A Critical Examination of Internet Resources in History

Tracy Seneca
LIS 296A
Computers In The Humanities
Spring 1994


A recent article in the New Yorker by Nicolson Baker has created quite a stir among the staff at the UC Berkeley Library. Most who've read it have commented that they are grateful to have an article in a popular magazine to recommend to their family and friends that acurately describes what librarians do. And many have responded very defensively to Baker's criticisms. In this article, titled "Discards", Baker notes the passing of the library card catalog, and critically examines the card catalog's online replacements. Baker notes only in passing that the card catalog cannot possibly keep up with the sheer volume of material that libraries must now keep track of, and that a change of SOME kind was inevitable. I do, however appreciate his criticisms of the online catalog, and feel that librarians should not respond strictly defensively to this sort of criticism, but should take it to heart. Baker points out that some of the intelligence behind the ordering of the card catalog has been lost. He points out the how the loss of "see also" references in the card catalog restricts electronic searching using the subject terms "Censorship" and "Freedom of information":

Melvyl will retrieve all the subject headings in this helpful list that have the word "Censorship" in them, because that is what it mechanically does, but it will not give you any of the others, since their access relies on the perceived relationships between two categorical concepts rather than on rote text strings.[1]

While Baker's article pertains mostly to the issues of cataloging and the use of online databases, much of his criticism applies to the network resources now available, perhaps doubly so. Baker brings forth the questions of organized knowledge, the nature of information, and some of the more irrational issues that are shaping the state of the library, and all of these issues apply to any critical examination of the network.

My original intent with this paper was to examine the internet resources available on the topic of history. This sprung more from my experience as a library worker than from my interest in history. I have found myself in a position, one I'm sure many librarians are experiencing, of having to teach as fast as I learn. With the ever increasing world of information technology, librarians are finding themselves demonstrating new products and new systems before they fully understand them themselves. While it's often exciting and interesting to be working with 'cutting edge' technologies and systems, I think that this is an inherently dangerous situation, and it is worthwhile to stand back and take a critical look at the technologies we are teaching and implementing. I could, for example, conduct a seminar on how to use InfoLib, the Library's Gopher Server; I could teach people how to navigate this new resource, and make general statements about the types of material available, but I could not sit down with a patron and provide comprehensive guidence on any particular facet or topic available via the gopher. I could not judge the value of the resources I was providing instruction for. I was sending people off with no real idea of where they were going. By thoroughly examining the resources available in, say, history, I thought that I would gain enough of a command of this new resource to teach it with more confidence, and to perhaps to provide a follow-up seminar that was based more on the content, and less on the superficial issues of navigation and scope. My other concern was to integrate the internet's resources into my work at the undergraduate reference desk, in the same way that I try to integrate new online indexes when they appear.

In other words, I was thinking of the internet as being something like a library reference collection, an analogy that is used very frequently in the literature concerning the internet. Reference librarians sometimes have an unnerving way of walking over to the bookshelf and pulling out a book in answer to a question. The patron is left wondering: 'How did s/he know that book was there? Has s/he read every one of these?' While the librarian may know the book very well, or may have browsed it once and remembered that it was there, it's also possible that s/he didn't know for sure it existed until s/he looked. What the librarian has is an understanding of the structure of a reference collection; the knowledge that for any topic, there will be bibliographies, biographical guides, directories, indexes and such. Combined with the knowledge of the call number system, the librarian can 1. assume that the book exists and 2. guess where it would be if it did. I kept thinking that if I only had more time to investigate, I would find the structure that would allow me to comprehend the internet in the same way that I comprehend the reference collection.

