Wikipedia:WikiProject Military history/News/August 2014/Interview

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Interview: World War I

This month, the Bugle continues its occasional "Article writer's guide" series detailing the nuances behind certain categories of Wikipedia articles. We'll bring you answers from some of the foremost Wikipedia writers in the areas we examine, in the hope that their advice may help you to enter these areas and find success. This month we look at World War I. Don't forget that if you have a good topic for a future Bugle edition, please add it on our newsletter's main talk page.

Thank you for agreeing to answer some of our questions. What draws you to Wikipedia's articles on World War I, and what topics do you generally focus on?
  • I have always been fascinated by World War I aviators. While in service, I flew in aircraft that approximated World War I performance. That empathetic experience led me to writing flying aces' biographies. Georgejdorner
  • I write primarily on the German Imperial Navy, though I've dabbled in others as well. Parsecboy (talk) 12:04, 6 August 2014 (UTC)
  • I generally write about Australian infantry battalions, and land battles/campaigns. AustralianRupert (talk) 00:07, 9 August 2014 (UTC)
  • I generally write about warships of all nations after 1860, which includes those that fought during the war. Parsecboy's pretty well covered the Germans, which leaves me with everything else.--Sturmvogel 66 (talk) 02:14, 10 August 2014 (UTC)
  • I generally write about Australian military pilots and RAAF units. While WWI has always interested me, I've always been more drawn to WWII, I suppose because of contact with family who took part in it. When I came to write about senior members of the RAAF in WWII, however, most had served with the British or Australian air corps during WWI, and that probably stimulated my interest in writing about WWI flyers for their own sake. Ian Rose (talk) 07:35, 11 August 2014 (UTC)

How did you come to choose some of the articles you've worked on?
  • I sort of stumbled across a handful of 1-sentence stubs (like this one) several years ago and started expanding them. Parsecboy (talk) 12:04, 6 August 2014 (UTC)
  • I've always liked reading about ships, but it was a chance encounter (and purchase!) with John Roberts' book on British battlecruisers that got me started as it's nearly an ideal reference for the technical history of the ships, which I'd been lacking before.--Sturmvogel 66 (talk) 02:14, 10 August 2014 (UTC)
  • In general, see above. Specifically, when writing about aviators whose prime notability has been for their WWI service, I've generally chosen Australian fighter aces, exceptions being the sole Australian air VC of WWI, Frank McNamara, senior Australian commander Oswald Watt, and British ace Albert Ball, on whose article George Dorner suggested we collaborate. Ian Rose (talk) 07:35, 11 August 2014 (UTC)

Generally speaking, what should be covered in the particular subjects you've chosen to write about? How do you structure your articles?
  • I am a great believer in following chronology in an article. Given the short truncated lives of many World War I aces, this is pretty much a necessity to avoid confusion. I strive to find important feats other than "How many bad guys did he shoot down?" Georgejdorner
  • A description of the unit's formation and training, campaigns, casualties, battle honours and commanding officers. AustralianRupert (talk) 00:07, 9 August 2014 (UTC)
  • I'd agree with George above. With any bio, you want to cover early life, training, campaigns, and post-war life (if they were fortunate to make it that far). You also want to include some (properly sourced) insight into the individual's character if possible. Ian Rose (talk) 07:35, 11 August 2014 (UTC)

Is Wikipedia's coverage of World War I currently comprehensive, or are there gaps? Are there any areas in which you think work could be focused on?
  • Overall, I plead ignorance. In my narrow niche, many prominent aces remain scantily covered, especially if they were from non-English speaking nations. There are literally hundreds of aces about whom little has been written.Georgejdorner
  • In my area of editing—naval history–there aren't many gaps, though many of the articles are poorly sourced. More generally, it seems the war in Africa hasn't been done justice, though Keith-264 has done some great work recently on the major articles like East African Campaign (World War I). Parsecboy (talk) 12:04, 6 August 2014 (UTC)
  • A lot of editors have worked recently to improve our coverage of the topic, which has been great to see. I think the topic of the Eastern Front (World War I) still could be fleshed out, particularly the individual battle articles. AustralianRupert (talk) 00:07, 9 August 2014 (UTC)
  • Articles on the naval battles are weak as are the high-level articles on the various navy's activities during the war. But this is typical of Wiki as both types of articles would require extensive research and time.--Sturmvogel 66 (talk) 02:14, 10 August 2014 (UTC)
  • As far as WWI ace bios go, there's still plenty to do. Most have at least stubs, but many need fleshing out, proper sourcing, etc. Ian Rose (talk) 07:35, 11 August 2014 (UTC)

Do you have any personal priorities for work to mark the centenary of the war?
  • When I started working on Wikipedia I wanted to get all the articles on the 60 Australian infantry battalions that fought overseas during World War I to at least B-class. I have done that now, so I am slowly taking some of them to GA or A. It's a slow process. AustralianRupert (talk) 00:07, 9 August 2014 (UTC)
  • I'd like to get some of the articles on the smaller naval battles to GA status, although I'll probably miss most of the centenaries.--Sturmvogel 66 (talk) 02:14, 10 August 2014 (UTC)
  • I've started already by seeking out newly available sources and expanding some B- and GA-Class WWI pilot articles that I felt could make it to A-Class or beyond. My main project for the WWI centenary period is to expand Robert A. Little's article. I took it to GA years ago but there was surprisingly little on him considering he's generally acknowledged as the top-scoring Australian ace of the war. By contrast, Roderic Dallas, usually considered the second-highest scoring Australian and whose article George and I took all the way to FA at around the same time, has long had plenty of material available. The first full-length bio of Little appeared not too long ago, however, so I expect I can mine that for an FA-worthy article. Ian Rose (talk) 07:35, 11 August 2014 (UTC)

