Online Research

Why Online Research?

Primary sources — the heart of historical analysis — are increasingly available on the Web and will become predominantly digitally based in the future. Furthermore, as conventional, print-based text gives way to screen-based “multimodal” communication, the historian of the 21st century will be as likely to encounter multimedia primary sources as print-based ones. As such, historians, educators, and students must improve their skills of accessing, evaluating, and collaborating with digital primary sources in networked environments.

This section can help students search the Web more effectively via using Google Advanced Search, historical databases, and more. Students (and their teachers) should learn the characteristics and proper uses of an academic search engine (ex. Refseek), a computational search engine (ex. Wolfram Alpha), a student-centric search engine (ex. Sweet Search), and a micro search engine (ex. Yolink). Students and teachers could also benefit from collaborative online bookmarking and annotation strategies with Diigo, or a similar service. In this section you can examine research-based lesson plans and teaching activities with Web 2.0 technologies and learn a set frameworks, lessons and techniques for developing student research literacy.

Technology in Social Studies Classrooms: Guided Inquiry and Open Research

Historians are going to increasingly need to access and evaluate sources online. This video addresses the process and some of the skills that will be required of students as they work through the inquiry and research process

Online Research Resources

There are plenty of excellent online research resources, guides, and tutorials on the Web, and in print. Here are a select few:

Best Ideas for Teaching with Technology: A Practical Guide for Teachers by Teachers by Justin Reich and Tom Daccord
Chapter 4 – Guided Inquiry and Chapter 5 – Open Research discuss online research frameworks, tools, and strategies in much detail.

Noodle Tools is a suite of interactive tools designed to aid students and professionals with online research. Among its free tools are “NoodleQuest,” designed to develop the optimum Web-based search strategy for your research topic. Fill in the short form and NoodleTools will suggest a research direction. Furthermore, “Choose the Best Search” provides helpful search strategies based on an analysis of your topic. In table format, it provides concise but detailed information literacy search strategies. Other free tools include “NoodleBib Starter,” a free and simplified MLA version for students grades 1-5, ESL, and “NoodleLinks,” a way to browse bibliographies written by researchers around the world on hundreds of topics.

Refseek is an academic search engine that makes academic information on the Internet easier to access than with typical search engines. Refseek cuts down on the overload of non-academic search results by eliminating sponsored links and most commercial web sites.

Wolfram Alpha
WolframAlpha is a unique, computational search engine. The Search results are data driven, which makes it especially uses for searching socioeconomic data, geographic and demographic data, economic data, and other topics.

SweetSearch is a search engine for students. It searches far fewer web sites than Google, but only lists websites that have been reviewed by its team of educators. It also provides social media tools that enable you to send your results to others.

Internet Archive: Wayback Machine
The Wayback Machine provides free access to researchers, historians, scholars, and the general public to billions of web pages stored in the Internet Archive’s web archive. Great tool for seeing what web pages contained months, or years ago. Collections include Web, Moving Images, Texts, Audio, and Software.

Google Reader (RSS)
RSS is commonly known as “Really Simple Syndication,” and through RSS feeds you can receive a steady stream of information without directly searching for it. An RSS feed is a source of information that is regularly updated, such as a blog or news site. By subscribing to RSS feeds, you can get that stream of information delivered to you. Google Reader is a simple and easy way to collect and read RSS feeds. Google Reader enables you to make your own personalized page tailored to your interests. From within Google Reader, you can choose from millions of live Internet content feeds—including articles, blogs, images, and audio. Requires a Google account.

Center for History and New Media
The Center for History and New Media resources are designed to benefit professional historians, high school teachers, and students of history. The CHNM >Research + Tools section features Zotero a free Firefox extension for collecting, managing, and citing your research sources.

Making Sense of Evidence provides strategies for analyzing online primary materials, with interactive exercises and a guide to traditional and online sources. Visit the Reference Desk for information on annotated links to resources on standards, citing and evaluating Web sites, and understanding copyright and fair use.

