The World Wide Web can bring primary sources in Chicago history (as well as lots of other stuff!) into our homes, schools, and libraries. This accessibility is not without its drawbacks, however. Frankly, there is a lot of junk out there, but History Fair students can turn this challenge into an opportunity to develop and sharpen their critical thinking skills.
The best use for the Internet is in accessing primary sources. In using secondary sources from websites, focus on interpretative essays and articles by historians rather than less credible writers. Libraries are full of secondary source material! For all website sources, however, the same process applies: First, DECIPHER the URL and then EVALUATE the website for its reliability. Assured of its credibility, then analyze it as one would or any primary or secondary source. (Use the analysis worksheets from History Helpers.) Remember: sources from the Internet must have full CITATIONS, just like any source from the library or a historical collection.
Internet 101: Know What You're Looking At!
with thanks to Jen Koslow, Ph.D.
Associate Director of the Newberry Library Scholl Family & Community History Center
Browser: A software program that reads HTML, allowing you to surf the World Wide Web. Examples of browsers are Internet Explorer, Netscape Navigator, and Mozilla.
GIF: file format for a digital picture or graphic that can be read by a browser.
HTML: Hypertext Markup Language is a computer language that allows you to display text and images together in an interactive manner. If you are curious to see what this looks like choose "view source" on your browser. An example of markup coding looks like this: bold.
Hypertext: Theodor H. Nelson, "designer, generalist and contrarian," coined the term hypertext in the 1960s to describe nonlinear text. In Literary Machines, he wrote, "By 'hypertext,' I mean nonsequential writing - text that branches and allows choices to the reader, best read at an interactive screen. As popularly conceived, this is a series of text chunks by links which offer the reader different pathways." (Landow, 1992)
Hypermedia: Nonlinear displays of sound, pictures, animation, etc.
Link: A hyperlink connects two different pieces of digital information. These can be web pages, web sites, images, sound, etc.
JPG: file format for a digital picture or graphic that can be read by a browser.
Search Engine: Method by which to search the World Wide Web. An example is Google.com.
the Internet: An international collection of inter-connected computer networks. In the late 1960s, the United States Department of Defense funded the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) to enable researchers at independent locations to share information electronically through a diffuse computer network system. The first two super-computers linked were located at UCLA and Stanford University.
URL: Uniform Resource Locator: the web "address." Each address is unique.
World Wide Web: Although the terms "the internet" and "the Web" have come to be used interchangeably, technically they are different. The web is a subset of the Internet that allows for the communication of information in an interactive format (as opposed to email, file transfer protocol, telnet etc.)
The web address provides a wealth of information about the web page or site.
Every URL is divided into a few basic parts 1[http://] 2[www] 3[uic] 4[edu] 5[orgs/cmhec] 6[/schedule]
- http stands for HyperText Transfer Protocol. It is the means by which computer servers communicate with web browsers.
- www stands for world wide web
- The domain name of the website-in this case "uic" which is the University of Illinois at Chicago
- The SUFFIX is KEY for beginning to figure out a site. The suffix indicates what type of organization is hosting the website. The most common hosts are the government (.gov), nonprofit organizations (.org), educational institutions (.edu), commercial organizations (.com), and networks (.net)
- The directory/subdirectory names tell you where on the website this information is stored.*
- The name of the file you are looking at. (The name of the file and the title of the page are not the same thing.) File names end in several different kinds of prefixes. The most common are .html or .htm (stands for hypertext markup language), .wav (stands for sound file), .mov (stands for movie file), .php (computer scripting language which can be read by a browser)
* a website does not have to have subdirectories
Evaluating Internet Research Sources
As students increasingly turn to the internet for their primary and secondary sources, it becomes even more vital that they understand how to evaluate and cite the material they find. It is of utmost importance that students learn how to discriminate between high quality and low quality websites-particularly when it comes to using them as secondary sources. Websites dedicated to primary sources are pretty straightforward. We suggest you use the CARS Checklist (Credibility, Accuracy, Reasonableness, Support) developed by Robert Harris to help students learn how to evaluate their internet sources. The CARS Checklist is included in an excellent article by Harris which is available at: http://www.virtualsalt.com/evalu8it.htm
Trustworthy source, author's credentials, evidence of quality control, known or respected authority, organizational support. Goal: an authoritative source, a source that supplies some good evidence that allows you to trust it.
Up-to-date, detailed, exact, comprehensive, audience and purpose reflect intentions of completeness and accuracy. Goal: a source that is correct today (not yesterday), a source that gives the whole truth.
Fair, balanced, objective, reasoned, no conflict of interest, absence of fallacies or slanted tone. Goal: a source that engages the subject thoughtfully and reasonable, concerned with the truth.
Listed sources, contact information, available corroboration, claims supported, documentation supplied. Goal: a source that provides convincing evidence for the claims made, a source you can triangulate (find at least two other sources that support it.).
The Read-Think-Write Partners offer lessons and activity worksheets on Evaluating Internet Sources for classroom use: http://www.readwritethink.org/lessons/lesson_view.asp?id=149