History on the Net

By Harris, Charlie | History Review, March 1997 | Go to article overview

History on the Net


Harris, Charlie, History Review


Last issue, we looked at how to use search engines to find useful material on the Internet, and in particular how much better they work when you make your search terms very specific. However. sometimes it's not possible to be precise about what you want. What if I want to find some general background material, for example, about 17th Century Russia?

This is where directories come into their own. Directories work on a tree-like structure You start by clicking on broad subject areas, narrowing down from one branch to the next, until you find the precise area that interests you. In theory

To find material on 17th Century Russia, I went to Yahoo, the best known general directory, at http://www. yahoo.com/, only to find that History isn't even mentioned Lateral thinking suggested I tried Arts, and from there I clicked on Humanities, found History (at last), then European History From here I linked to Russia.

Yahoo works in three different ways. As well as clicking on the subject menus, you can also look at a list of related sites at the bottom of the page. And as a third option, you can enter search terms into a box, like a search engine. You can also decide if you want to limit the search to the current subject category, or scour the whole catalogue.

However, despite its fame, Yahoo can be limited, and the Russian link provided a mere 7 sites. I chose `Russian History on the Internet', which led to a `Chronology of Russian History (http: //bucknell.edu/departments/russ ian/chrono.html) -- a useful overview of Russian history, attractively presented, with good pages of amplification.

The directory at Galaxy (http:// galaxy.einet.net/galaxy.html) has a much clearer layout than Yahoo, and generally offers more choices. On the first page, for example, History is clearly visible, under Social Sciences. Click on it and you're offered a list of regions, related topics and links to a large number of universities. These include, for example, the Historical Documents collections at Cornell, and Queens, directories at Heidelberg, Michigan and Virginia, Soviet Archives at Texas... far too many to mention (http://galaxy.einet.net/galaxy/ Social-Sciences/History.html). However, even Galaxy has its limitations, the main one being that you can't tell the useful links from the less useful. For this reason, a new kind of directory has been developed, which reviews the sites it links to.

Gopherspace

In your cyber-travels you could also stumble into a very different kind of directory - a gopher. Gophers live in an older part of the \Net that existed before the WOrld Wide Web. You can enter gopherspace deliberately, using special software, or by chance, using your web browser. However if you look at the address, you'll see that instead of starting http:// like a web page, it starts gopher://.

Gophers are simpler than web-sites, with no illustrations and many are falling into disrepair, as computers switch increasingly to the web. So why bother with them? Well, there are still a number of useful gophers, run by universities or government departments, with a wealth of documents. Many of the University links mentioned above are in fact gopher links. In addition, gophers can sometimes be quicker than websites (although they can sometimes of day); and finally web search engines don't cover gopherspace (although directories can).

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