This approach did not work. For a variety of reasons. For one thing, the reference collection is an intentially created structure, just as the "see also" link between "Censorship" and "Freedom of Information" is an intentionally placed structure. The internet, in its totality, has sprung up rather by accident. While I already knew this, I underestimated what an obstacle it is to gaining any sense of familiarity or knowledge of Internet resources. It as though, to understand the scope of the library, one would have to read each book one by one. One must begin any examination of network resources with a guide, and no one guide is complete. Working with five separate guides, I still came across undocumented resources quite accidentally in the course of getting to other ones. Not only could this paper not be comprehensive (none of the guides were), but as a reference librarian, I feel that I could not hope to gain such a command of internet sources that I could employ them as I employ other reference tools. I had thought that The Internet Hunt, a regularly conducted contest created by Rick Gates for finding specific sources on the Internet might be a good guide for gaining expertise in using the Internet as a reference tool. In his article "Internet Cruising With the Internet Hunt" Gates describes this monthly event. Gates was curious about how people used the Internet, and eager to inform reference librarians about the answers that could be found via the Internet. He writes

The first Internet Hunt was my attempt to solve the two problems mentioned above. I'm the type of person who enjoys navigating the Internet, looking for new, interesting information. I assumed that if I liked this sort of thing, then others probably did too. So I devised a game - a Hunt that listed information that I knew was available. [2]

The problem is that the strategy that Gates describes is exactly the opposite of the model I presented earlier of how reference librarians find books that they don't know exist. Gates begins with the knowledge of where the information is. How his contestants answer these questions, I am still not sure. I keep hoping that with practice it will come to me - but how much practice? The answers to the Hunt specify how the person got to a particular source, but they don't much clarify the learning process. Gates points to the only real learning method for the net, hours of random exploration and either a keen memory or some very organized note-taking. Without an organized structure, the amount of time required to successfully answer the Hunt's questions is a deterent, certainly for someone who most likely has more responsibilities than time.

Another problem with the distinction between communication and static data becomes very murky, the more closely you examine these resources. Your e-mail account is a means of communication, but it is also an electronic file cabinet. Listservs are means of communication, but many maintain archives pertaining to their topics, and so are also functioning as libraries in some sense. While I think that this distinction is useful as a first conception of the internet, it does break down on closer examination.

My other stumbling block was the fact that I was continually jolted by what I found on the internet, and could not possibly discuss them without also discussing some of the wider issues that these sources bring up. While I do not have a document that I can now place at the reference desk as a helpful tool, or a guide to use as the basis of a seminar, the attempt has been vastly worthwhile and illuminating. I have found, as I will describe, some amazing sources on the network, and systems such as Mosaic offer futher promise. But what I had intended as a simple examination of resources turned into a critical examination of what I found.

Thus, what follows will be an examination of some of the electronic resources on the subject of history that are available to the UC Berkeley Community. This includes generally available internet resources, such as newsgroups, listservs, gopher, and mosaic, and also local resources, such as the indexes made available through melvyl, the History Workstation, and CD ROMS such as Who Built America? . In looking at this variety of sources, I will stay close to the question that the internet always brings me back to: "What is information?" What qualifies as information, what shapes it, what larger issues are brought into play in the ways we choose to organize it?

These questions are the focus of two incredibly helpful sources for this paper, Frank Webster's article "What Information Society?" and Theodore Roszak's book The Cult of Information. Webster's article examines the arguement that we have become an 'Information Society', a transformation with sociological and ecomonic ramifications. He examines five different arguements that we have entered a new cultural age - these arguments are: technological, economic, occupational, spacial, and cultural. He cites the proponants of each argument, then points out what he takes to be the weaknesses of each arguement. While I am still undecided about Webster's conclusions about society on a vaster scale, I believe that he brings up excellent points in his critiques. He writes:

Awed by the pace and magnitude of technological change, writers naively tell us that 'the computer revolution... will have an overwhelming and comprehensive impact, affecting every human being on Earth in every aspect of his or her life'. The tone is characteristically full of dire wake-up warnings, shallow analysses of the substantive realm, and the self-assurance that only the author has understood what most others have yet to comprehend. It presents but a poor case for the valildity of technological measures.[3]

Wilson warns against accepting vague definintions of an Information Society, where a copy machine repair-person may be said to be in the information industry. He concludes by questioning exactly what has come to be labeled as information, which I should think would be a requirement for anyone in the 'information industry'.

