The internet offers an incredible amount of information on historical subjects of all kinds. The problem is twofold:

  1. finding the specific information you seek (which can be like searching for a needle in a haystack); and
  2. figuring out which information is useful, and which is not.
This point - that a great deal of information on the web is not useful - is important: as you know, the internet is unregulated: anyone, anywhere, of any ideological persuasion can post their thoughts on the web. Here, more so even than for other types of sources, you need to apply your critical reading skills and beware of sites that display bias and prejudice, or that disseminate unreliable information.

Follow the links in the menu at the right to access the various sections of this page.

Finding information

The easiest way to search the web is by typing the name of your subject into a search engine of your choice: Google, for example, or Yahoo, etc. Please note that the results that come up are often listed in an order that represents not the quality or relevance of the sources listed, but the number of "hits" each source has had. In other words, the first-listed source will be the one most frequently accessed (at least by users of that search engine), the second-listed source will be the second-most frequently accessed, etc. This is why Wikipedia, a popular if not always reliable open source internet encyclopedia, is so often listed first: because more people access it than any other source. Needless to say, the mere fact that a site enjoys a high volume of hits does not necessarily make it a high-quality site.


Pursuing hyperlinks

Many web pages (including those of Wikipedia) provide citations (usually in the form of footnotes) that automatically link to bibliographical entries at the bottom of the page. If such bibliographical entries appear in blue on your screen and/or are underlined, they are hyperlinks. (You'll know they're hyperlinks if the cursor symbol of your mouse changes to a hand icon as you move across them). Pursue such hyperlinks: they will take you to useful related sources instantaneously, where new hyperlinks will take you to additional sources, and so on. You can always trace your way back to where you started by clicking the reverse arrow icon at the top left hand side of your internet web browser, which will return you to your point of departure.


Using URLs as an indicator of a site's relevance to your topic

One way of gauging how useful a site may be (or not) is to look at the letters of its URL, or "address." Any university-based website features the letters .edu in its address; most business-driven websites end with the letters .com; United States government-sponsored sites end with the letters .gov; and non-profit sites end with the letters .org. Depending on the subject you are researching and your own preferences, you may be drawn to one of these broad categories of internet sources more so than to others. As academics, we of course are drawn first to university-based sites of the .edu variety. Even here, however, the usual caution applies: just because a site originates in a university does not automatically make it reliable or valuable - apply all skills of critical reading to every site you consider.


Tracing pages back to their sites

The results of a search engine-generated web search are listed as pages, rather than homepages of websites. Therefore, it is important that you always trace any page you plan to use to its source of origin - its host site, or homepage. Imagine you're writing a paper on the history of the global sex trade. What appears to be a useful article comes up: "White Women Are Being Enslaved Worldwide" ( Imagine your embarrassment, having cited this source, if a reader traces it back (you've guessed it!) to the website of the Ku Klux Klan. Unless you trace a page to its homepage, you have no way of knowing its origin - and not all objectionable sites have such telltale signs as the letters "kkk" in their URLs. Don't be caught unawares: trace all pages back to their source; once you reach their host site, judge for yourself whether particular sources are appropriate for the paper you are writing.


Accessing internet indexes and databases via your school library, or remotely

Your college pays to provide its enrolled student body, faculty, and staff with access to internet indexes such as JSTOR (which searches a full-text database of academic journal articles dating back more than sixty years), and others. Although journal articles are not inherently reliable (see Secondary Sources on this), they are usually peer-reviewed. This means that prior to having been published, the articles featured in such databases were reviewed by experts who found them to be worthy of publication. Generally speaking, the articles to which such databases will direct you (some recommended sites are listed below) are among the more reliable sources you are likely to find on the web.

The easiest way to access the databases to which your college library subscribes is by logging into a campus student workstation as an enrolled student or member of the faculty or staff. From the library homepage, go to "Reference," and from there to "All Databases, A-Z." Choose a database and begin your search by entering a key term, phrase, or name into its search engine.

With a little additional effort (instructions can be found on your library's website) you can access these databases from the convenience of your own home. In order to do this, you will either need to have activated your student "ADS" account via CAMS or log in by using your 14-digit student ID barcode number (for this, you need to have activated your ID barcode at the college library circulation desk; if you have ever borrowed an item for the library using your ID, your barcode has been activated).

For complete instructions, go to your library homepage, click "How Do I..." and follow the link to "Access Resources Off-Campus." Follow the instructions listed there: it's easy, as long as your ADS account and/or your ID barcode have been activated.

Once logged in remotely, you will find yourself on a page listing an index of all E-Journals and Reference Databases subscribed to by the library, listed alphabetically by divisions. Check them out. Under "General/Reference," try the following:

Ask a reference librarian which other databases might be helpful for your particular topic. After a few hours, you are guaranteed to have found some useful sources.



The internet is also a place where discussions take place (virtual discussions, of course) among trained historians. One of the best sites to follow these discussions is H-net, whose various subject headings are listed at - find a subject heading that interests you and click on it; H-US1918-45, for example, will take you to a page dedicated to U.S. culture and history from 1918 - 1945. On it, you will find links to resources (the excellent "New Deal Network," for example) as well as recent discussions (click "Discussion Logs"). You can view the threads of these discussions by date, topic, and/or author of messages, and weigh in on them yourself, if you wish to subscribe. A helpful "Search Help and Tips" link on the H-Net Discussion Log Search page ( will get you started. H-Net is also a great place to find book reviews of recently published scholarly monographs; if you are putting together a reading list for a research paper, this is a great place to start. Go to - once there, type in the subject of your research into the search engine towards the upper left hand corner of the page. We typed in "Nanking" (subject of our sample historiographic essay topic and our section on contradictory data and claims) and found 16 reviews of a total of 15 different books related to the topic (including a review of Iris Chang's The Rape of Naking, the subject of our own sample book review).

H-Net takes a little patience and goodwill, but the payoff is handsome. Check it out!


Sample sites

Here are a few more sample sites we found to be helpful in the context of our topic of "Events leading up to World War II."
Website of the National Archives in Washington, DC (also accessible via www.archives,gov). On the homepage, click on "Subject Index" in the top tool bar. Scroll down the index until you reach "World War II" (it's almost the very last entry on the entire page; don't forget to browse the hundreds of entries along the way to see if any are of any interest). Click on the "World War II"-link: you'll find enough resources to keep you busy for days.
One of the oldest history archives on the internet, features articles, book reviews, essays, photographs, documents and more. Many of the entries are by amateur historians, some of middling quality. Still, others are very useful. For World War II, click the "Articles" link on the homepage, then click "World War II" in the index.
Sponsored by the Wider Group, publisher of war-themed magazines aimed at a popular mass audience (World War II, Military History Quarterly, Vietnam, Civil War, etc.), this site's articles are what you'd expect: written by enthusiasts, generally pro-American, etc.; some are useful. For World War II, scroll to the bottom of the home page. Under "Historical Conflicts" click on "All," and find your way to World War II from there.
Website of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. - big on primary sources, lavishly illustrated. For World War II, click on "History and Culture" and, from there, go to "Military and War."
Known as "American Memory," this website is sponsored by the Library of Congress and grants access to its extensive library of digital images. Browse the collection by topic from the homepage, or type a specific keyword, name, or phrase into the search engine in the upper right hand corner.