question is trivia and should have been bonked / majorly rewritten. Answers are good.

What was it like to have type 1 diabetes in the early 20th century?

Off-topic. It is asking a medical question, not a history of medicine question.

Did the US government officially apologize for Indian Removal Act and Native American Indian genocide?

Trivia. Needs a rewrite for adequacy, chiefly lacking in appropriate context.

U.S. Marine Corps and Why does the Navy’s army need its own air force?

Should have been closed or migrated.


The running theme is the incredibly poor quality of questions, usually to do with trivia, lack of adequate context or reference, or requests for topics not related to history as such. Heavily and major rewriting could save some of these, but they're not resulting in historical questions.

Our community of answerers is doing better than our community of questioners, but this leaves good answers to bad questions: unsatisfying on the whole.

  • I have to agree with Samuel here: "running theme is the incredibly poor quality of questions" - there are many great specialized places online for people with good detailed questions (that aren't answerable by simple google search) so question quality is critical. Wonder how we might improve this? – kmlawson Jul 21 '13 at 14:04
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    A good question I do like was history.stackexchange.com/questions/9254/… . The questioner has picked a niggling trivium (whiskey pay), looked at the literature suitable to a non-expert (the whiskey rebellion existed), and asked two good historical questions: how much whiskey would be paid, and was it legal. The questions are good because value of goods over time is a non-trivial economic history answer; and, as normative politics (legality, "oughts") provoke detailed discussion and conflict amongst scholars. – Samuel Russell Jul 22 '13 at 1:31
  • the documentation of the human condition while not expressly historical in context, is not so far removed as to qualify as exclusively medical. i think that the diabetes question does not fall outside the boundaries of this site. – franklin Jul 28 '13 at 15:39
  • @franklin "the documentation of the human condition while not expressly historical in context" you answer the question: it isn't history. History of Medicine has a long and credible life in the histories of specific fields. This question doesn't go to it either. Thanks. – Samuel Russell Jul 28 '13 at 22:46
  • I agree! Button on! – Jimmy Hoffa Aug 15 '13 at 20:39
4

Unfortunately it is difficult to discuss a pattern; the pattern is only evident after a set of questions have been revealed, and the self-evaluation doesn't allow me to go back and capture a pattern. Consequently I can't discuss the strength of the pattern. Thanks to the redoubtable @Samuel Russell, I can try to discuss the pattern. What is the mark next to the hallmark on this silver object? Excellent question; it is difficult to research images, and H:SE is a valuable resource.

Where was the furthest extent of Arabian trade explorations? I was dissapointed that the question lacked preliminary research; I had assumed that ibn Batutah would be in google's first five results. I was wrong. So I'll eat crow on this one.

Time it takes to build siege engines Concur with Mr. Russell that the question should have been edited to improve quality, but this is another place where I think H:SE is exemplary; this isn't easy to google. (I checked; most of the answers concern various computer games)

What were the crime rates In the American Old West? The answers were far better than the question deserved. At some point I shall have to add "movie history" to my rant about Why Downvote? This question was diffuse and ill focused; "The Old West" isn't a single community, and any attempt to realistically answer the question is at least book length.

In U.S. military forces, did black soldiers suffer a heavy racial segregation during World War II? This question should have been migrated to politics; I don't believe it is a question about history. The answer is in the question, and even if the answer weren't in the question, trivial research is sufficient to answer the question.

Why didn't America finish Saddam Hussein after the first Gulf War? I recuse myself.

How widespread was the practice of chaining slave rowers to the ships? I'll concur with Mr. Russell; trivial, but legitimate.

What was it like to have type 1 diabetes in the early 20th century? Legitimate question, adequate answer.

Did the US government officially apologize for Indian Removal Act and Native American Indian genocide? The question should have included more research.

U.S. Marine Corps and Why does the Navy’s army need its own air force? Quite possibly should be off topic; the context is clearly political.

Were the questions randomly selected or curated?)

Of the nine questions that I feel I can discuss, two were more political than historical, Three were based on inadequate research (I believe that before you ask a question on H:SE, you should google the terms, and do preliminary research.)

Three of the questions however were more difficult than I imagined, so I'll be having a healthy helping of crow for lunch. Five should have been extensively edited before they were released. (fortunately, H:SE is relatively good about community editing to refine a question; I think we could evolve to do better, but I think we do OK). I wonder if there is a way to search questions by number of edits? I wonder if we would learn anything by comparing the highly edited questions with the lightly edited questions.

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Final Results

-1

I don't understand this naive and elitist dismissal of questions as "trivia". History is a massive and very broad field and obviously people's interests will not be the same. There is a large number of us who pursue history as a hobby subject (I myself, like many others, come from stackoverflow) and are not interested in 'deep' questions; rather we want to find out about all the little interesting facts which happen throughout history.

And I personally find it very elitist that there are people who think that this does not belong on this site.

Last I checked, this site is called "History exchange" not "Historian Academic exchange". As long as the question is properly written and referenced and is about history, it should be 100% ok. It does not matter if the subject is popular history or about some insignificant trivia or an identification of something in a photo; they all form into the umbrella of 'history'. Such style of questions are commonly asked on Stack Overflow and no one has any issue (e.g. "here is my code snippet, what am I doing wrong?" questions are fine on SO). There are plenty of proper academia sites if you want to discuss 'proper' history, let us hobbyists and amateurs have some fun too :)

That being said, we should make sure that anything to do with ice road truckers or lumberjacks or aliens be swiftly purged lest we turn into a certain TV channel I won't name.

I stay on this site purely as a hobby, if suddenly it becomes against site policy to ask simple 'trivia' questions then I wouldn't have any reason to stay anymore. I think I'm not alone in this. If you want the website to get more hits, then alienating all the hobbyists and amateurs, which probably form a significant part of the readership (but not necessarily contributor), is not be the solution.

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    Trivia only means easily googleable. If you can find the answer on the first page of a simple google search, it's trivia. For example, "Who was the first American President?" is trivia because the answer can easily be found with a simple google search. Also, I 100% agree with paragraph four. :) – American Luke Aug 13 '13 at 19:22
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    Also, I'm not sure why you posted this as an answer to this evaluation question. If you want to discuss this more fully, you might want to ask a new question. – American Luke Aug 13 '13 at 19:24
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    One problem you're going to face is that "history" has been effectively monopolised by a profession almost entirely composed of academics. The attacks on trivium have been almost entirely secure methodologically; in part because the discipline has been willing to incorporate insights from amateurs such as history-from-below, histories of every day life, cultural history, oral histories, etc. All of these focus on contexts and meanings. "What is this hallmark?" as bad versus, "Use and meaning of early 19th century French hallmarks." – Samuel Russell Aug 14 '13 at 0:27
  • @AmericanLuke The last sentence says "Anything that's going really well? Post an answer below to share your thoughts and discuss these questions and the site's health with your fellow users!" So I thought this would be appropriate....Also what I meant by 'trivia' is, for example, the question "What is the mark next to the hallmark on this silver object?" The mod himself said the answers were excellent, and the question itself was to do with history, therefore why should it be removed? – Evil Washing Machine Aug 14 '13 at 15:09
  • Just a suggestion to give it more publicity. It's fine here too. – American Luke Aug 14 '13 at 15:13

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