The four American history-related web sites used for this paper are: United States History (http://www.u-s-history.com/index.html); American History: The Heritage of the United States (http://www.legendsofamerica.com/americanhistory.html); History (http://www.history.com/); and USHistory.org (http://www.ushistory.org/).
United States History: How much information is provided? What sort of information is offered? In the United States History site, there is an enormous amount of specific information within each time period. For example, there are fourteen window of time (up to 1630; 1630-1763; 1763-1783; all the way through 2001), and in each window there are eight to ten links that take the reader to specific events, personalities, groups and laws. In the 1815-1860 window of time a reader can get in-depth information on the Monroe Doctrine, Nat Turner Rebellion, The Alamo, Manifest Destiny, The Compromise of 1850, and the California Gold Rush, among several other links.
Is the Web better at transmitting some kinds of information as compared with other genres? What subjects get left out? Looking through these links it would be impossible for a printed publication to offer so many specific issues, places, people, events and controversies conveniently located on one page. In fact it would be simply impossible for any other format of U.S. history to offer such convenience for a researcher wishing to highlight hundreds of important moments and people in American history. That is not to say that there is more information in this site than in the books we used in world civilization class, but the convenience and access to myriad subjects is attractive to the online user. The answer is yes, the Web is far better at offering researchers and ordinary readers’ instant access to an impressive list of highlights and events and important people — to have at one’s fingertips — than virtually any other format. In this case, there seem to be no subjects left out that were important during each window of time. Who produces this site, what is their background and what is their point-of-view?
The Online Highways LLC — an online travel company that has expanded to provide history, transportation, music, shopping, educational along with cultural information for countries all over the world — produced this site. There is no “point-of-view” or bias as the links take the reader to objectively produced sites; for example, click on “Underground Railroad” and the link is a story of how slaves were spirited out of the South to parts in the north; there is an illustrated map that shows the exact routes runaway slaves took. Each link
TWO: American History: This is a less formal site run by a “mom and pop” company (Dave and Kathy Alexander in Missouri) that is called “Legends of America.” They sell photos, historic documents, and other history-related materials on DVDs and CDs. So this is a commercial site. The information provided is divided up in categories, for example, the Lynching and Hanging link takes the reader to a site with photos of African-Americans hanging from trees, presumably the result of KKK lynch mobs. And besides the well-known basic history links (Civil War; American Revolution; Thomas Jefferson, etc.) the site takes the reader to the “Peshtigo Firestorm of 1871,” a blaze that reportedly killed up to 2,500 people in Wisconsin.
Including the Peshtigo disaster is part of the uniqueness of this site; that is, incidents one wouldn’t expect to find in traditional history sites appear here. The site also offers “Mysteries in American History,” featuring everything weird from UFO’s to the “Boggy Creek Monster” and of course “Big Foot” as well. Subjects left out? This site could have provided a more thorough and academic list of sites, but that’s not the point; this is more about entertainment, photography, and links to the past than a scholarly history site per se. The background for the editor, Kathy Weiser-Alexander (a graduate of Baker University, receiving a BBA in 1989), in “Linked-In” shows that she was an HR consultant for Cyborg Systems and HR Director for International Tours and Cruises (Overland Park, Kansas) and HR Director for Electronic Realty Associates in Kansas. The point-of-view in this web site leans toward entertainment — albeit the links to history-themed sites and their own writing is reasonably objective. Bias? There is no noticeable editorial bias, and when comparing this web site against the first site reviewed, this is a less formal, more entertainment and informational themed than the first site, which was very straight forward and scholarly. In the first site (United States History), when a visitor uses the “American Revolution” link, it leads to a very sophisticated time line with a multitude of links all related to the Revolution. In the Legends of America site, there are well-written paragraphs and some photos, but it is not nearly as sophisticated or scholarly, but it is informative. Compared to a history book, this web site is far more interesting and versatile.
THREE: The History Channel. This site is more about providing videos of history and it features made-for-television stories and videos. On the home page as you log on to this site, there are four frames that repeat in order: “D-Day in HD”; “Remembering D-Day”; “Mountain Man” (a TV show on the History Channel); and “The Hunt” (another original television show). At the top of the home page there is a list of links, and clicking on “Topics” brings up a page with six rows of three links in each row; the links are actually videos (“911 Attacks”; “Civil Rights Movement”; “D-Day”; and “Franklin Roosevelt,” to name a few).