Wilson quotes Theodore Roszak extensively, whose book, The Cult of Information, centers around what information is, and why it's scope has changed. Roszak examines the ideas of Claude Shannon of Bell Laboratories:

In the past, the word [information] has always denoted a sensible statement that conveyed a recognizable, verbal meaning, usually what we would call a fact. But now, Shannon gave the word a special technical definition that divorced it from its common-sense usage. In his theory, information is no longer connected with the semantic content of statements. Rather, information comes to be a purely quantitative measure of communicative exchanges, especially as these take place through some mechanical channel which requires that messages be encoded and then decoded, say, into electronic impulses. Most people would have assumed that information had to do with what happened in the understanding of a speaker and listener in a conversation. Shannon, working out of Bell Labs, was much more interested in what might be happening in the telephone wire that ran between speaker and listener.[4]

Elsewhere he writes:

As this should make clear, my interest in these pages in not in the technology of computers, but in their folklore: the images of power, the illusions of well being, the fantasies and wishful thinking that have grown up around the machine. Primarily, my target is the concept to which the technology has become inextricably linked in the public mind: information. Information has taken on the quality of that impalpable, invisible, but plaudit-winning silk from which the emporer's ethereal gown was supposedly spun. The word has received ambitious, global definitions that make it all good things to all people. Words that come to mean everything may finally mean nothing: yet their very emptiness may allow them to be filled with a mesmerizing glamour. [5]

Much of what I have encountered on the internet demonstrates the qualities that Roszak is describing, alluring, yet on closer examination, comparatively worthless. I intend to examine why this might be, and what patterns I found in the hiqh quality sources I discovered.


Though I had intended not to examine listservs here, and while I did not follow them for a great length of time, it is not possible to leave them out of this examination, as they may be the most successful internet application in the field of history. First of all, there are dozens of them, ranging from general issues to very focused areas of study. An excellent guide to these groups can be found in the "History" area of the InfoLib subject tree in "Electronic Sources for West European History and Culture". This list includes a description of each group beyond what one can gleen from the title. The History workstation guide also includes a list of listservs, with the very helpful added warning of which lists are very active. Indeed, a couple of them left me swamped with more e-mail than I could possibly wade through. Aside from wishing to communicate with people with a shared interest and knowledge about one's field, I can envision of couple of other possiblities for listservs.

In "Using the Internet for Reference", Ladner and Tillman point out that the most common and successful use of the internet is the increased communication with other librarians via listservs. When a patron poses a question that no one is able to answer, answers can often be gotten very quickly by posting the question on the right listserv. STUMPERS-L is a list dedicated to this sort of question, while other questions are posted on lists for special libraries, such as BUSLIB-L. The authors note that most questions were answered "within 24 hours of posting. The speed of response is truly amazing" [6] Another valuable service these lists offer is the chance to ask others how certain new products for libraries work before investing in them. Librarians whose work specializes in a particular field would benefit as well from monitoring a listserv for that field.

The problem with the field of history, particularly European and American history is that these topics are usually subsumed into the general collection, and general reference librarians cover too large a range of topics to benefit from monitoring topical listservs.

Aside from providing answers to questions that might have gone unanswered, listservs hold a second type of promise: as sources of documents. Many of these listservs do, as I've mentioned, maintain archives related to the list. The Internet Directory is one of the 'lists of lists' that provides detailed information as to whether a list is archived, and instructions for how to gain access to that list. The archives are, however, very patchy. Most archives are merely files that include the content of a list during a certain time period. There is no way of knowing by looking at the archive 'index' what the content of a file may be. Much of the content is quite useless, since much of what appears on listservs are calls for papers, conference announcements and other announcements whose value is lost after a certain date. Other listservs, however, provide a variety of files and guides with titles that made the content of the files relatively clear. Here I noticed a trend that I've noticed elsewhere on the net, which is that the ease of use and quality of content of any resource is directly related to its emotional appeal to people. One listserv (very active) I monitored was ROOTS-L, a list for people conducting geneological research. This is a topic that concerns detailed historical research, but is rarely an academic endeavour. The people who subscribe to this list are researching their own families, and use the list to share information with others about either specific family names or about conducting research. This list also maintained the most complete and comprhensible archive I have seen. They maintain files of every family name that has been mentioned on the list, and a pointer to the particular posting so that new users can make use of old postings. They also maintain a number of frequently asked question files pertaining to geneological research and to the list. The contents of this area alone include:

