In a record-breaker, the English Wikipedia has a new largest good topic: the 71-article Light cruisers of Germany, which concerns the light cruisers used by Germany during the 20th century. American editor Nate Ott, an Ohio native who edits under the pseudonym Parsecboy, wrote all of the articles on the back of a passionate interest in German warships for most of his life. "I got a copy of Robert Ballard's Exploring the Bismarck when I was a kid," he told the Signpost. "I still have it—it's very tattered, mind you." The love kindled by this simple gift has come to fruition on Wikipedia with several large featured topics, and his latest effort.
Ott only applied this interest on Wikipedia when he came across several article stubs, like Brandenburg-class battleshipin 2007. With more acquaintance with the topic came quality content: in 2009, he finished his first featured article (FA), SMS Von der Tann, a game-changing vessel that was Germany's first turbine-powered warship. Ott's Wikipedia editing then led him to academia—he has a master's degree in military history and began a PhD program at Ohio State University, but left to spend more time with his young child.
His dream in 2009 was to raise every major warship of the Imperial German Navy to featured status. Five years later, he's well on his way as the author of every German battleship and battlecruiser article, which were the largest warships in the early 20th century. Called capital ships in recognition of their importance, most of the major navies in the world used them, as much for prestige as national defense.
Hugo Graf's S.M. Linienschiff Kaiser Wilhelm II, 1900. Restored by Adam Cuerden.
What makes the German ships so important in the context of world history? "These ships", says Ott, "were expressions of German expansionism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries—something that put Germany on a collision course with Great Britain and helped produce World War I. The battle fleet created by Alfred von Tirpitz was especially provocative to Britain. And of course, many of these ships participated in major naval battles during the world wars and had significant impacts on the course of the war—Jutland is of course probably the most important, because in the aftermath of the inconclusive result, the Germans turned back to unrestricted submarine warfare, which brought the US into the war and sealed the fate of the Central Powers."
Ott started working on Germany's light cruisers in late 2011, although "that was alongside other projects, so it wasn't a continuous effort." Still, he had most of them completed by 2012, with the rest completed by the end of last year. The biggest challenge was the "thin level of detail available for many of these articles in English, especially the earlier ones." Another major obstacle is the increased difficulty in accessing German sources while living in the United States, although an editor in Germany (MisterBee1966) has helped him to acquire Hildebrand, Röhr, and Steinmetz's Die Deutschen Kriegsschiffe (Volume 5), which Ott says was critical to expanding many of his articles: "Getting Die Deutschen Kriegsschiffe has been a godsend. It has turned what would have been a bunch of articles that would have barely been able to scrape GA [good article] into solid articles, and halfway-decent perennial GAs into solid FAs."
Where will he go from here? Ott told us: "I'm most-way through the handful of unprotected cruisers Germany built in the 1880s, which should allow me to create a larger topic of all the modern cruiser types—armored, protected, unprotected, heavy, and light—which is in the 120-article range. I'm also looking into preparing a number of articles ... to run on the main page for major World War I centenaries (Emden is the first in that plan). After that, I'll probably return to expanding the German pre-dreadnought articles using Hildebrand, Röhr, and Steinmetz to turn the battleship topic to be completely featured."