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I know normally we strive to have a lot of experts (in the professional sense) in a SE community. Is this something we should be actively trying to change? Or are we hoping the "if we build it, they will come" approach will work eventually?

I'm basing my assumption that we have relatively few professional historians on my personal experience, and the previous two posts related to this fact:

Poll - how many among the users are “professional” historians?

Will the historians please stand up?

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    Note: I am not saying that our lack of professionals is affecting our answer quality. I've seen some great answers out there from lots of people with little to no connection to the professional field (of history). – called2voyage Aug 28 '13 at 15:21
  • Perhaps a culling is in order to bring the relative numbers more in line? I understand there may be an old banged-up first-generation Terminator running around with nothing to do we could employ. ;-) – T.E.D. Aug 28 '13 at 20:01
  • @T.E.D. Ha, if that's the plan I guess I should start studying the Sarah Connor files. Anyone have any tips on avoiding the Terminator? – called2voyage Aug 28 '13 at 20:02
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By now I am resigned to the expectation that it will never happen. The question-and-answer engine that powers SE should be good enough to attract communities of experts around any topic. Good enough so that the ease of use in getting answers (experts have questions, too!) should outweigh, as a plus, the minus of "donating free labor". To make this happen, SE would have to partner with one of several major academic institution or professional association. That, however, would be a stretch too far for the good people at SE, who are software developers and comfortable only in their own environment.

History.SE will either languish and wither on the vine or continue as an amateur community for history re-enactors, aspiring writers of historical fiction, crossword puzzle solvers looking for a change in pace, et cetera[1]. That is not the worst thing that could happen. At one time, this Stackexchange looked in danger of being infiltrated by holocaust revisionists trying a soft-shoe approach, asking "harmless and innocent questions". It was one of the reasons why I joined, to put a stop to this.

Keep in mind that not every amateur history enthusiast is a friendly hobbyist. Many are conspiracists, racists, whackos, creeps. Keeping them out is a thankless and never-ending task but it needs to be done.

[1]Not to mention an easy way for people interested only in Stackoverflow to quickly reach 101 rep, collect the "association bonus", and bypass the new-user restrictions on SO.

  • Uh WHAAAA? It's 100 times easier to get 101 rep on SO than on any other SE sites! – DVK Sep 3 '13 at 2:31
  • @DVK You haven't seen the steady stream of people on Meta.SO whining about new-user restrictions and the advice given to them to quickly amass rep on "soft" stackexchanges like History.SE? – Eugene Seidel Sep 3 '13 at 6:38
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    Nope, I kinda avoid meta.SO for most part. Not a very rewarding experience. – DVK Sep 5 '13 at 0:30
  • I agree it's a never ending task. Though not not entirely thankless -> Thanks very much for you time and effort, it is very much appreciated. – RedBlueThing Sep 11 '13 at 2:53
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We can promote the site among communities that have "professional historians," whatever that means. I think, unlike say Stackoverflow where there are tons of professionals from private industry, the only people that would be considered "professional historians" in a similar sense are probably university professors that study and teach history. I'm sure there are exceptions to this rule, but that is the snap judgment I would make. Now, if you want to lower the bar, then we do have a decent amount of people that have BAs, and a few MAs, in history. Additionally, many of our best users have no formal training in the study of history.

All that said, it would be nice if we had a few professors around here that could bring their expertise to the table. Maybe think tank employees that have a specialization in a particular region of the world? Basically anyone that gets paid to study history. That would be nice.

  • +1 I like the idea about looking for specific specializations of history folks. – called2voyage Aug 29 '13 at 12:47
  • There are likely plenty of "professional" historians who make their living as writers, outside academia. David Weber and Eric Flint are two that come to mind immediately. – DVK Aug 30 '13 at 23:41
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IMO, conceptually it might be a good idea to engage in a "marketing blitz" to bring in professionals, but it might not work out so well practically:

On Stackoverflow for example, "there are tons of professionals from private industry," and so some sort of parity is achieved among the group at large. But on this site there will likely be a small minority of professionals and a vast majority of "amateurs". What will likely happen is that the professionals will dominate all the discussions and the amateurs won't be able to do much but listen and ask questions, as if they were in class.

So, the question becomes who is the audience for this site and what is its purpose? Is the goal to give regular people a chance to hone their skills and interests in History and try their best to come up with a good answer? Or is it supposed to be a symposium for professionals, with other people essentially just listening in?