Software for the Amiga computer - 7/2/93			FAQ AMIGA
Software for Apples - 1/10/94 (see also faq mactosh) FAQ APPLE
Summary of Commercial Services - 1/10/94 FAQ COMMERCL
Introduction to Family History Centers - 02/28/94 FHCINTRO
Hardware To Use For Computerized Genealogists - 7/1/93 FAQ HARDWARE
Internet Services Information - 1/10/94 FAQ INETINFO
Basic info on the ROOTS-L list and Listserv - 7/2/93 FAQ LISTSERV
Intro to MELVYL (U. Calif Library) - 7/1/93 FAQ MELVYL
Hints of working with microfilm - 02/28/94 FAQ MICROFLM
Miscellaneous Hints - 1/10/94 FAQ MISCHINT
Resources for information - 7/2/93 FAQ RESOURCE
Offers of dubious value - 4/24/94 FAQ SCAMS
How to get started in genealogy - 7/2/93 FAQ STARTING

Not only does this not include the entire FAQ list, but the FAQ list is only one branch of the archive. Many of these files would make useful additions to a library gopher menu, and the frightening thing is that the only way to know they exist is look for them. If you are working with a well written guide, which gives explicit directions to a list's archive, you still have no way of knowing what you will find there unless you send a request for an index to the archive. Since most archive indexes are merely incomprehensible titles signifying a timespan for the list, that task would be largely disappointing.

What struck me about this archive is that it is clear and comprehensive because people need for it to be clear and comprehensive. What is being done on this list is not just random internet surfing or chat. The participants are all involved in projects, and projects of deeply personal concern to them. The nature of these projects involves making contact with a variety of other people, and sharing information with other people. This is something I had noticed last year when, as I was monitoring the alt.adoption newsgroup, I found that the group regularly posts and updated bibliography concerning all facets of the issue of adoption. It takes a number of messages to convey the entire document, and it is more comprehensive, more up to date, and more well organized than the bibliographies concerning adoption in the Moffitt Reference collection. Many of the people on this group are involved in searching for their birth families, or are coming to terms with the very powerful issue of adoption in other respects. The more personal the collective need for information is within a group, the more well organized it seems to be.

Another listserv which maintains an extensive archive is located at listserv@oneb.almanac.bc.ca. I found a reference to this in the InfoLib online guide to history resources, and while it included instructions for accessing the list archive, it did not include the name of the list. The archive pertains to the Holocaust, and "contains information on over 300 files ranging from personal accounts on Auschwitz to a multi-part bibliography on Holocaust research."[7] This archive is also accessible via World-Wide-Web and through the Victoria Free-net. This is one source that stands out in my explorations as having content. So often, a long search through directory titles leads to a failure to get anything, or to a single, inappropriately placed file, that a resource with this amount of material is noteworthy. Again, I think that the fullness and clarity of this archive is due to that nature of the topic. This is a subject that involves both scholars and independent researchers. It is a topic that tends to evoke a deeply emotional response in the people who make it their work.

The only listserv archive I saw that was an exception to this rule of emotional appeal was the archive for SHARP-L, a list for the study of the history of the printed word. This archive maintains two other files in addition to past list postings; one of these is lengthy directory of publisher's archives from around the world.

Another possible use of listservs to historians, or, more likely, folklorists, would be as a source of primary material. The list that led me to this thought was the VWar-L listserv, which appeared in the History Workstation guide to lists as a source pertaining to the history of the Vietnam War. Well, not quite. VWar-L is by far the most lively and interesting list I've subscribed to, and I intend to stay on, though it generates massive amounts of mail. It is busy enough that it is more like a talk group than a listserv, and conversations often happen in real time here. Much of the conversation has nothing at all to to with the war, but there is discussion about the image of Vietnam Veterans in the media, and occassional material about MIAs. There is one thread, no telling how long it has been going on, concerning stories of people who have fallen without their parachutes and lived. A collector of such stories would only need to sit and wait for the data to come rolling in.


