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Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2018-04-26/WikiProject report

WikiProject Military History: Combat, weapons, monuments and personalities.

This week, we're checking out ways to motivate editors and recognize valuable contributions by focusing on the success of WikiProject Military History. Anyone unfamiliar with WikiProject Military History is encouraged to start at the report's first article about the project and make your way forward. While many WikiProjects provide a barnstar that can be awarded to helpful contributors, WikiProject Military History has gone a step further by creating a variety of awards with different criteria ranging from the all-purpose WikiChevrons to rewards for participating in drives and improving special topics to medals for improving articles up to A-class status to the coveted "Military Historian of the Year" award. We asked several Milhist project members for their thoughts.

  • How long have you been a member of WikiProject Military History? Do you prefer working on articles related to particular subjects, people, or time periods?
    • I have been involved with MILHIST for over nine years. In terms of article writing, I tend to focus on Australian infantry units and Second World War battles involving Australia as this is the area of military history I am most comfortable with (although even in this field I am still learning every day and would not consider myself anything but an amateur at best). However, working within MILHIST has provided me with the opportunity to expand my knowledge, and as such I have tried to branch out a little to other areas, including working on articles relating to New Zealand infantry units, and battles of the Pacific War not involving Australia. My work at MILHIST A-class review (as well as GAN and FAC), though, has allowed me to get involved in a broader range of topics also. I have really enjoyed this aspect of the project, as well as the opportunity to interact with many different people from all walks of life. AustralianRupert (talk)
    • I have been with the Military History Project since December 2006. Originally I focused on articles related to technology and logistics in the Australian Army in the First and Second World Wars, the areas I wrote my master's and doctoral theses on. Since 2011, I have worked on improving the articles related to nuclear weapons. Working on a series of articles in a particular topic area allows you to re-use the sources that you have assembled. I have brought over 60 military articles to FAC. For every major, FAC-worthy article that I create, I also create a couple of lesser, GA-quality articles. These are often new articles, but I have also taken seven articles that I created all the way to FAC. Hawkeye7 (discuss)
    • I've been a member of both the Military history Wikiproject and Wikipedia for over ten years, and in that time I've seen or done almost everything that can be seen or done in the Military history Project. I started off just editing articles, then worked on moving articles up to GA, A, and FA class, then switched to article reviews, and now I'm working largely within the realm of our in house newsletter The Bugle, where I've done a number of op-ed pieces commemorating the 100-year anniversary of World War I. In addition, I'm still something of a think tank, offering my suggestions and advice on milhist matters. TomStar81 (Talk)
    • I've been involved with MilHist almost as long as I've been on WP, which is over a decade now. I primarily write biographies of Australian military aviators, but have branched out to do some Australian Army and Navy personnel as well; I also write a lot of RAAF unit articles. I find myself better suited to articles with a narrow but deep focus, such as bios and unit histories -- broader topics like battles and wars I tend to leave to others. I like to take the articles I edit through as many review processes as I think they can stand, from our B-Class assessment to GAN, A-Class Review, and FAC; in turn I review others' articles. I've been a coordinator of the project for most of the past several years, and also edit the Bugle newsletter with Nick-D. Ian Rose (talk)
  • What sets this Wikiproject, which has remained relatively active, apart from most other projects, which have fallen into slow decline?
    • To be honest, I'd argue that MILHIST is also currently in a process of decline and that this mirrors (broadly) the general trend on Wikipedia. I would argue, though, that this is normal for any organisation following a period of rapid expansion, as it finds its equilibrium. AustralianRupert (talk)
    • The Military History Project has not been immune to the general inexorable decline process, and to survive in the long run Wikipedia needs to ditch some of the dogma. We have the advantage that the subject is highly accessible to the general public. We have some advantages over other projects in our subject area. Military history is amenable to eventualism. For the moment at least, historians write books, which are not subject to loss through technological changes. There is a general demand for the books. Most bookstores have a Military History section. It also means that there is a thriving trade in second hand military books, whereas the work I did for the Paralympics required the mobilisation of a workforce and the attendance at events to grab the information while it was available. Although frowned on by academia, military history has a loyal following, and the project is lucky to have a solid core of highly knowledgeable editors. It is pleasing that the Military History Project has carved out a reputation for high quality workmanship. A key part of this has been our A-class review process. It has standards comparable to FAC, but more structured and without its limitations. Like FAC, its standards have risen over time. I tried to simplify its administration by automating it with a Bot. Hawkeye7 (discuss)
    • To be brutally honest, we've lost our thrusters and have been suffering a slow decline over the last few years due to an absence of new contributors to Wikipedia in general. That combined with our ever changing standards is making it harder for us to maintain the articles and reviews and such at currently acceptable levels. For the time being this is somewhat offset by our core of hardcore contributors, but there's only so much that they can do to keep us in orbit. If Wikipedia as a whole could rebound somewhat, this problem in general may resolve itself - if we could convince enough people to give the site a chance. TomStar81 (Talk)
