Less-represented areas of military history - part 2
Last December we conducted an interview with editors who work in areas of military history which are less well represented on the English language Wikipedia. This formed part of the "Article writer's guide" series which details the nuances behind certain categories of Wikipedia articles to help new editors successfully enter these areas. As the interview received a very good response from participants and readers, we thought that we'd ask another group of editors to share their perspectives on working in under-represented topics. As always, 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. Please tell us a little about your preferred subject(s) on Wikipedia...
Arius1998: I'm a disciple of the History Department of the University of the Philippines and it is automatically a preference to work on Filipino-related topics in Wikipedia. I have found a nice leeway to work under the fold of this Wikiproject so there.
Cuprum17: As a U.S. Army veteran of the Vietnam War, I am of course interested in that part of military history; however, I am a retired U.S. Coast Guardsman and that is probably where most of my Wikipedia time is spent. I either write or edit articles on the Coast Guard and its parent agencies, the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service and the U.S. Life-Saving Service. Those articles are mostly about ships or biographies.
Tomobe03: Right now, most of my military history contributions to Wikipedia are focused on Yugoslav Wars in general, specifically to the wars fought in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia.
Zawed: I work to improve and/or create articles relating to the New Zealand military forces; mainly biographies and units.
How did you come to choose the area(s) you specialize in, or what drew you to the types of subjects you write about?
Arius1998: Only few Filipino editors are actually active in the areas I specialize in. I saw that many articles are in bad shape, or worse, non-existent. I know though that my contributions to my selected fields are not that significant as well, but I try.
Cuprum17: Because of my background in the Coast Guard, I felt I had a knowledge of the subject that was probably unique among MILHIST Project Wikipedians. The Coast Guard is the smallest of the United States Armed Forces so it only stands to reason that the persons editing of Coast Guard articles would be smaller in number than say the U.S. Army subjects that one could edit.
Wtmitchell: I had edited occasionally as an anon beginning probably sometime in 2003 or 2004. I created a WP userid on November 17, 2004. Looking at my edit history, I see that I made seven article edits in 2005; four of the articles having to do with the Philippines, and two of those four being to the Boracay article. That makes sense, as I had early-retired from the U.S. to Boracay island in 1996. Living in the Philippines, I increasingly developed an interest in Philippine history and other Philippine-related topics, and began to edit articles in that area. At the time, that topical area was not well developed in WP, and I became an early strong contributor and sometime article creator to in that area. I was not and am not tightly focused in that area, however. I tend to edit articles where I see an opportunity to contribute or to fix a problem, regardless of topic; those edited articles then become watchlisted, and seeing later changes draws me back to them.
Zawed: It is probably a bit of strange start to Wikipedia given I'm a New Zealander, but my first contributions were in relation to Korean football (I was living in Korea when it was a co-host of the 2002 World Cup). Having always been interested in military history (mainly the WWII ETO), and combining that with an awareness of Korean history, I then moved onto improving articles about the Korean War. Once I was in the military sphere, I realised that New Zealand military history was a bit underdone and set about trying to remedy the situation. It wasn't necessarily a passion when I started but the more articles I worked on, the more I began to appreciate the scale of my country's military endeavours and I would like to see this better reflected on Wikipedia.
Generally speaking, what should be covered in an article on your preferred subject(s)? How do you structure your articles?
Arius1998: In this Wikiproject, I usually deal with biographies and events. I believe that these articles should cover as much as it can about the person or event involved. Definitely, when you search Google or any search engine about biographies or events, Wikipedia comes out on top. I usually structure my articles chronologically, then put some issues or controversies, as well as commemorations if any, thereafter.
Cuprum17: Preferably, an article covering any given article on the Coast Guard, it's cutters, or personnel should cover the questions that the average reader would want to know about the subject without going into minute detail. The structure of an article that I edit or write should cover any background about the subject that relates to the who, why, when, where or how of the subject. The history of the subject is usually covered next in a more or less chronological order. The history section is broken down in logical steps if necessary. The impact of the subject on later history is covered, if it has been covered in the references available on the subject. The reference section follows, of course, but my referencing style completely separates the citations from the references used in an article. If possible I will use every reference on a given subject that is available. Lastly, if media are available I will try to arrange it on the page so that it will help draw the reader to take an interest in the article.
Tomobe03: Any article should provide a reasonable level of detail on the subject matter, but also background information allowing casual readers to grasp context of the article topic. In addition, articles on battles, treaties etc. should definitely present direct consequences of the event.
Wtmitchell: I think I took my early guidance from WP:BETTER and project pages and essays linked from there. I remember that WP:GTL and WP:CITE played a big part for me ad an editor early-on. I was not the creator of most of the articles I edited, and I mostly worked with structure and focus which had been established by earlier editors.
