Web Search and Website Review

Category: History


Note: Send the two assignments below as a single document, by attachment, to the instructor by clicking on the “+ Submit Assignment” button in the upper right-hand corner of the assignment screen.

SA 1.1: For each of the historical topics listed below, find a valuable website that covers or deals with the subject in a historical light, and compile the list of URL’s into a document. Be sure to label each website address with its corresponding topic. The website should be a reliable source, with clear authorship and with an academic function. The website must be specifically dedicated to a professional, formal, scholarly approach to a related subject, and NOT an online encyclopedia entry. Sites such as Wikipedia.com or Info.com are NOT acceptable for this assignment. If the author, title, or function of the site is unclear, it is NOT a reliable website. Sites with a “.edu” endings are the most reliable, though watch out for elementary school projects with this designation. See the Web Search and Web Review Guidelines page for more help with finding a good site. You may need to do some preliminary searches to find out what the best search terms are — the phrases below may not be the best terms to plug into a search. (That’s part of the challenge and part of the learning that comes from searching.)

Neolithic era or Neolithic Revolution

Domestication of plants

Code of Hammurabi

Sargon of Akkad

Epic of Gilgamesh

SA 1.2: Write a brief (c. 250 word) review of one of the websites found for #1.1. What useful information did you gain from the site, what did you learn that you did not before, and how useful would the site be for the study of history of ancient history? How does the information from the site fit with related information in the textbook? See the Web Search and Review Guidelines page for more help with writing a good review.

text book: Jerry Bentley and Herbert Ziegler,  Traditions & Encounters: A Global Perspective on the Past, Volume I: To 1500, Sixth Edition, (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011). 


Web Research and Web Review Guidelines

Finding a Good History Website

When searching for a reliable, useful, and dependable history website, look for several key characteristics:

1. Clear authorship, title, and date: Generally, the more the website is like an article or chapter of a book, the better. The more pieces of a footnote you can find, the better — author, title, date, etc. You should be able to tell who produced the site, or what organization or group claims responsibility for the content. There should be a title of some kind, aside from the URL. It should also give some clue as to how long the site has been up.

2. Reliable expertise: Sites associated with reputable academic and professional organizations, or that are produced by peer-reviewed journals, are the best. The most reliable tend to have URL’s that end with “.edu” (university sites) or “.org” (for museums or historical associations), although this is just a general rule. An online open-source encyclopedia such as Wikipedia is NOT a reliable source for this assignment, because it is open to content from anyone of any background or any degree of sanity. Over the long term, open source encyclopedia may be just as accurate as peer-reviewed journals but in the short term may be horribly unreliable. An online encyclopedia can help you find out some of the key terms, but it is really only a place to start.

3. Clear purpose: The site should exist for a recognizable purpose, and the main purpose should be informative or educational. Stay away from fragments floating around the internet with no clear reason for existing. If the web address gives no good clue about the origin and there’s no title or author, it’s best to keep looking for another site. You may have to backtrack by finding the original homepage for the site.

4. Objectivity: Absolute objectivity and totally balanced coverage may be very difficult to achieve, but the site should present information in a relatively objective, scholarly way. Avoid sites that are essentially extremist propaganda or sites that are overtly polemical or more about present-day politics than about the past. If it looks like the web creators have a big axe to grind, try a different site. As a general rule, a useful website should give more light than heat to a historical debate. A relatively objective author can disagree with others, but should do so in a way that is fair, impersonal, and based on logic and evidence.  Sometimes you have to get into the site a little before an overwhelming bias becomes clear.

5. Useful content: The site should have something substantive to show to the visitor. It should provide factual information, including citations or some other way to track down the sources involved. The content need not be comprehensive, and it may not be completely accurate, but it should contribute something factual. The factual material must be verifiable — from existing sources that others can find. Dreams, revelations, hearsay, affirmations of faith, and rumors are NOT acceptable as verifiable sources.

6. Compatibility with Good Ol’ Common Sense: Remember, there is no license or test required to create a history website. The web is a giant, mostly unregulated bulletin board where anyone can put up just about anything. The most commonly visited site may be the least valuable one. Having a great web address and showing up first on Google are also no guarantees that the website is reliable. As with many things in life, flash may disguise a lack of substance, and energy spent on appearance sometimes should have been spent on content. If no one claims responsibility for a website, then no one claims responsibility for its content, and the site is therefore irresponsible.

Writing a Good Website Review

    A website review for an academic assignment gives the reader a good understanding of what the site does, how much information it provides, the kind of information it has, and how valuable the information could be for anyone studying a related subject. No more than half of the review should be taken up by summary. A good review does not just fill space by restating what the site says (“on this page it says ___, on the next page___”), but gives enough summary to get the basic idea and then gives the reviewer’s judgment and interpretation.

    At least half the review should be analysis of the website. Generally, it should be more than likes or dislikes (not just “two thumbs up”) and more than superficial issues (“a poor color choice for the font”). In general, focus on the quality of the information more than the appeal of the presentation. Avoid saying the site is “interesting,” because the word is so vague as to have lost all meaning. Some good possible issues to address in an analysis:

                    — How does the website material relate or compare to that in the course textbook? Does it agree or disagree with other sources on the same subject?

                    — Does the website have clear biases or assumptions that it makes? How might making different assumptions or coming at the subject from a different perspective make a difference?

                    — Is the website very useful at informing the visitor about some things and not others? Remember, a website may be very useful for some kinds of information and not others.

                    — If the site presents an argument or a hypothesis, how well does it back it up? Is the evidence good? Is the argument logical and sensible? Are there other conclusions or arguments you could make?

                    — Did the site contribute to your understanding? If yes, explain what changed (how you thought about the subject before as opposed to after). If no, why not?

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