    • I tend to agree with Rupert, Hawkeye and Tom that MilHist has also slowed down, although I'd still count it as thriving in comparison to some areas of WP. Just to take an example close to my heart, while we've not always run closely to our planned schedule with the Bugle newsletter, we've never missed an issue. In terms of what sets the project apart, not being an active member of any similar projects it's perhaps difficult to say but I do think there is a good sense of community and -- generally -- a lack of conflict (perhaps ironically in light of our subject interest). As far as processes go, A-Class Review is still a very important and distinguishing aspect. Ian Rose (talk)
  • Is the success transferable to other projects, by changing how they work?
    • Each project has its own strengths and weaknesses, and its own challenges and opportunities. As does MILHIST. We do some things well, while other areas could be improved. Such is life. Ultimately, the key to success for any project will be to build a core of editors keen to work together for a common(ish) purpose. Achieving this, and maintaining it, is difficult, but there are certainly many ways to do so. AustralianRupert (talk)
    • As is the case everywhere on Wikipedia, a small group of editors create 90 per cent of the content. Ironically, military history is a peaceful, constructive and collaborative community. But the key is always enthusiasm and a desire to spread knowledge in pursuit of our educational mission. Hawkeye7 (discuss)
    • We have a particular contributor base that works with our particular model for our articles and reviews and such, so copying what we have won't automatically work for other projects. That being said, solving the larger Wikipedia related issues would (in theory) help all the projects by bringing in fresh blood, fresh perspective, and fresh ideas to projects that we can all agree we sorely need. TomStar81 (Talk)
  • Is there any work that the project has done you would like to highlight as being particularly successful?
    • I think our A-class review process has been quite successful over the years. The project's newsletter, The Bugle, is also an aspect that I think deserves highlighting. This is largely the result of a small group including its dedicated editors, Nick-D and Ian Rose, and some regular contributors such as Hawkeye7 and TomStar81. AustralianRupert (talk)
    • Echoing Rupert, even though A-Class Review doesn't attract quite the same interest it once did, it's still going quite strong, and I think serves as a model for any project seeking to create a "pre-FAC" community assessment process. Rupert was also too modest to mention his own contributions to the Bugle, often helping with project news, contest results and so on -- this sort of effort has meant that Nick and I really do just need to edit much of the time, most of the original writing being done by other project members, as one would hope. Ian Rose (talk)
  • Are there any methods you use to prevent biases and conspiracy theories from existing?
    • I think site wide policies such as WP:V and WP:FRINGE say it best. AustralianRupert (talk)
    • We do keep an eye on the articles for this, and in fairness we've had trouble in the past with some black project related material for which sourcing is generally fringe at best. A conscious effort to keep the pages clear of conspiracy material helps, but I personally feel that the larger problem is with the never ending amount of popular culture related appearances which people document in trivial ways in the articles. While there can be no denying that military equipment is a popular culture area, most of what we see is material that is not sourced, poorly, sourced, and generally not really needed in the articles in question. Wrangling all this into corals so it can be handled correctly can be challenging at times, especially when dealing with new or unregistered users who feel that the material should be present at any cost. TomStar81 (Talk)
    • There are constant conflicts with Randy in Boise. This mostly affects the infoboxes and the lead, as Randy doesn't have the wherewithal to read the articles. As early as 1964, Richard Hofstadter warned that anti-intellectualism was a consequences of the democratisation of knowledge. There is a trend of disparaging experts, who have a record of debunking cherished beliefs. Many people think that Wikipedia means that we don't need experts anymore; they seem unaware that those experts are the very people who made the information available on Wikipedia. WP:FRINGE sounds like a reference to the tinfoil hat brigade, but as the term is defined on Wikipedia, it also covers many popular and widely-held ideas and beliefs. Biases that affect Military History often arise from the very heart of English-speaking culture. Our best defence is each other; the collective will of the project that can marshal numbers needed to fight off challenges from individuals or even small groups. Hawkeye7 (discuss)
  • Anything else you'd like to add?
    • The project's ongoing success will be tested in the coming years. To remain successful, we need to ensure that we welcome new editors while managing to keep our olds and bolds. New isn't always better, but the old ways also aren't always the best way either. Encouraging people to get involved in the broader processes of the project will also be a challenge. We need to ensure that our processes are simple, but also effective in producing quality content, while providing an editing environment that encourages people to participate and enables them to feel part of a community. Whether we can achieve this remains to be seen, but it will be a defining part of our Wikipedia journey as a project. AustralianRupert (talk)
    • For some years now we've escaped the downward spiral of Wikipedia's dry rot but it's finally starting to catch up with us, and that should concern everyone here. If a large project as successful as ours has been is starting to feel the grasp of lady death's cold fingers then it means we've reached a point where Wikipedia is going to have to evolve if it is going to survive. New members are urgently needed, but our overall sense of community has declined in the last five or so years such that these days it seems that the site survives less on contributors and more on luck. We need to reignite that spark from the old days when this was still an exciting and cool place to be, otherwise the constant burnout is going to be the death of all of us. TomStar81 (Talk)