Live Binders4Teachers
LiveBinders is an interactive resource for teachers to quickly research websites related to topics they are teaching that otherwise would take them much longer using Google or other search engines. A LiveBinder is a compilation tool made up of several websites related to one specific topic of the LiveBinder. For example, under the category of History LiveBinders, there is one based on the Battle of Guadalcanal. Within the binder, there are roughly ten websites relating to and describing the battle from different perspectives. Although it is much faster than navigating a topic on a search engine, LiveBinder still retains many of the drawbacks of searching for a topic online. While many websites go through a filter before they are added, the reliance of some of the websites can waver depending on who posts them. As long as this recognition is understood, LiveBinder is a generally good resource for teachers to use in their lesson plans and assignments.

TrackStar is a starting point for online lessons and activities for multiple disciplines. Simply collect websites, enter them into TrackStar, add annotations for your students, and you have an interactive, online lesson called a “Track.” Create your own Track or use one of the hundreds of thousands already made by other educators. Search the database by subject, grade, or theme and standard for a quick and easy activity.

Kathy Schrock’s Guide for Educators: Critical Evaluation Surveys
Kathy Schrock is the Administrator for Technology for the Nauset Public Schools in Massachusetts, but is better known as the creator of Kathy Schrock’s Guide for Educators. She is a highly acclaimed educational technology guru and her articles, web sites, and books have helped countless teachers, students, and educators. She has put online a helpful series of web site evaluation guides for students that we and many other educators have made great use of.

Jog the Web
Jog the Web is a web-based tool that allows anyone to create a synchronous guide to a series of web sites. Its a step-by-step approach of taking viewers through web sites allowing the author to annotate and ask guiding questions for each page is unique.

Public Domain Images 
To help you avoid infringing on copyright protection, EdTechTeacher has prepared an extensive list of Internet sources for public domain images, with an eye towards the humanities. Please check individual images you find at these sites to determine if there are any restrictions on usage.

Primary Source Collections and Activities

Here are select online primary source collections and activities for the classroom:

Library of Congress
An outstanding and invaluable site for American history and general studies. Contains primary and secondary documents, exhibits, map collections, prints and photographs, sound recordings, and motion pictures. The LOC’s American Memory Historical Collections, a must-see, contain the bulk of digitalized materials, but the Exhibitions Gallery is enticing and informative as well.

The Library of Congress: Teachers
The new Library of Congress Teachers page provides tools and resources for using Library of Congress primary source documents in the classroom and include excellent lesson plans, document analysis tools, online and offline activities, timelines, presentations and professional development resources.

The Library of Congress American Memory in particular is an outstanding resource for American history and general studies. Included are multimedia collections of photographs, recorded sound, moving pictures, and digitized text. Use the Teachers section to explore primary set collections and themed resources. Teachers can get updates on new tools, professional development opportunities, and Library programs, events and services.

National Archives and Records Administration
The NARA offers federal archives, exhibits, classroom resources, census records, Hot Topics, and more. In addition to its paper holdings (which would circle the Earth 57 times) it has more than 3.5 billion electronic records. Users can research people, places, events and other popular topics of interest, as well as ancestry and military records. There are also features exhibits drawing from many of the NARA’s popular sources. Among the most requested holdings are the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, WWII photos, and the Bill of Rights.

The National Archives: Teachers’ Resources
The National Archives Lesson Plans section contains incorporates U.S. primary documents and its excellent teaching activities correlate to the National History Standards and National Standards for Civics and Government. Lessons are organized by chronological era, from 1754 to the present.

Digital Vaults
The National Archives Experience: Digital Vaults is an interactive exploration of history that examines thousands of documents, photographs, and pieces of history that have been integrated in a digital format. Upon entering the homepage, the user is given eight random archives to choose from. Clicking on one will give a description and a brief history of that archive, as well as displays a large variety of similar archives. The user has the ability to shuffle, rearrange, collect, and explore archives, as well as search for specific points in history using a keyword search. Although a lack of initial organization or index might seem overwhelming, Digital Vaults is a wonderfully imaginative resource for exploring history in a digitally compiled way.