What kinds of sources do you recommend using, and not using?
  • For my articles, I principally depended on the output of two publishing houses: Osprey Press and Grub Street. Plus The Aerodrome website. Georgejdorner
  • In general, academic military historians are the best option, but depending on the obscurity of your chosen topic, there may not be any books or articles that cover it. Another option I use fairly frequently on less well-known topics is to trawl through old editions of naval journals and such in Google Books—you'd be surprised what you can find sometimes. For example, I found this contemporary report on the Italo-Turkish War of 1912 written by an observer from the US Navy that proved to be invaluable in writing articles on several of Italy's battleships. Parsecboy (talk) 12:04, 6 August 2014 (UTC)
  • Most of the 60 Australian infantry battalions had "official" histories written some time after the war. These are generally quite good. I'd also look at Charles Bean's work and some of the campaign books being published by the Army History Unit. The Military Historical Society of Australia's journal, Sabretache, sometimes has information/articles relevant to the topic also. AustralianRupert (talk) 00:07, 9 August 2014 (UTC)
  • Technical information on the various ships is reasonably easy to find with the right books, but filling out their careers is quite difficult, especially if they didn't participate in any major battles. Fortunately, logbooks for some British ships are being digitized at [1] and those can be a Godsend, provided that you remember not to include inappropriate details.--Sturmvogel 66 (talk) 02:14, 10 August 2014 (UTC)
  • There's no shortage of sources for Australian aces of WWI: Newton's Australian Air Aces, Garrisson's Australian Fighter Aces, the Australian Dictionary of Biography (ADB), and the Trove newspaper archive, as well as Osprey's "Aircraft of the Aces" series and Shores et al's Above the Trenches. Cutlack's official history and Molkentin's recent Fire in the Sky are excellent as well, but focus on the Australian Flying Corps, which means they aren't a big help re. Australians who served in British units. Ian Rose (talk) 07:35, 11 August 2014 (UTC)

Have you found it easy to obtain online sources? What about free images?'
  • There's a photographic archive at GWPDA.org that handily provides publication dates, which can satisfy US copyright laws. Those old naval journals also frequently have usable images. Parsecboy (talk) 12:04, 6 August 2014 (UTC)
  • Yes, the Australian War Memorial has an excellent online collection of sources and images. AustralianRupert (talk) 00:07, 9 August 2014 (UTC)
  • Ditto Rupert re. the AWM, as well as the online ADB and Trove sites. Ian Rose (talk) 07:35, 11 August 2014 (UTC)

Have you needed to balance differing opinions in sources when writing articles on World War I? If so, could you please tell us how you did this?
  • If there is no proof that one viewpoint is a settled truth, I present both sides of the controversy. Mostly, though, I leave the controversial biographies like William Avery Bishop to others. Georgejdorner
  • There's often some difference of opinion re. the scores of WWI aces (and indeed aces of any war), so all you can do is go with the weight of evidence. If things seem fairly evenly split I'll always present/cite the range of opinions. Ian Rose (talk) 07:35, 11 August 2014 (UTC)

What are the most common issues you strike when submitting articles on World War I for formal review?
  • Demands for wiki-coding changes and additions. Forced textual changes for stylistic items held only in the heads of the assessors. Georgejdorner
  • In my fairly narrow range, not much different to presenting articles from other eras. Ian Rose (talk) 07:35, 11 August 2014 (UTC)

What suggestions would you make to editors considering working on World War I articles?
  • If you are going to create a new article, first check out the Articles for Deletion procedure to stave off being deleted. Georgejdorner
  • Start small at first - it's usually much easier to work on sub-articles before trying to tackle the bigger summaries. I had written most of the articles on the major German warships before I started writing the main High Seas Fleet article, and it made it a lot easier. Parsecboy (talk) 12:04, 6 August 2014 (UTC)
  • Collaboration is a powerful tool to achieving your article writing goals. Ask for advice and remain open minded. AustralianRupert (talk) 00:07, 9 August 2014 (UTC)
  • Not too different to working on other articles. If starting from scratch (or stub!), I'd suggest getting your ducks (i.e. your sources) in a row first so you've got a good general idea of what you're talking about, then drafting the lead so you have your outline, then getting down to the details, referencing and images. After that you can revisit the lead to ensure it still provides a decent summary of the finished article. Ian Rose (talk) 07:35, 11 August 2014 (UTC)

Are there any other points you'd like to raise that we haven't covered in this interview, or parting advice that you'd like to offer?
  • Just remember, you are helping build a cathedral of knowledge for the ages. Georgejdorner
  • With the centenary of the Great War upon us, these articles are going to be highly visible for the next four years. If working on high profile topics appeals to you, then now's a great time to get involved. Parsecboy (talk) 12:04, 6 August 2014 (UTC)
  • Can't add much more to George's and Nate's comments above except to say get writing, and try and do some reviewing too! Ian Rose (talk) 07:35, 11 August 2014 (UTC)
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