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HIS 301: American History Before 1865: Beyond Google

Guide to paper and electronic resources for students in Dr. Calvert's section concentrating on American history before 1865. Spring 2013. Calvert.

The World Wide Web and Your Research

Many students are accustomed to beginning and ending their research for papers and presentations by searching the World Wide Web with a search engine such as Google or Yahoo.  However, for college level research, you are going to need to step up your research.  Although there is much good and valuable information on the Web, there are limits to its value for scholarly research. 

First, not everything is published on the Web. The following NY Times article is a must read for history students.  It both lauds the efforts to preserve our history  by digitizing it and making it more widely available on the Web while clearly pointing out the dangers of  ignoring the millions of  local documents that will probably never be part of such ambitious, expensive, labor-intensive projects.  

History, Digitized (And Abridged)

Second,  information on the Web is not always free.  Many information resources identified through a Web search can only be accessed if you subscribe to or purchase the information or visit a library that has subscribed to or purchased the resource for its collection.

In addition, no one search engine searches the entire Web.  To do thorough, in-depth scholarly research on the Web, you might need to repeat your search using several different search engines to obtain the most comprehensive results.

Finally, many university instructors are suspicious of papers and presentations based solely on research on the "free" web and, in some cases, will not accept web pages in works cited at all.  They feel that students tend to ignore key resources and rely first, last and always on the Web.  Furthermore, instructors feel that students do not critically evaluate the information they find of the Web before incorporating it into their research, and finally, students do a very poor job of citing the information they take from the Web. Therefore, the task of evaluating and justifying many Web pages for a works cited list can be very risky and labor intensive. 

Fortunately, most search engines offer advanced searches and other search tools that allow the searcher to improve the overall search results.  Because Google is still one of the most popular search engines, we have chosen to emphasize a few of its search features as examples of how to utilize the Web for scholarly research. 

Google Advanced Search

Most people use the basic Google search with simple keywords and never think about how they might use other Google searches to make their search results more targeted and relevant.  The Google Advanced Search is one option that searchers can use to improve their overall search results.  The Advanced Search allows you to quickly and easily identify and apply search criteria such as language, file type, specific sites or domains, dates and more. Your search results will be fewer but more relevant.

Google Advanced Search

Google Scholar

Google Scholar enables you to search specifically for scholarly literature, including peer-reviewed papers, theses, books, preprints, abstracts and technical reports from all broad areas of research. Use Google Scholar to find articles from a wide variety of academic publishers, professional societies, preprint repositories and universities, as well as scholarly articles available across the Web.

Google Books

Provides the ability to search selected full-text of books, with links to full-text, sample selections and pages, holding libraries and book-selling sites.