Today, we've asked two members of the project (Ebyabe and Elkman) to answer a few questions about their experiences there:
1. Why do you participate in the NRHP WikiProject?
Elkman: Properties on the National Register of Historic Places are there because they're a distinctive physical record of history, either at a local or a national level. It's one thing to read the history of the rise of the flour milling industry in Minneapolis, or to read a little bit about railroad tycoon James J. Hill, but visiting the Washburn A Mill (now the Mill City Museum) gives you something palpable that you can visit. Visiting the James J. Hill House brings to life just how rich James J. Hill was, and how he could afford practically anything for his home.
Yet there are historic places that aren't museums and aren't obvious tourist destinations. Most of the people who drive past the Peavey-Haglin Experimental Concrete Grain Elevator in St. Louis Park, Minnesota just see a big tower with a sign on the side saying, "Nordic Ware: America's Finest Kitchen Ware." They don't know that it was the first reinforced concrete cylindrical grain elevator in the United States. I think just about every property on the National Register has an interesting story that can be told about it. (I'm also happy to note that there's finally a sign along a local bike trail that tells the story of the Peavey-Haglin Experimental Concrete Grain Elevator.)
2. How did the idea of a project based on the National Register of Historic Places come about?
Elkman: WikiProject National Register of Historic Places came together in October 2006 as an offshoot of Wikipedia:WikiProject Protected areas. Ebyabe had been creating a lot of articles on National Register properties in Florida, and it became apparent that classifying NRHP properties as protected areas was incorrect. MONGO proposed the idea to Ebyabe. Meanwhile, after I had worked with MONGO to get Glacier National Park (U.S.) to Featured Article status, and after I had created several stub articles on buildings and structures in the park, the properties on the National Register piqued my interest. The project took off fairly quickly since there was a core group of editors interested in historic places.
Ebyabe: Elkman explained this very well. If it helps, I found the conversation that actually led me to starting the thing. It's here.
3. What aspects of the project do you consider to be particularly successful? Has the project developed any unusual innovations, or uniquely adopted any common approaches?
Elkman: I made life easier for myself (and many other people) by downloading a copy of the National Register database and writing some PHP scripts to query it. The National Register query tools on the nps.gov site are inconvenient to use, and there were already other sites that were downloading the National Register database and presenting the data. I wrote some query tools that would list the properties in a county or a city, and then another script that would put together the infobox that appears at the beginning of NRHP articles. That makes life easier, although in my opinion, you can't have an article that's just a mechanically-generated infobox. There should be some prose that explains why the property is listed and that tells the story.
Ebyabe: All of them? No, seriously, I think we've done well on all fronts. We have over 100 members, and keep adding more. We get a good amount of DYKs. We've massively cleaned up the state/region lists of NRHPs and NHLs. Over 99% of project related articles are assessed. Our interaction with other projects, and even official external bodies (governmental, for example). Overall, it's people contributing in their areas of interest relating to the project, organizing and creating. Elkman's too modest, btw. His contributions have enabled project members to create articles, and especially lists, so much more easily.
4. What experiences have you had with the WikiProjects whose scopes overlap with yours? Are they useful collaborators, or do you feel that they have little to offer you? Has your project developed particularly close relationships with any other projects? In particular, how closely do you collaborate with the various other projects covering places in the United States?
Elkman: We collaborated with Wikipedia:WikiProject Architecture to create and/or substantially expand a list of buildings by Frank Lloyd Wright. And, as I mentioned earlier, the NRHP project began as an offshoot of Wikipedia:WikiProject Protected Areas because there was some confusion between what was regarded as a protected area and what was simply listed on the National Register without being truly protected. Otherwise, I don't think we've done any major collaborations with other projects. Naturally, a lot of our articles overlap with other projects that deal with certain structures, like Wikipedia:WikiProject Bridges, Wikipedia:WikiProject Lighthouses, Wikipedia:WikiProject Trains, and others, as well as the state projects. Our interaction with those projects has been mostly positive, since it's easy to go over to the other projects and ask questions and get information to fill in the articles.
Ebyabe: I think overall we've worked pretty well with the other WikiProjects. As Elkman said, our project by it's very nature overlaps with lots of others. I know we've gotten members due to work we've done on articles where such overlap occurs. That's one of the things I really like about our project. I think it's a lot of what Wikipedia's all about; collaborating with others. I don't know how closely we work with other projects, though, per se. It's more casual, which I like. I think it's really neat that there are even offshoots on the German and French wikis. I know we did something so our infobox can be integrated into that of other projects, or vice versa, but I don't remember the details.
5. What is your vision for the project? How do you see the project itself, as well as the articles it shepherds, developing over the next year? The next five years?
Ebyabe: Have an article for every listing on the NRHP, and a good picture on WikiCommons to go with it. Mind you, considering there's around 20,000 done on Wikipedia, and over 80,000 listings on the Register itself (with more added every week), that's gonna take a while. :) Having them all be good articles would be nice too. But again, that'll be a while, since over 60% of the current ones are stubs. That rather defines what we'll be doing for many years to come. There will be initiatives to organize and cleanup articles and lists and such, but basically, de-redlinking everything is what it comes down to.
6. Is the idea of a project oriented around a register of historic landmarks worthwhile? Do you think it could be successfully applied to other countries?
Ebyabe: Well, the federal government thought it was a good idea to create the National Register of Historic Places program in 1966, and it's still going strong. So a project relating to that seems like a good idea to me. I mentioned earlier that there are contributors on the German and French wikis doing articles about NRHP sites. There's also Wikipedia:WikiProject World Heritage Sites. So I think it's already being applied outside the US.