SLIS student Natalie Munn once noted that if listservs are comparable to roundtable discussions, USENET newsgroups are comparable to a bar-room brawl. The advantage to newsgroups is that they do not clutter up your e-mail account with dozens of messages a day. One is also able to view the threads of discussions, taking in the statements and responses in a logical order. The 'culture' of newsgroups, is, however, sometimes prohibitively informal. While some groups are exceptions, such as the alt.adoption group mentioned earlier, the rule held true for newsgroups pertaining to topics in history. There are relatively few of these. The main group is soc.history, which appears to be a wide-open free for all. The group is often dominated by individuals who use it to make their political concerns known. Browsing the threads of this discussion, one will find entire screens full of posting by Serdar Argic, who is using the group to inform the public of the condition of Muslims in Armenia. He uses the group as a personal forum, as opposed to an arena of discussion. Other not-so-friendly postings appear from readers begging Mr. Argic to go elsewhere. There was also extensive discussion of the holocaust here, and some postings were bibliographies, or referred readers to the material at the archive. Interestingly, the topic of the holocaust was more common here than on soc.history.war.world-war-ii.

Part of the problem with soc.history is the lack of focus. The contributors were quite aware of this problem as evidenced by the following posts:

Date: Mon Apr 18 07:31:31 PDT 1994
Organization: University College London
Lines: 13
BORING, if someone doesn't happen to share your own bloody views! Rename it to put it somewhere under .politics, or at least rename it soc.history.modern
Can someone tell me where all the _real_ history groups are?

Nev Percy ; spbcnsp@ucl.ac.uk

From: spbcnsp@ucl.ac.uk (Mr Neville Steven Percy)
Date: Fri Apr 22 16:31:07 PDT 1994

: I hereby submit to you:
: soc.history.moderated
: where _real_ history is discussed daily.
: Please join us!

: I agree, please make me aware when it is created.


Another posting to this group, titled "Eliza", turned out to be an agent - a program which is intended to mimic human conversation. These are periodicically released on newsgroups and respond, largely incoherently, to people's postings.

Other newsgroups which might be of interest to historians would be the soc.culture series. These pertain to specific areas, such as soc.culture.netherlands, or soc.culture.greek. There are seventy five of these listed in The Internet Directory, and new groups are being added at a steady rate. Depending on a historian's area of focus, these may or may not be useful. Soc.culture.celtic, for instance, seems to be more focused on dark beer and travel tips. I also found lengthy advertisement for pornographic videos here (which had been released to newsgroups en masse). Other groups, such as soc.culture.tamil, are more focused on issues of language and culture, and may be of use to certain historians.


While I will not examine any individual catalogs here, they do often appear as listings in subject guides to electronic resources, and they sometimes appear as telnet connections in gopher directories. The Library of Congress online catalog, for instance appears as a history resource in the "Electronic Resources of West European History and Culture" document. Access to online catalogs is a highly touted selling point for the internet. It seems almost an exception for an article about the internet not to mention 'access to the Library of Congress' as one of it's undeniably desirable features.

One personally annoying aspect of this sort of praise, is that writers tend to behave as though access to the catalog of the Library of Congress is an entirely new and unique feature of the internet. I decided to find out just what level of access the UC Berkeley community has had to this information over the span of time. The National Union Catalog has provided some level of access since it was acquired in 1968, but I was curious to see what level of access existed before that. Since I did not know what this resource would have been called, and since the old subject catalog has been removed from the main library, I inquired with Sondra Shair in the Main Library. After browsing bibliographies of printed catalogs, Ms. Shair recalled that the librarians who were there when she was first hired would refer to the 'depository'. After leafing through what seemed to be a log of momentous shifts in the reference collection, she found a CU News article from 1968, describing the depository. UC Berkeley began receiving cards from the Library of Congress in 1911, retroactive to 1898, and stored them as they did their own card catalog. It was spread out through three locations on the first and second floor. I am unable to tell from the article if this catalog provided any subject access, or if it represented all or only part of LC's collection. What is clear is that access to LC's catalog is not a new phenonmenon, it is on ongoing effort that was well along in 1911.

