The English Wikipedia has more than 4,700 featured articles at the time of writing—fewer than 0.1 percent of all articles. Featured articles, known in the community as “FAs”, must undergo a rigorous assessment process where their compatibility with several criteria is checked and scrutinised. In exchange, they’re adorned with a little bronze star and used as an example of the best articles Wikipedia has to offer.
Two of the major criteria that featured articles must meet are to be “comprehensive” and “well-researched”—for most articles, this means not leaving any holes in the exploration of the topic, and covering everything in all available sources.
Some articles, it seems, require more research than others. Here are the ten longest featured articles on the English Wikipedia as of today, ranked by their respective word counts.
The Spanish conquest of Petén took place in the 1600s in Petén, now a region of Guatemala, and was part of the Spanish colonisation of the Americas. The Spanish came up against a sizeable network of Maya populations in the basin, which were spread over the basin and rainforest which comprises the region. The conquest came to an end following the capture of Nojpetén, the island capital of the Itza kingdom, by Martín de Ursúa y Arizmendi in around 1697.
The article weighs in at a hefty 14,825 words, its Wikipedia article has been assessed as one of the best on the project (and, curiously, is one of two articles related to the Maya on this list).
Early on this list is the first of many articles falling under the remit of WikiProject Military history, a task force dedicated to improving articles on, well, military history. This particular article documents air raids undertaken on Japan by allied forces during World War II in the three years following the attack on Pearl Harbour. Estimates suggest between 241,000 and 900,000 Japanese were killed in the attacks.
At 14,956 words, the article goes into detail on some major operations (such as Operation Matterhorn, which also has its own article), as well as in depth on attacks on smaller cities. The article was passed as featured quality in April 2012.
The Maya civilization is one of the most well-known civilizations in history. Developed in central America, it is noted for creating the only known fully-developed writing system of the pre-Columbian Americas, as well as for its art, architecture, mathematics, and astronomical system.
While a lot of the information covered in the base article has been split into more specific, in-depth articles, this base article still clocks in at a fairly gargantuan 15,083 words.
#7: Michael Jackson
Dubbed the “King of Pop”, Michael Jackson lead an eclectic life both musically and personally. Beginning as a child singer and key member of The Jackson 5, he worked his way into a solo career and found considerable critical and commercial success. Over his lifetime he released ten studio albums as a solo artist, five of which were number ones in America. His article also discusses his death and the suspicion surrounding the circumstances.
Michael Jackson’s article appears on 177 language editions of Wikipedia, and is featured-quality on eight of them. At 15,270 words, the English version would require 32 pages if, for some reason, one wanted to print it sans images.
#6: Byzantine navy
The Byzantine navy, the naval force of the Byzantine (or East Roman) Empire between 330 and 1453, had a long and colorful history while it was active. The 15,422-word article is mostly focused on the operational history of the navy, including its conquests in and around its home base of Constantinople in what is now Turkey. Historians have often said the navy was vital to the Roman Empire’s existence in the east.
Another article by WikiProject Military history, “Byzantine navy” was promoted to featured article status at the second time of asking, back in 2009.
#5: Pope Pius XII
The 260th Pope, Pius XII was announced on the onset of the Second World War. Born Eugenio Pacelli in Rome, he was an outspoken critic of Nazism before the war. He lobbied world leaders to avoid conflict and, during his papacy, issued Summi Pontificatus, criticizing the invasion of Poland. Despite the Vatican’s official neutral stance, Pius XII maintained links to the Resistance in Germany and continued to lobby for peace. He was eventually made a Servant of God by Pope John Paul II in 1990, and declared Venerable in 2009.
His eventful life has resulted in a featured article some 16,684 words long, making his the second-longest featured biography on the site. It was promoted some time ago—back in 2006, almost ten years ago.
Puerto Rico‘s military history is a topic well-documented on Wikipedia, primarily by prolific editor “Tony the Marine” (whom we profiled on this very blog in 2013). This article provides a very thorough overview of the US territory’s military past, including its spell as a part of the Spanish Empire. Since becoming a US territory, Puerto Ricans have participated in every major conflict from World War I onward, including the Korean and Vietnam wars.
At 16,729 words, the article is nothing if not detailed. But with so much history to cover, it should come as little surprise that the article stretches quite this far.
One of the most famous research and development projects of all time, the Manhattan Project played a key role in the Second World War. Led by the United States, it resulted in the first nuclear weapons of the war (which were later, infamously, dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki). It was active between 1942 and 1946, and disbanded in 1947.
While the R&D process takes up the majority of the article, there is also discussion of the project’s impact and legacy stretching on after the war.
Another output from the military history WikiProject, “Manhattan Project” was promoted to featured article status in August 2011. At 17,215 words, it is the third-longest featured article on the English Wikipedia, and perhaps one of the more controversial.
Poland, like all countries, has an incredibly long history full of twists and turns. And, like many countries’ history articles, Poland’s is split into several parts. This, the second-most recent period in Polish history, is a featured article following a successful candidacy back in 2005—and, at 17,266 words long, is the longest such article on the English Wikipedia.
Discussing Poland’s fling with Soviet communism following the end of the Second World War, the article breaks down the 44-year period into chunks and explores them in depth. It discusses the rise of Stalinism in the country, as well as economical depression and social unrest. The period culminated with the collapse of the Polish People’s Republic in 1989, and trade unionist (and electrician) Lech Wałęsa‘s election as the second President of the Republic of Poland in 1990.
Unsurprisingly, the article has an exceptionally long equivalent on the Polish Wikipedia. The English article would take the average person more than an hour to read silently.
#1: Elvis Presley
Michael Jackson was the King of Pop, but Elvis Presley was simply “the King”. Born in Mississippi, Presley’s twenty-four studio albums, released between 1956 and 1977, received critical acclaim, and he remains a cultural icon in the United States to this day. He helped to popularize “rockabilly” music—an uptempo spin-off of country music—and achieved great success with songs like “Heartbreak Hotel” and a cover of “Blue Suede Shoes” in the 50s. He won three Grammy Awards, including an award for Lifetime Achievement aged just 36.
His article is comprehensive, and at 17,659 words, comfortably takes top spot on this list. It was promoted on its fourth nomination, back in 2010.
Joe Sutherland, Communications Fellow