Zawed: For biographies it is pretty straightforward; chronologically. Depending on the subject, there may be a legacy section to wrap up the article. For units, there may be a background paragraph leading into a formation section. The article will then deal with the history of the unit chronologically. I try and keep things concise but at the same time enough information should be imparted to the reader that the obvious questions that they may have are answered.
What kinds of sources do you recommend using?
Arius1998: In my field, primary sources, though preferred, are rather scarce or hard to access. There are these long processes in libraries and museums to endure. Secondary sources, though more accessible, must also be filtered. From these sources, I usually get the data but not the analysis, because in some topics, analyses vary.
Cuprum17: Personally, I prefer book or journal references, but I understand that the person who is looking up something on a subject using Wikipedia is likely to want to read further about a subject on-line. I try to include on-line references where possible. With book or journal reference materials, it is possible to cite a page number for the material that supports the statement used in the article being edited, that is not always possible with an on-line source.
Tomobe03: Dealing with "less well represented" topics on Wikipedia often goes hand in hand with dealing with equally under-represented topics in published works. Nonetheless, every effort must be expended to source material in reliable sources, i.e. reputable authors. Of course, those might be insufficient to establish non-controversial details for comparably minor events, where news reports come in handy.
Wtmitchell: I live mostly on Boracay island and in Romblon, Romblon in the Philippines. With no access to bookstores or libraries in either place. I use mostly online sources and try to pay attention or WP:RS considerations. I use online previewable books quite a lot. On occasional trips to Manila, I buy a lot of books on Philippine history, have added those to my bookshelves in Boracay and Romblon, and tend to refer to and cite from those books which I have acquired.
Zawed: I'm a bit old school, so definitely books. I'm terrible for buying books for improving the articles I work on.
Have you found it easy to obtain online sources? What about free images?
Arius1998: Online sources and free images, not really. I usually get images I upload from periods wherein it cannot be reached anymore by intellectual property rights, say, 100 years back.
Cuprum17: With the Coast Guard it is not always easy to find any reliable sources. The U.S. Coast Guard Historian's Office has a website that is used in almost all of my articles to some extent. In the past, the Coast Guard was not always careful with how their corporate history was recorded or filed. The Historian's Office has made great strides recently with getting the historical files posted to the website where it can be utilized by all. Almost all images on the website were created by the federal government, so usually if the image can be found, there isn't a copyright problem. I have found that not all images available are posted on-line, but that situation is being addressed by the Historian's Office as time allows. They do not have a large staff.
Tomobe03: While online sources are generally available, free images are quite problematic.
Wtmitchell: Fairly easy -- sources moreso than images.
Zawed: There are some useful online resources. The official NZ histories for both WWI and WWII have been placed the web so for newcomers these are convenient for articles on units and can supplement bios as well (but not usually as a main source). Recently I've cottoned onto using newspapers which have been archived online. These are also useful for supplementing biographies. The National Library of New Zealand has made a lot of photographic images available and many of these are in the public domain.
Biases exist in many forms -- how have you dealt with any biases in sources?
Arius1998: As I said a while ago, these biases usually exist among secondary sources. So, I usually dwell with the data. In times when bias cannot be excluded, I tend to include both sides of the coin in the article instead. And then, the readers go on and decide who to lean on. There will always be bias anyway. The best we can do is to minimize it.
Cuprum17: Using Coast Guard generated material can sometimes be a problem. Looking at many sources on a given subject helps me get a feel for consensus. If sources conflict, my solution is to present the views in a footnote section with the views properly cited and referenced.
Tomobe03: It is of paramount importance to use the best sources in terms of reliability and neutrality for value judgements or analyses. If groups of sources hold views of an event different to reputable English-language sources I try to include those views in articles as well, but I make sure to point out that a particular view is held by one group of sources or another, giving them due weight.
Zawed: I haven't struck bias as a particular problem in the sources I have worked with to date.
How do you deal with with language barriers in both the subject and the sources about it (e.g. a non-English source)?
Arius1998: I am adept enough when it comes to Filipino sources, usually Tagalog. When it comes to other languages, say Spanish, I still have to consult my translation dictionaries, or better, I'd go see if there are existing translations online. Better yet, I consult an expert on the language.
Cuprum17: This usually doesn't become a problem with Coast Guard subjects; however, In my creation of the article Coast Guard Squadron One I did confront some problems with language. Squadron One was a Coast Guard unit assigned to duty with the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War. Place names in references are sometimes Anglicized in references and confusing to sort out. I found that if I left them the way they were that my friends in the Vietnam Project would come along and edit my Vietnamese perfectly...problem solved! I have found that most experienced editors will help another editor if they are willing to be helped...of course a polite thank you is always appreciated in return for the edit corrections.
Tomobe03: My choice of area of military history where I can make a contribution was, at least in part, based on ability to use sources published in Yugoslavia, Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia etc. in addition to English-language sources. Sometimes I also consult sources in Russian or German, so I'm quite alright in this department. Still, language barrier can be an obstacle when it comes to sourcing detailed information for those who do not have command of a local language - but those editors would still be able to contribute productively in broad aspects of any article.