To ignore the history of our access to this information denies us knowledge of how it has been used. Certainly, the LC Catalog is not a universally useful thing, though it is often presented as being so. In keeping with Roszak's arguements about the 'emptiness' of information, I find the undisputed praise of this feature to be alarming. One does not, technically, have access to the Library of Congress via the internet. While the Library of Congress has created some remarkable resources on the net (such as the 1492 exhibit), its collection is not one of them. Further, I wonder if any of the people who praise this source have ever tried to order a book from the Library of Congress via interlibrary loan? If they have tried, odds are they have not gotten the book. From July 1992 to June 1993, UC Berkeley requested 495 transactions from the Library of Congress (both loans and photocopies). Of 495 requests, only 199 of them were actually filled.[8] Of those 199, the patrons surely waited longer than the average three weeks to get the item, as a library must be prepared to prove that they have exhausted every other resource before even requesting an item. By the time they get to the Library of Congress, most interlibrary loan requests have been to several other libraries - which is a time consuming process. This is not a merely technogical or administrative problem. The issue of ownership poses the same roadblock to speedy interlibrary loan that copyright poses to freely available electronic full text. The user, thrilled by the possibility of access to a certain source, may forget that s/he does not personally own the book. The Library of Congress is not likely to forget this and the transaction is handled in a way that best suits the owner of the book, not the patron.

Access to distant online catalogs is a practical and useful thing for certain people. Certainly for a historian intending to visit (and assured of access to) any of the libraries listed in the "Electronic Resources..." guide would benefit from browsing those catalogs beforehand. Library staff also make use of these catalogs. Ladner and Tillman quote Sandra Raymond of Thinking Machines:

[I] regularly use MIT, Berkeley, B[oston] U[niversity] and pac.carl at least a dozen times a week. I find concrete references when I only have a sketchy topic, obtain call numbers for my own cataloging... [9]

It wasn't until I read Ms Raymond's comment that I realized that one only need be familiar with the highly regarded OCLC contributing libraries to find good copy for cataloging via the internet without paying for it. But though these catalogs may in fact be valuable information to people in these circumstances, they do not qualify as information for the historian browsing a list of Internet resources. They are not information to most of the people who gain access to them from home via their modems. They do not neccessarily lead a person to a greater knowlege of their topic.

In trying to understand the universal appeal of these catalogs, I begin to think of them in terms of associative intelligence. For example: when someone walks into my home and looks at the books on my bookshelf, they can make certain assumptions about who I am and what I know. If I were to buy a dog-eared copy of Shakespeare's complete works, and place it on my bookshelf, that person's perception of me would be influenced, regardless of whether or not I had read the book. My own perception of myself might be influenced, though I had not read the book. What I would not have would be any further knowledge of Shakespeare. I think that much of the appeal of the Internet is based on this human trait. Though it would rarely be of any practical use, and though it is not - in Roszak's terms - 'information', the catalogs and electronic books available via the Internet impart a certain glamour to anyone who can view them. It is though they had more knowledge of the world, when, in fact, they don't. I should clarify that I don't in any way object to these catalogs being ON the Internet, but I do object to their presence being considered to be proof positive of the value of the Internet to each and every person. I believe that as librarians become teachers of and interpreters of the Internet for their patrons, that they should remain keenly aware of when a resource is truely information, and when it is an aspect of this glamour.


