Recently we added something quite different to the History Commons, a project titled European Football and Politics. It doesn’t attempt to cover results, won-lost records, and so forth, but examines the economics, politics and maneuvering behind the scenes of the sport. It’s a creation of site admin Kevin, who’s been writing entries for months and placing them in Miscellaneous, where many users couldn’t get to them. The other day we decided to go for it and create a separate project for it. We announced it in an emailer. I’ve been curious as to what, if any, response we might get.
Well, today we got one. I won’t post the entire email or the name of the user who wrote it, but I’ll put up most of it:
I have been supportive of your project a while back when you were concentrating on really serious matters, like e.g. September 11. Now, I learn of a new project of yours: FOOTBALL AND POLITICS. Are you out of your mind??? And you expect donations for this crap? History Commons, once laudable, has turned parasitic. SHAME ON YOU!!!
First off, we welcome all feedback, positive and negative. Anyone, be it a person, an organization, or a government, who won’t accept criticism isn’t going to improve. Period. So to the person who sent this, thanks.
Having said that, let me address the rationale behind the new project. First, we cover a great many subjects. We are proud of our 9/11 coverage, and justifiably so, I believe, but it isn’t the entirety of the History Commons by any stretch. We cover, among other topics, the Iraq invasion and occupation, the US-NATO war in Afghanistan, the Iran-Contra scandal of the Reagan era, torture and prisoner abuse, the loss of civil liberties in the US, domestic terrorism in the US, domestic propaganda in the US and Europe, the 2001 anthrax attacks, the global economic meltdown, US electoral politics, the Watergate scandal, global warming, Kosovar self-determination, US international relations, and more. Do we cover them all completely? Of course not. To do that we’d need a staff of contributors as big as that of a small university or more. That’s why we’re constantly asking for people to come in and contribute. There’s too much for our small group of regulars to cover. And, of course, the information continues to develop. It’s a full-time job just to cover current events, much less go back 5 or 10 or 20 years and cover material from that time period that pertains to the particular project. We do our best, but there’s a limit to what we can do.
Secondly, we give contributors a pretty good amount of leeway to focus on their particular interests. If the staff believes a subject is worth covering, we let a contributor create a new timeline to cover it. I created the Domestic Propaganda and US Domestic Terrorism projects, for two examples, because I wanted to cover them. It’s where I currently spend the bulk of my research and writing time. (Like all projects, we’d welcome new contributors to add to those projects!) A contributor named Michael Pollack asked to cover the subject of independence in the Balkans (Kosovar Self-Determination), and we thought it was a great idea that none of the staff were knowledgeable enough to handle. He’s been working on it for over a year, and though he’s currently on a hiatus, we’re very proud of it. We’ve had other projects that contributors have asked to create, including the now-dormant Hurricane Katrina and 2004 Ousting of Jean-Bertrand Aristide projects. We welcome the efforts the contributors were able to put into those. Moreover, we welcome any ideas that contributors, including the person who sent the email above, may have for new projects. We’re not limited to what already exists. (I’m eager for people to contribute more to some of the projects that have languished in recent months, such as the economic crisis and global warming projects, as well as the “dormant” projects, but that’s up to contributors, not to staff.) Upshot: people write about what they want to write about.
Thirdly, it gives us an “international” dimension we tend to lack. Though we have a strong percentage of non-US contributors and staffers, most of the work we do revolves around issues and events that take place either in America or are driven by Americans. This project is not US-focused. Personally, I like that.
Fourthly, I don’t need to defend Kevin’s choice to create and populate a European Football project. He’s been a tireless contributor, editor, and administrator. He’s been here longer than I have. Except for Derek (who created the site), Paul (who launched the 9/11 project), and myself, he’s contributed more entries than anyone. If he has an interest in covering this topic, he’s more than earned the right to do so. But we would have considered anyone, including a new contributor, who wanted to open up the topic. Why? Well, it’s a matter of huge interest — there are literally millions of football (soccer for us Yanks) fans out there, many of whom are interested in some of the behind-the-scenes machinations that take place. Some of the entries cross over to the economic project. And, most importantly, it’s something a valued contributor, admin even, wanted to do. Personally, I’m not a football fan, but that’s irrelevant. I don’t have to read the material in this project. I have dozens of other options, like anyone else.
We don’t “expect donations for this crap,” as the correspondent put it, and I certainly dispute the contention that we are “parasitic.” We ask for donations to keep us online, and make it possible for researchers and contributors to keep working, but we don’t require them for access, up to and including becoming an admin. No one pays for information or access at the Commons — all contributions are entirely voluntary. We receive no grant money and take no advertising whatsoever. We have no sponsors. We don’t sell our mailing list. We don’t do anything that might create a perception of bias or make contributors feel as if they must “hew” to someone’s agenda in their work. We have a passionate and immutable commitment to putting up truthful material, and tell a “story” that is as complete and non-partisan as we possibly can, given the limitations of the informational resources we can access and our own time and personal limitations. Our “point of view,” if it can be said we have one, is to tell the truth, to tell it accurately and completely, and to use the best possible resources we can find to present that truthful information to the world. That’s it. Our only agenda with the European Football project is to give an accurate and complete depiction of events, the same as we do in the Iraq projects, the 9/11 projects (there are two!), or any of the others.
While we intend to keep adding entries to the football project — and we’re proud to do so! — we are busily adding entries to other projects, as we have done for years and intend to keep doing. We invite you, the reader and user, to join us. If you don’t want to write about football, or 9/11, or global warming, don’t. Find a project that suits you and start contributing. If you don’t see a project that matches your interest, propose a new one. I can think of about six off the top of my head I would love to see us cover that we’re unable at this time to do. I have no doubt that future contributors will create and populate terrific projects that I never envisioned. If it’s something the staff believes is worth covering, we’ll create the new project and help you learn the ropes so you can begin adding material.
I’m pleased that we’re branching out with the new project, and I look forward to other new projects in the near future. If you don’t like where a particular project is going, all you have to do is get involved and start something new, or expand something that already exists. You can help shape the future at the History Commons. We invite you to do so.
Thanks for reading.