Wtmitchell: I'm functionally monolingual, and try to stick to English sources. I do use online translators from time to time; I try not to take the (not RS) translation results literally but, rather, to use the glimmerings I find there to look for online RSish English languages sources expressing similar views to what I gleaned from the translations.
Zawed: I work with English-language sources so this isn't a problem for me for the present at least.
What are the most common issues you strike when submitting your articles to formal review?
Arius1998: When I rush articles, I sometimes overlook my grammar and structuring. I also tend not to specify the pages in the book or journal the statements included can be found.
Cuprum17: My most common error is not looking twice or three times before submitting an article for review. I find it helps to put the article away for a day or two and go back to re-read it. One finds that they don't always spell or punctuate as well at they thought they did. Most articles I write are submitted for B-class review and the criteria aren't quite as sticky as GA and above so I can usually correct my errors to the satisfaction of most editors in short order. My level of editorship is at a B-class level for now and I am comfortable with that for the present. As I gain experience, I will try to move some articles to the GA level IF I can find proper references for the material and my Wikipedia time allows.
Tomobe03: Grammar, grammar and grammar. Being a non-native speaker of English really shows there. I find the Guild of Copyeditors very helpful in that department. Furthermore, most reviewers willing to point out what need be done specifically or chip in themselves fixing the worst transgressions against English grammar - so other non-native speakers should not be discouraged from submitting their work to formal review.
Wtmitchell: I haven't ever submitted an article for formal review.
Zawed: The most common thing I get picked up on are those annoying typos that one glances over time and time again and don't register until a reviewer points it out.
Do you think that the Military history wikiproject's focus is too heavily weighted towards particular topics?'
Arius1998: Not really. I believe we just lack editors to specialize on some fields.
Tomobe03: Yes and no. Yes, it would be nice if more topics had as excellent coverage. No, the apparent focus of the project is the result of fields interest pursued by individual editors. Projects like the Great War Centennial are welcome because such initiatives may actually inspire editors to contribute to a new topic of military history.
Wtmitchell: I'm not a part of the project. I was pointed to this survey as an editor working on topics which are under-represented in the English Wikipedia.
Zawed: If any topics have more focus than others, it usually is simply a reflection on the number of editors in that field.
What suggestions would you make to editors considering working in a lesser-known field of military history?
Arius1998: References are important, it backs up the statements and data you put. Do not put your own analysis or view on the topic. Also consider structuring the article to be reader-friendly. Try also searching for images on the topic.
Cuprum17: Start collecting all the reference materials that you can on the subject and get familiar with the contents. You must have a passion for the subject and see the possibilities for expanding the articles that already exist on the subject. The best new articles are created by first working old material over to bring it up to at least B-class standards. Vast numbers of articles exist on almost any given military subject that are just stubs or starts or un-assessed. As improvements in old articles are made, possibilities will occur to the editor for new articles.
Wtmitchell: None, offhand.
Zawed: As my fellow editors have stated above, get hold of references. These are vital for expanding articles. Then pick stub or start class articles to work on. Personally, I find biographies good to work on as the article structure should be straightforward and as it is expanded, it is likely that leads to other articles to improve or even create (events, units or other personalities) will eventuate.
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?
Arius1998: Perhaps, more awards for new and young editors to encourage them to work better and heed advice from seniors. I'm sometimes lambasted by my parents why I put so much effort on a thing like this whereas I don't even earn any from here. When I show them some of the awards I gained from here, they ease their words on me. Thus, in my case, it worked so far.
Cuprum17: Yes, there is one very important point I would like to make. It is not always possible for one editor to know or accomplish everything about an article. It is important for an editor to be able to accept help from other editors in completing an article. That is the goal anyway, the completed article, ready for the reader. It matters little who created, edited, polished, or nurtured the article to its final existence. It would not be possible for me to edit on the MILHIST Project if it weren't for my fellow editors...they have had the decency to patiently correct the errors of my writing and the personal failures of character that rack my existence from time to time. When I didn't know how to accomplish a particular task, there was always someone on the Project there to guide me. When frustrations got the best of me, there were several kind souls from the project that counseled me. I can not thank those "mates" enough...they were responsible for saving my Wikipedia career, and they know who they are and how much I do appreciate their advice. Teamwork from my Teammates. One other point...please encourage those new editors that show promise and remember that we were all there at one point and we all have a duty to train our replacement. Semper Paratus!
Wtmitchell: No. I hope you find some of the above useful.
Zawed: Don't be afraid to ask for help. There are many fantastic and approachable editors in the MILHIST project.
About The Bugle
First published in 2006, the Bugle is the monthly newsletter of the English Wikipedia's Military history WikiProject.