The History Workstation is a project undertaken by both the UC Berkeley Library and the History Department to provide some sort of structure to the Internet resources available in the field. This is a 486 with windows located in the departmental library. Rather than have each person who is curious have to wade through the many guides independently, the workstation provides relatively simple and painless access to some of the best resources on the Internet. It also provides e-mail accounts via Pine, and the only access to local catalogs in the small history library. Users of the workstation are provided with a 1 1/2 inch thick manual to help them to use the various Internet applications. Most of this manual is devoted to the practical matters of using the workstation, such as how to do FTP or Telnet. Icons have been created for a few of the most well designed history resources available. This includes HNSource out of the University of Kansas, a truely mind-boggling and very well organized resource. Another resource available is the Institute of Historical Research, a hypertext database operating out of Europe. I was never able to access this database. A brief flash on the screen has been promising users that it will be back in operation by Easter for quite some time now. There is also an icon for the Online Historical Review. I am not sure why this electronic journal has its own icon. It is misleading to think that this is the only electronic journal in history available. It would perhaps make more sense to have an icon for electronic journals in history generally, if that is possible. These are the only icons pointing to Internet databases. One doesn't work, one is oddly isolated, and much of the value of HNSource is lost here, because the workstation does not have Mosaic.

I must say that, for my purposes, I was disappointed by the workstation. There was nothing on it that I had not already seen, and access to HNSource is much better from the Computing Centers of from the Media Center, where patrons have access to Mosaic. The workstation would appear to be used mostly for Gladis and Melvyl searches and e-mail access, which are certainly valuable, but not what I would have hoped. I do think that the strategy is a good one. Having seen that reference librarians cannot hope to keep up with the Internet for practical concerns, I think that that proper approach is for the library to provide a simple interface to the Internet. The history workstation is a good attempt, and will hopefully continue to grow.


Online indexes have arguably been one of the most generally beneficial aspects of the network. Though they are restricted only to UC Berkeley patrons, the article databases available via Melvyl are in constant use, and make the prospect of locating recent articles a painless one. In examining history resources, I looked for databases that might be of special interest to historians, aside from the general (and very useful) mags and Current Contents databases. Recent additions to Melvyl make the scope of history resources even more vast. Through RLIN's Eureka database, one can access databases that might be of interest to Historians in certain fields. These are the Avery Index to Architectural Periodicals, and the History of Science and Medicine database. There are, as yet, no Eureka databases that focus on American or European History. (Though the Historical Abstracts and America: History and Life CD-ROMS do provide this at the Doe Library reference room). Eureka's databases are easy to use, and do provide access to citations that I would not have been able to find previously from the Moffitt Reference desk.

One drawback to databases such as these is that in some cases they can become so narrowly focused that they become difficult to search. If a database has a narrow focus and a large scope, subject searches start to bring so many results that they are too daunting to examine. It is often hard to narrow the topic any further. This is particularly true of the ERIC and PSYC databases. This stands to pose less of a problem for databases like America: History and Life, because the focus is broad enough to still allow a wide variety of subject searches.


I would like to examine one source, that though it is not an Internet source, illustrates the promise that Mosaic holds. This is Who Built America?, available on CD-ROM at the Moffitt Media Resource Center. There are sources on Mosaic that compare with this, but WBA is, as far as I've seen, the state of the art for a multimedia resource. Unlike other multimedia CD-ROMS, such as Perseus, WBA is very easy to navigate. While Perseus (a multimedia database in Classical art and History) is difficult to use even with the 112 page guide, WBA can be used without any accompanying documentation at all. The hypertext links function as the sidebars in print history books, but allow the program to contain far more additional material than a book could. The program lives up to Landow's claims as to the revolutionary potential of hypertext media. I found that the sound and film available actually my comprehension of the content of the book. One audio link, for instance, was an interview with George Kills-in-Sight, a Native American whose grandfather had been present when Crazy Horse died. He tells the story as his grandfather related it to him of how Crazy Horse's body was carried for nearly a month, then buried secretly. What transforms the content here are the unintentional sounds of daily life caught in the background by the tape recorder. George is being interviewed in his home, and you can hear the commotion of women and children in the background throughout his story. These everyday sounds place American History in a different context. It becomes something that transpires in someone's home. George Kills-in-Sight could be one's next door neighbor. The taped interview removes the distance that print would have created, leading us to think of American History as something that only transpires outside of our homes. This program also made the distinction between primary and secondary material distintively clear, and would have been a benefit to the History 7B classes, which provide incoming History students with their first experiences in using primary material for their research.