Teach Docs
With DocsTeach, educators can create interactive history activities that incorporate more than 3,000 primary-source materials in a variety of media from the National Archives. Tools on the site are designed to teach critical thinking skills and integrate interactive elements such as puzzles, maps, and charts.

Our Documents
Offers 100 milestone documents, compiled by the National Archives and Records Administration, and drawn primarily from its nationwide holdings, that chronicle United States history from 1776 to 1965. Features a teacher’s toolbox and competitions for students and teachers.

Center for History and New Media
The Center for History and New Media produces historical works in new media and tests their effectiveness in the classroom. Its resources are designed to benefit professional historians, high school teachers, and students of history. This link takes you to their History Matters: U.S. History on the Web site that provides an annotated guide to a 1000+ websites for U.S. history and social studies. The Many Pasts section contains primary documents in text, image, and audio about ordinary Americans throughout U.S. history. See also related World History Teaching Sources.

The Internet History Sourcebooks
The Internet History Sourcebooks are wonderful collections of public domain and copy-permitted historical texts for educational use by Paul Halsall. The Sourcebooks include an Ancient History Sourcebook, a Medieval Sourcebook, and a Modern History Sourcebook, as well as assorted other Sourcebooks on topics such as African History, Women’s history, Islamic history, and East Asian history. Maintenance of the Sourcebooks is uneven, so expect some broken links.

EuroDocs: History of the United Kingdom – Primary Documents
These links connect to Western European (mainly primary) historical documents and shed light on key historical happenings. The sources on the United Kingdom cover various chronological periods, such as 1689 to 1815 and 1816 to 1918.

Project Gutenberg
Project Gutenberg is a major source of free historical electronic texts that can be searched by author or title. Content is free in the United States because its copyright has expired. You can download 30,000+ free ebooks to read on your PC, iPad, Kindle, Sony Reader, iPhone, Android or other portable device.

Video Tutorials on Online Research

You’ll have better success with many Google searches if you use Google Advanced Search. It helps refine a search along several categories, helps eliminate unwanted sites, and reduces search time. Watch the video below to learn more:

Google Advanced Search

The most important criterion in web site evaluation is credibility. If the authorship is credible, then the content is more likely to be credible. Watch the video below to learn more:

Evaluating Web Pages

Diigo is a great web-based platform for saving, annotating, and sharing bookmarks. Students, teachers, departments, and even institutions can collect, share, and publish their online resources.

Social Bookmarking for Teachers with Diigo

How to Integrate Online Research

Unfortunately, many students simply do not have the information literacy skills needed to navigate the Web effectively in an open-ended research activity. Teachers often need to direct students to great material and set some boundaries around their exploration of well-chosen sites. At the same time we need to remember that using the Internet as a huge encyclopedia is not a particularly effective means of incorporating technology into the classroom. While the acquisition of facts and information is a critical first step in the development of a technology-guided project, our broader goal should be to develop our students’ critical thinking skills.

Here are some resources for the integration of guided research activities:

  • The WebQuest model provides a simple structure for student inquiry on the Web, guiding them towards important questions and the most useful Web sites. Once you have guided students through one WebQuest, they’ll be ready to tackle future ones almost on their own. Learn more on our WebQuest page.
  • With Teach Docs, educators can create interactive history activities that incorporate more than 3,000 primary-source materials in a variety of media from the National Archives. Tools on the site are designed to teach critical thinking skills and integrate interactive elements such as puzzles, maps, and charts.
  • Making Sense of Evidence from The Center for History and New Media provides strategies for analyzing online primary materials, with interactive exercises and a guide to traditional and online sources.
  • Primary Source World
    Primary Source resources for the Global Classroom features teacher-created, classroom-ready activities designed around key primary sources, including written documents, artifacts, audio clips, visual evidence and much more. Each cluster of sources includes key questions, objectives, and a background essay.