Who Asks the Questions? User Demographics and Trending Topics on Askhistorians

Saturday, January 4, 2020: 1:30 PM
Empire Ballroom East (Sheraton New York)
Cassidy Percoco, Fenimore Art Museum
The key distinguishing feature of AskHistorians is its exclusively Q&A format. Although answers are supplied primarily by a panel of almost 400 subject matter-experts from history and allied disciplines, the ability to ask questions is open to anyone with an Internet connection. This is a major strength: the topics covered are inherently what followers and newcomers want to read. But it is also a significant weakness. The prominence of one set of topics attracts more participants interested in those topics, who ask more questions about them, which attracts even more participants interested, and so forth. The dominant Western, young, white, male perspective on Anglophone social media makes it all too easy to fall into the trap of perpetuating exactly the narrow vision of history that historians seek to challenge.

This paper reports on trends in topics and ways of asking questions on AskHistorians from 2016 through 2019. It covers results like which eras and geographic areas are most frequently and most rarely the context for questions about homosexual relationships, the almost exclusively white and Southern “voice” for questions about American slavery, and what sorts of “historical accuracy” questions are raised by video games.

The paper finishes by exploring strategies developed by the moderators for broadening the content of AskHistorians while preserving our commitment to a truly user-driven format. It opens a conversation about increasing the diversity of backgrounds of AskHistorians readers and historians that continues throughout the panel.

Previous Presentation | Next Presentation >>