How much information is provided? Not nearly as much information is available compared with the two previous history sites. Follow the link to the “Red Menace” (one of the 18 boxes after clicking on “Topics”) site and there are about 10 paragraphs describing the paranoia and rage experienced in the U.S. over the fear of communism in the 1950s. A number of photos come up, including Senator Joe McCarthy (leader of the Congressional investigations into supposed communist infiltrators into the American entertainment and political milieus), Fidel Castro (who welcomed Soviet missiles onto his shores and advocated that the Soviets attack the U.S.), Charlie Chaplin (who was accused of being a communist, and left the U.S. For England), and then U.S. Senator Richard Nixon. Click on any of these images and you are taken to an audio file. What subjects were left out? There is very little information on the American Revolution or on the westward migration of pioneers, or on specific eras in the nation’s history. What credentials do the web site developers have? This is a television channel that has morphed into an online history site. The A&E Television Networks produce the site. Do they argue a particular point-of-view? No, there is no specific point-of-view but the material is entertainment-themed and a lot of the stories are accompanied by video or audio (hence, the entertainment angle).
Checking this web site against the first web site one can instantly see that the United States History site is a serious, research-friendly site, and the History.com site is designed to be user-friendly more than a tool for research. Both sites however provide many links to information about the U.S. Civil War. There is no noticeable bias in the History.com site, although it is obvious that the tone of History.com is not conducive to serious researchers.
Comparing this site to the books we read in world civilization class, there is a huge difference in tone, style and substance. The materials we were asked to read and understand in class were serious and scholarly, while this site — and the others — works well for less serious scholarship. The in-depth materials in class dwarf the information available in History.com, albeit the United States History site (the first one in this paper) does offer a myriad number of pages with a lot of specific reference material.
FOUR: UShistory.org. This site provides a lot of good information on American history, but it is not as thorough as the first site. It does offer a number of links to important events and people in American history. Who produces this site? The Independence Hall Association (IHA) produces this site; they claim to be “an independent group of private concerned citizens” that originally came together to create the Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia in 1942. The IHA is a nonprofit whose mission is to “educate the public about the Revolutionary and Colonial eras of American history.” The IHA has commercial sponsors: American Express; and the Barra Foundation along with three other foundations.
The IHA offers three free textbooks for students (U.S. History; American Government; and Ancient Civilizations). The U.S. History book has 60 chapters, starting with the Native American society that existed before the colonization of North America, and ending with the Bill Clinton presidency. The writing is well done and seems to be objective. There is a point-of-view, and that is developed around the idea that history is important and young people should be educated about American history. The UShistory.org site offers plenty of items for sale, including posters of the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. Three large “Parchment Documents” (Declaration of Independence; Constitution; and Bill of Rights) are available for $35.88 online.
Comparing this site with the other three: this site zeros in on the colonial period, the revolution, the civil war and on everything of any significance that happened in Philadelphia (where the IHA is located). The rest of American history is omitted. This site also is advocating that the National Archives and Records Administration not close its Philadelphia office, and the site urges visitors to send emails in support of keeping that office open. The world civilization class has far more information about history than this site, albeit if the focus of a research project is on colonial America, post-Revolution America, this is a very good site to visit and learn from.
In conclusion, there are good web sites that offer historical resources very conveniently, and some very thoroughly as well. And while high-quality textbooks offer materials that are far more in-depth, using a good web site offers more access quicker than textbooks. Which is better? Classroom text books along with lectures, in the end, do offer a better perspective on history. But for the student who is skilled at online research, a very good beginning (or filling in the cracks of information) is to use online sites. The Best of History Websites is also a good resource.
Best of History Websites. (2013). Welcome to Best of History Websites. Retrieved June 10, 2014, from http://www.besthistorysites.net.
History.com (2013). History by Topic. Retrieved June 10, 2014, from http://www.history.com.
Legends of America. (2012). American History / The Heritage of the United States. Retrieved June 10, 2014, from http://www.legendsofamerica.com.
United States History. (2013). American History / Time Period / Historical Era. Retrieved
June 10, 2014, from http://www.u-s-history.com.
UShistory.org. (2014). History for the Mind and Heart. Retrieved June 10, 2014, from http://www.ushistory.org.
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