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    +1 for identifying the audience issue – called2voyage Aug 29 '13 at 12:46
  • The goal of ANY SE site is to provide Q&A for experts. The by-design intended audience is "expert" historians, not amateurs. Yes, amateurs like myself will be somewhat/totally squeezed out. That would be a PLUS net-net, in my opinion. – DVK Aug 30 '13 at 23:47
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    @DVK - "The by-design intended audience is "expert" historians, not amateurs" - Understood - so where are all the professionals? "We don't open a site until we're sure there's a critical mass of experts ready to participate" I'm wondering if History fits into the format... – user2590 Aug 31 '13 at 1:14
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    @DVK: I personally have 2 problems with "Expert Historians": 1) Who says they're experts? Is anyone vetting them? If you know some big words and cite some fancy citations, you can sound like an expert but be full of it. Who will know except a real expert, which may not be on the site. Programming for example, is easy to verify: if somebody gives you a wrong answer, most of the time you'll find out quickly that it was wrong because it doesn't work, etc. 2) Expert Historians are generally academics, and that for me is a problem, because academics tend to have biases... – user2590 Aug 31 '13 at 2:00
  • @DVK - continued: Academics tend to have biases, tend to subscribe to a certain "school of thought" etc - I have noticed this in very pronounced fashion with respect to one or two "pros" that we do have on here. That means you may not be getting solid objective answers. Often-times in subjects such as History, there is more truth and wisdom with non-experts who have no academic biases but simply strong intellects, good research and observational skills, and good common sense (so often lacking in academics...) – user2590 Aug 31 '13 at 2:03
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    @DVK No, you are wrong about the goal of any SE site. Rather, it is to build a place to find expert answers. That means anyone, not only experts, can ask Questions (subject to meeting modest requirements as laid out in the help center). And, an expert answer may be provided by anyone, not only someone with a Ph.D. in history. Where I disagree vehemently with Vector is his disrespectful commentary on professional historians. Nine times out of ten, they will provide better Answers than amateurs, provided, that is, that they can be bothered. – Eugene Seidel Sep 1 '13 at 14:17
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    @EugeneSeidel-saying someone has a bias is not disrespectful. We ALL have biases, based on our position in life, whatever it is. And academics tend to have academic biases, like everyone in their chosen field has biases regarding their chosen field. i.e. If a "Professional Historian" considers himself from the Marxist oriented school of historians, his answers are likely to show Marxist bias. This is IMO simple and in no way disrespectful. In many fields, so called experts are the most biased and the least reliable: They have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. – user2590 Sep 1 '13 at 15:05
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    @EugeneSeidel - given some professional historians I encountered, I'm forced to admit that Vector's commentary is not entirely baseless. It's simply a lot easier for them to hide their biases, since nobody except someone equally well familiar with all the sources can spot them. But many are rabidly politically partisan and very obvious in their biases to anyone who knows how to look. And the problem is hiding - e.g. Samuel Russell is clearly coming at things from Marxist perspective - but he's extremely open and forthcoming about it, which makes him a pleasant and rare exception. – DVK Sep 1 '13 at 16:27
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    Most first-time posters to History.SE are idiots, their questions and answers are worthless junk. No surprise there, their proportion matches the general population's. But notice how I did not say, "a historian with academic credentials will always give a better Answer than an amateur"? Nine times out of ten is what I said. That may have been too flattering to Joe Public. It should be "49 times out of 50". The "nine times out of ten" is accurate when applied to a comparison with "history buffs": enthusiastic amateurs taking an interest in history as a pastime. – Eugene Seidel Sep 1 '13 at 16:34
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    @DVK - "It's simply a lot easier for them to hide their biases," - Yes. You "took the words right out my mouth:" (not enough space in the comment) If you're a pro, you know how to sound impressive and obtuse to the layman, creating an impression of authenticity and accuracy which only another trained expert might be able to debunk. – user2590 Sep 1 '13 at 20:04
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    @EugeneSeidel - "Most first-time posters to History.SE are idiots, their questions and answers are worthless junk." This is "disrespectful,LOL. Why do you think that only professionals are worthy of respect? It's just a piece of paper hanging on the wall! Sometimes I enjoy trying to give a makeover to some of the questions which you so disdain-they can contain kernals of good questions, just very poorly expressed. Just because someone lacks certain vocabulary or writing skills does not make them an "idiot". Look at the content, not what's hanging on the wall of questioner. – user2590 Sep 1 '13 at 20:13
  • @Vector "Where are all the professionals?" H-net, department corridors, yearly conferences, journals. I try not to hide my biases behind false citations: I give a citation density about equal to my level of special knowledge. – Samuel Russell Sep 2 '13 at 21:58
  • @SamuelRussell - I suppose that is indeed where they are. Why would they come on here? As for your citations and answers, although we have exchanged "words", and I my world view differs radically from yours, I respect and appreciate knowledge and expertise and as a rule I find your posts and citations valuable. – user2590 Sep 3 '13 at 1:42
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The day that there is wide spread private or public hiring of historians is the day you might get to float this community on the excess volunteer labour of people skiving off work.

At the moment the size of the professional historian community, and the nature of the one serious job they can get, means that they're not going to preference "community outreach" here when research publication volume and quality are intensely strong drivers.

(This question might be better suited over at academic.se "Why don't academics have copious free time for sharing-based-online cultures?")

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    +1 - 'they're not going to preference "community outreach" here when research publication volume and quality are intensely strong drivers.' Yes, that was my impression as well. A site like StackOverflow.com is very different: Interacting with others to get technical information is part of the job of every professional technician today. Historians? Not so much. – user2590 Sep 1 '13 at 23:43
  • There are technical features to history, and populist features, and features relating to public history outreach. But with the strength of professional drivers being entirely about academic performance in academic settings the possibility of recruiting "spare time" from such individuals is low. OTOH I wouldn't mind there being as many MA or PhD'd historians as there are software engineers... see my kickstarter... – Samuel Russell Sep 2 '13 at 2:48
  • "..I wouldn't mind there being as many MA or PhD'd historians as there are software engineers.." That won't happen until you figure out how make History as entertaining as video games, ITunes, Facebook diaries, wacky youTubes and "tweeting"... – user2590 Sep 2 '13 at 3:09
  • I certainly know it isn't walking towards camera. Inserting giant crab battles to excite the reader is frowned upon at the moment. – Samuel Russell Sep 2 '13 at 3:47
  • "Inserting giant crab battles to excite the reader is frowned upon at the moment." I can understand that - it is the province of archaeology and anthropology - no good written records about the Age of Dragons in human development... – user2590 Sep 2 '13 at 3:51

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