Section VI: History and the Internet
The internet allows students to gain access to a range of information. Numerous websites dedicated to historical inquiry provide access to invaluable source material. However, students must not expect that the internet can satisfy all research needs or that information on the internet is superior to that found in books, periodicals, and archives. Above all, students should approach the historical information found on internet with a great deal of skepticism.
Anyone can post material on the internet. This has provided for more diversity of opinions, but also means that distortions, untruths, rumors, and outright lies can masquerade as ‘historical’ information. Students must be critical thinkers before using any information found in cyberspace. As in most professions, reputation matters. You probably wouldn’t allow a self-proclaimed ‘medical doctor’ remove your kidney, so don’t be taken in by a self-proclaimed ‘historian.’ Students need to be especially skeptical of information that cannot be linked to a reputable source. Does the material come from an established archive such as the Library of Congress or the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library? Does the information come from an established publication such as the London Times or Wall Street Journal? Does it come from the official web-site of organizations such as the United Nations or NATO? Note the fact that a web-site that uses the web-address of even a major university may not be significant since many universities allow students and employees to post material which has not been professionally vetted. If you have any doubt about the reliability of an internet source, you should ask an instructor or librarian for help and advice.
While ‘wikis’ are undoubtedly helpful for finding information quickly on a specific subject, they remain problematic as sources since anyone, professional and layman alike, may post and amend on the site. Students should use Wikipedia with extreme caution. Generally, the more current or controversial the topic, the less reliable is the information. Be aware of the NEUTRALITY NOTICE when it appears at the top of any wiki. This is a warning that the information is disputed and not necessarily reliable or credible.