This week, we reflect on the anniversary of D-Day by storming the shores of Operation Normandy, a special initiative of WikiProject Military History started in May 2008 that has been subjected to surging and ebbing in activity. The mission of Operation Normandy involves improving the "dilapidated state of all articles relating to the Battle of Normandy" and creating a Featured Topic for the subject by the 70th Anniversary of D-Day on 6 June 2014. With one year left to go, Operation Normandy has already brought half of their core articles up to Good Article status, although the number of Featured Articles needs significant attention. The project's page includes a chart with the status of each article, brief notes for how each article can be improved to reach the next higher rating, a listing of 20 contributors, and a variety of print and online resources in the possession of specific editors. We interviewed Nick-D, EnigmaMcmxc, Ranger Steve, and Keith-264.
How do the "Operation" initiatives hosted by WikiProject Military History differ from creating independent projects and task forces? What aspects of the Operation structure could be exported to other WikiProjects that focus on topics unrelated to military history?
Nick-D: The 'operations' tend to have a clear focus on a specific topic and (typically) a specified list of articles and red links to work on. Having a dedicated talk page where like-minded editors can share resources and coordinate their efforts is really important to projects involving more than one or two articles. While developing lists of articles to be improved is tedious, doing so allows effort to be directed effectively and progress tracked (and acknowledged, which is always really important).
How difficult has it been to find sources for articles about the Normandy offensive? Where can contributors get resources for these articles? Do editors share their print resources? Are there any research tips you could share with editors interested in the history of the Battle for Normandy?
EnigmaMcmxc: At the height of the project, all editors listed the sources they had access to. The list can be found in the following link, showing the teamwork that was involved: Wikipedia:WikiProject Military history/Operation Normandy#Sources. In addition, as the bottom of that list shows, the American and Canadian official histories are available online and free to access. The internet and the use of Google Books has also been a great help, and provides further sources free of charge.
While I do not believe anyone went out of their way to gain access to new sources for particular articles, the fighting in Normandy is one of the most wrote about operations of the war. Libraries are usually well stocked on this subject.
When articles were being worked on, it was generally a team project and the various articles that were awarded the higher grades were done so through teamwork. Research tips or advise were provided, people would look through their own collection of books to see if they had access to information etc and edited accordingly.
Nick-D: The Battle of Normandy is one of those areas where Wikipedia editors suffer from the problem of there being too many sources. The extent of the literature on this campaign is vast, with the quality generally being quite high. While this is a good problem to have overall, it means that there's a lot of work involved in writing a good quality article given that many different sources will need to be consulted. In my experience the official histories provide the best starting point for articles, with more recent general histories of the campaign and specialist works being useful for fleshing out the article and ensuring that it reflects modern scholarship.
Ranger Steve: This is probably one of the most well documented battles of the Second World War, so sources are never difficult to find. Being a bit of a book nut, I've got dozens of books on the subject nowadays. The problem is often judging the reliability of the sources; many niche books can appear to be highly detailed, but in my experience are often riddled with errors.
What challenges does Operation Normandy face in acquiring images and other media for articles? How can the average Wikipedian contribute to the illustration of articles about World War II topics?
EnigmaMcmxc: In 2008, the Bundesarchiv (the German Federal Archive) donated 100,000 photos to the public. The American and Canadian archives, and the British Imperial War Museum have extensive photograph collections, of the war, which are accessible via the internet and within the public domain. Thus, generally, photographic material of the various battles are easy to come by. The major challenge has been accessing and creating maps to support the articles. Thus far, the team has accessed various maps from published sources, which team members have then adapted. I think every article that details a major battle should attempt to have some from of map to illustrate what is being described. This is what has been the major challenge, illustration wise.
Nick-D: As EnigmaMcmxc notes there's no shortage of high quality historical images. However, obtaining recent images of sites associated with the battle and, more significantly, memorials to the fighting is difficult as France doesn't have freedom of panorama.
How would you describe the community at Operation Normandy? Was it difficult to attract contributors to this initiative? Did you rely upon the membership of WikiProject Military History? What other WikiProjects should participate in this initiative?
EnigmaMcmxc: Unfortunately, dead. At the height of the project, there was a lot of teamwork and help from each member. A core group was already working away at improving articles, and Cam took the initiative to form the project to add some sort of organization to what was going on.
Nick-D: Yes, this project has been dead for a while. One of the issues which disrupted the project at its peak was some awful and nationalist-based behaviour from an editor. While they were ultimately blocked for this (I was one of the blocking admins), the disruption made working on articles in this area difficult for quite a while.
Ranger Steve: Dead unfortunately. I haven't worked on any of the articles for a while (or any wiki articles for that matter) owing to my busy off-line life. I think a few key contributors (particularly EyeSerene) have been lost and the drive in the project has gone.
Have there been any collaborations with projects of other language editions of Wikipedia? Is there any information missing from articles that could only be added with access to resources in Normandy?
EnigmaMcmxc: I do not believe there was any organized collaboration with other language editions of the wiki, however I have seen individuals - on the other editions - take on the initiative of translating some of the FA status articles.
Ranger Steve: Articles could probably be enhanced with information from Normandy, but it's not always essential. However, I'd argue that seeing a site makes it easier to understand some sources and battles. The geography of Hill 262 took a while to fully understand; a trip to the museum there would probably have made it easier.
Where do you see WikiProject Military History's Operation format going in the future? Are there other neglected topics in military history that could use the focus of an Operation?
Ranger Steve: There's always a topic in need of a drive; many aspects of military history are poorly represented on Wikipedia. At the moment though, I think any drives should be focused on the First World War.
Nick-D: I agree with Steve - the key aspect of successful drives is to assemble a group of enthusiastic editors, and tying things into an important anniversary can be a good way of doing this.
Anything else you'd like to add?
EnigmaMcmxc: Hopefully, by having this interview in Signpost the project will attract new members and give the project a kickstart back towards its original goals (which now are pretty lofty, but still achievable if there are editors out there with the sources and time).
Nick-D: The 70th anniversary of this campaign next year will hopefully give work on the topic a shot in the arm.
Keith-264: It was the first occasion in which I did more than remove Oxford commas from sentences and I quite enjoyed it, particularly that several editors took an interest at the same time and were able to move the articles away from casual sources towards more substantial writing. Sadly other commitments broke up the group and I've spent the time since on the Western Front 1917, by a process of historical osmosis, because the similarities between 1917 and 1944 seem the more compelling the more I learn about them. If there is a move to restart work on the Normandy articles (Bluecoat needs a lot of work) I'll chip in as I've got a lot of sources sat gathering dust.
Ranger Steve: Working on these articles (and other Second World War subjects) has been a very important step in my off-wiki life. Practising everything from multiple source analysis through to basic referencing techniques, plus the experience of writing articles for public consumption, was a big factor in me getting to where I am now in my employment (although I should add that it took a lot of non-wiki volunteer work as well!). I now find that many of the articles I worked on in the past, are subjects that I now work on professionally. So I'll be in Normandy when this issue of the Signpost goes out.
Next week, we'll replace our old Z3 with a state of the art ENIAC. Until then, pop in twelve floppies and perform a search of our archives.