We have history
This week, we visited WikiProject History, an ancient project with roots dating back to 2001. The project is home to 196 pieces of Featured material and 483 Good and A-class articles independent of the vast accomplishments of its various child projects. WikiProject History maintains a lengthy list of tasks, oversees the history portal, and continues to build Wikipedia's outline of history. The project was first featured by the WikiProject Report in 2007 but hasn't been interviewed until now. We spoke with Chris troutman and bobrayner.
- What motivated you to join WikiProject History? Do you specialize in a particular time period or geographic area?
- Chris troutman: I'm a history undergrad at Loyola Marymount University so participating in history-related articles is a natural fit. I'm very much a generalist as all of history is interesting and important.
- bobrayner: I'm interested in Ottoman, African, and economic history.
- When we first introduced WikiProject History to Signpost readers in 2007, the project was overseen by two project coordinators. Does the project still have coordinators? What role do they serve in furthering the project's efforts?
- Chris troutman: To be honest, I'm not sure where everyone went. WikiProject History may comprise a significant portion of the Missing Wikipedians list. The loss of this WikiProject could be its own historical study.
- bobrayner: History is big! As en.wikipedia has developed, I think that editing has become more focussed. There are now many narrower wikiprojects and taskforces which take a lot of the load which might otherwise be on WikiProject History's shoulders. A lot of activity has now moved to WikiProject Military History, which reflects where many people's interests lie. Nonetheless, there is still room for generalists.
- How active are the project's nearly 300 members? Is there a lot of collaboration or do members typically stay in their own niches?
- Chris troutman: Activity on the project's talk page isn't necessarily representative of what editors are doing on thousands of articles of historical focus, so it's hard for me to say.
- bobrayner: As with most WikiProjects, we have a handful of very active editors and a larger number of occasional editors (and, no doubt, many have come and gone over the years). This activity is mostly in article-space, where it counts.
- Do you participate in any of the project's subprojects? Which subprojects tend to be the most active? What role does WikiProject History play in the initiatives of its child projects?
- bobrayner: I'm active in WikiProject Military History, probably English Wikipedia's most active and most accomplished WikiProject. History is so large of a subject that editors find themselves in niches of historical study without giving a second thought to the parent WikiProject itself.
- Are there many contentious articles under the project's scope? How are disputes about history resolved?
- Chris troutman: There's an adage that history is written by the victors. Thanks to Wikipedia, the losers are able to revise history as they see fit. You'd be surprised at the number of partisans that want to re-write why wars happened, who was responsible for what, which ethnic groups deserve praise or blame, etc. For instance, an innocuous example is Attack on Pearl Harbor. More than one book makes the claim that FDR and company left Pearl Harbor open for attack because they wanted a pretext to get into World War II. While you want to be fair to the minority view, the matter has to be mentioned as revisionist history.
- bobrayner: The last 200 years of history have given en.wikipedia its most controversial articles and most intractable disputes. For example, the Ottoman succession alone has left us with Israel versus Palestine, a handful of other deeply controversial middle-eastern topics, Turkish nationalism and the Armenian genocide, and a dozen epic nationalist disputes in the Balkans. Disputes are rarely handled within WikiProject History itself, and indeed the nature of many of these disputes often makes it difficult to handle them in any WIkiProject; but go to any noticeboard that handles disputes, and you'll probably find some history there. All the way up to ArbCom.
There are so many layers of history ripe for the photographer. This is part of a Roman town in what is now Libya; the desert covered it, then the town was partly excavated and reconstructed in the modern era, then work was abandoned as more recent history washed over it...
- Has sourcing been an issue for many history articles? What resources are available to editors wishing to create or expand history articles? Are there any resources that the project is not currently utilizing to its fullest extent?
- Chris troutman: Whew. Sourcing is a major problem for many history articles. Too much of Wikipedia is written with online sources which give short shrift to actual study. Many articles have good references listed but lack in-line citations. Finally, most articles are entirely absent any discussions of historiography. Too many editors are inclined to cite whatever they find as gospel truth regardless of the source.
- bobrayner: Most of Wikipedia suffers from something like FUTON bias, and there is also a near-universal bias towards English-language sources; WikiProject History is no exception to that. There is a huge range of high-quality sources that I can scarcely start to enumerate. I agree with Chris troutman's point about historiography.
- Does the project run into any difficulties in finding images to illustrate history articles? Is it more difficult to find appropriate artwork, photographs, or other figures for some time periods and geographic areas? What can be done to build a larger and more varied collection of historical images?
- Chris troutman: Thankfully the same avenues that make pictures freely available to Wikipedia work well with WikiProject History, too. Of course, history stretches back far before the invention of the camera, and even before the art of portraiture so images simply may not exist for subjects from antiquity.
- bobrayner: I think there are millions of wonderful, informative historical images just waiting to be used - we just need to think laterally. There are countless artefacts in museums and documents in archives which could illuminate our articles. If we can't have a painting of (say) some medieval lord, why not use an important charter, or a map of their lands, or a photo of their castle's ruins? Original materials for anything but the most recent history are no longer in copyright, so we have an advantage over other areas.
- Does WikiProject History collaborate with any projects that are not overtly history-related? What connections do all WikiProjects share with WikiProject History?
- Chris troutman: What is history? History can be the study of anything from the past. Whether a Wikipedian is writing about technology from the 1950s, music from the turn of the 20th Century, or art from the Napoleonic era it's all historical in nature. History is like Olympus Mons. It's so big that you could be standing on a point halfway to the summit and not even realize it's a mountain.
- What are the project's most urgent needs? How can a new contributor help today?
- Chris troutman: Contributors (new and not so new) can join. There are plenty of editors already working on articles in our purview and they are welcome to let us know what they're doing and how we can help them in their editing.
- bobrayner: New blood is always welcome. Away from the controversial pages, history editing doesn't have to be difficult - and close attention to sources will go a long way.
Until we climb to the top of next week, check out our previous interviews in the archive.
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