Bust of fifth-century figure, Eutropius

Seminar XII: Selecting and Evaluating Relevant Websites

Although the ‘gold standard’ for presenting new historical research is still the book or article in a specialist journal, many historians now also invest considerable intellectual resources in creating or contributing to web sites. Unlike books and articles, however, web sites are not subject to any form of editorial control. The technology and know-how for creating web sites are increasingly accessible: anyone with a PC and a web programme can now put one together. Although the Web has considerable potential as an educational resource, particularly as a means of disseminating large quantities of  information quickly in mixed media, it also poses dangers to academic discourse and to learning. One such danger is that the lack of control over ‘publication’ means that the information you read on any given web site may or may not be trustworthy. How do you know whether what you are reading and seeing is based on reputable research, cobbled together from existing publications, or simply invented? Another consideration is that web sites may not be trying to do the same job as published research. Many web sites simply present information without attempting to construct a thesis based on the use of evidence.

Mandatory Preparation

Pick two of the sites listed below, and find one other of your own, and answer the questions:

Worksheet Questions

  1. Is it clear who wrote the content of the site, what their qualifications and expertise are, and how to contact them?
  2. If the site has multiple authors or contributors, is there an editor and/or an editorial policy, and is this explained in the site?
  3. Is the aim of the site stated clearly, and does the content match that aim?
  4. Did you notice any spelling, grammatical or other writing errors? If you did notice any, did this affect the way you regard the content?
  5. Do the external links lead to academically trustworthy sites? Is it apparent whether other academic sites link to this one?
  6. Does the author use or quote verifiable sources?
  7. Can you tell whether the material was originally constructed for the web, or whether it has been ‘borrowed’ from a print publication? Is there any information about copyright permission?
  8. Does the site carry advertising, and of what kind? Who seems to be sponsoring the site, and what might their agenda be?
  9. Does the site tell you when it was last updated? Do the external links still work?

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