Recently our site editor posed the question 'do we need a history site' and expressed that his recommendation would be to close the site based on the 'how things work' problem. The 'how things work' site closed down because the answer process became a race to regurgitate existing content online.

I think this analogy to our site isn't valid. I tried out a few questions that I imagine would have turned up on that StackExchange:

Now lets look a Google results for our three most popular questions:

Looking at the google results for each of these in turn:

Why did Hitler attack the Soviet Union when he was still busy fighting Britain?

Google gives us a biography of Stalin, a fairly impenetrable CIA article about what Stalin knew prior to Barbarossa and a post on the Battle for Berlin. Dig a bit further and you will find content that gets close to answering question, but in horrible pre-StackExchange type sites.

Why didn't Imperial Japan attack the Soviet Union during World War 2?

From the first result:

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Followed by an adsense block and then some forum results. The second result is the Hirohito Wikipedia article (getting closer but no cigar) and the third result (I think we have a winner) is a list of alternate fiction.

Is there any proof that Robin Hood existed?

This is certainly the best of the lot, an article on Wikipedia followed by various other fairly credible posts on the history of Robin Hood.

My conclusion is that the analogy isn't valid

So the point of this analysis? Two of our three best questions have terrible results on Google. The answers we have are clear, provide a new analytical perspective and, I think, do a good job of answering their respective questions.

If our answers were available on the Internet we would be adding very real value. If this was baseball we would be world champions.

Compare this to my 'how things work' examples, the results are pretty straightforward and there already exists sites devoted to this particular vertical. This is a solved problem.

History Q&A is not a solved problem (believe me, I have looked).

What do you think?

These questions, although the most popular, probably aren't the best examples from the site (and they are still beating Google). I think there are many more examples (some of which I noted in my answer to Robert's question).

If you have other examples were we have added something awesome to the Internet (that wasn't answered before), post them here. I think we need to clearly demonstrate the value we are creating.

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    Well, some questions are indeed easily googled. But I think that by now most questions require serious research so things aren't bad. Particularly if one excludes sources with questionable reliability (which would mean some Wikipedia articles but not all of them) then answers to the questions on this site aren't easily found anywhere. Oct 20, 2011 at 10:32

2 Answers 2


Usually after some questions we can read the comment "Arms, germs and steel already answered that". This comment is interesting, because usually the person who made the question discovers an author/topic unknown for him/her.
Jared Diamond (Arms, Germs and Steel and Colapse), Arnold Toynbee (A Study of History), Peter Turchin (Cliodynamics), Acemoglu and Robinson (Why Nations Fail), Strauss and Howe (Generations), Fukuyama, Spengler, Ibn Khaldun, etc. All these authors basically tried to answer the question "why history happened in that way". Which are common questions in the site.

Hence, these might be interesting questions:
- Why civilizations started in X time and place.
- Why industrialization started in UK.
- Why nomads in the past where so powerful.
- Why islam/christians propagated so fast.
- Why X type of goverment surges in some places.
- Why greek/european colonization started in X date.
- Why armies use X strategy/tactic during Y war.
- Why a nation attacks or colonize another.
- How are created fictional characters or stories.
- Are all revolutions similar.
- Why some civilizations where more advanced than others.
- How a religion/language/culture propagates.


I do not see it such way. There is no any value in questions with answers that "are clear, provide a new analytical perspective" for academical studies...

History.SE place on history academical studies landscape could be to answer using the history method but referencing sources available online.

Questions that can't be answered using the history method should be downvoted and deleted. Answers without references to primary sources should be downvoted and deleted. No matter how clear they are and what analytical perspective they provide.

The real research work that should be payable in History.SE ratings economics (if you are going to build ratings economics there) is "to reference references".

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    There is a problem here: "available online" excludes way too much, eg many good old books that Google hasn't privatised, yet. 2. "primary sources" are way too often locked away in archives or whatnot; certainly only a fraction is 'online'. Including primary sources is of course laudable. I welcome the insistence on 'sources' to move away from popular myths and guru science, but the above seems very harshly formulated Dec 25, 2018 at 19:02
  • "Good books" just should be excluded if they do not publish primary sources- not a problem, a goal. SE.Hist would never be a second wiki. Only a fraction online - is a reason to exist for community. Bring them online. Dec 25, 2018 at 19:37
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    You want to exclude even every secondary source? That'd be useless extremism? // "reason for community": that's why I use generous but pertinent quotes (and often get downvotes for their length) [I feel that on current legal grounds your demand might lead to problems for younger works…] Dec 25, 2018 at 19:45
  • "I want" is not the phrase I would describe it. The "rating economics" is the thing that really works (SO success). But for this all answers should have a value that can be measured using single metrics. As I see: only primary sources have value for historical method (of course with all criticism that exist around concrete primary source - but this is second-level value - sources criticism is impossible without sources). Dec 25, 2018 at 20:08

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