As mentioned earlier, HNSource is a database out of the University of Kansas devoted to providing comprehensive access to History resources on the Internet. One can access this database via telnet to history.cc.ukans.edu and use the lynx server there to make use of the hypertext links in this database. Unfortunately, this does not always work. The server tends not to acknowledge up and down arrow keys from certain terminals. To really get the full value of this database, I would recommend browsing it via Mosaic, where the hypertext links are easier to see, and you can bring in the images and sound available here. The architects of this database have done an excellent job of gathering together a wide variety of resources in a way that really provides an overview, though I must admit that I found many items to be out of place here. The questionable links would include (naturally) the Library of Congress catalog, a database of US ZIP codes and a database of Federal job listings. Historians might make use of these things, but I don't see how their focus is pointed to historical issues.

The potential of Mosaic is that the material available in this format could use the positive potential of multimedia to transform the content of the text in the way that Who Built America? does. Though I did not find any instance of this that was as clear as the George Kills-in-Sight interview, I did find that the format of Mosaic altered my response to HNSource. For one thing, it keeps the viewer looking. I had already explored HNSource in the plain text lynx format, and while I was impressed, I felt overwhealmed be the sheer volume of what was there. There is something inherently exhausting in staring at screen after screen of plain text. This is an odd point; it leads me to wonder if I would find that a Mosaic document would fullfill my expectations of the term 'information' more readily than the same document in plain ascii text. That is certainly possible.

Some of the sources I examined here were simply a pleasure to look at, and were well designed. The Library of Congress' "1492" Exhibit for instance, was not simply images from the exhibit, but more of an electronic book, with sections focusing on American cultures before the arrival of Columbus, the political and cultural climate of Europe in Columbus' lifetime, and the impact of Columbus' expedition. Throughout each chapter, there was additional material available on certain topics, and frequent illustration.

Sometimes the multi-media aspects of Mosaic did act as part of the 'empty glamour' of the net, such as the welcome screen to the American South Inernet Resource Center. The User is greeted with a picture of Elvis (who is such a huge pop icon that I hardly associate him with the South), and "mood music". The mood music is "Dueling Banjos", and takes about 7 to 10 minutes to transmit. The slowness of Mosaic is somewhat alarming when I envision myself having to demonstrate the Library's forthcoming Mosaic server. The sorts of files that make Mosaic so unique take a very long time to retrieve. It would not be possible to spend 7-10 minutes of a one hour seminar waiting for a file to download. While I had the patience to wait, I would hate to demand that kind patience from a crowd.

I found that the hypertext links made the database as a whole more comprehensible. With the gopher format of a list of menu choices, there is a limit to how descriptive a title can be. Gopher menu titles are often more obscure or vague than they need to be, but with only one line of text, one can only convey so much. Because Mosaics 'menu' choices are highlighted words, the format often consists of a fully descriptive paragraph about the source, and a highlighted word for the user to click on. This alone alleviates the feeling that one is moving blindly through the network.

The improved descriptive potential of Mosaic, and the ease of use on the senses lead me to believe that much of what I find to be difficult about using the internet will improve. What I did find odd was that HNSource was the only option in the World Wide Web subject tree under history. This may imply that this particular site is acting as a central authority for this topic, unlike gopher, where countless sites are individually reconstructing their subject trees, leading to a very confusing experience for the user. It may very well be that other Universities just haven't come up with their own competing version of HNSource. It seems like the logical thing to do would be to contribute to what the University of Kansas has already constructed, so that Mosaic doesn't grow to be as confusing as 'gopherspace' became in a very short span of time.

[1]Baker, Nicholson. "Discards" New Yorker, vol no April 4, 1994. p. 84.

[2]Gates, Rick. "Internet Cruising With the In ternet Hunt" The Electronic Library. Vol. 11 No.1. Feb. 1993. p.

[3]Wilson, Frank. "What Information Society?" The Information Society, Vol. 10 No. 1 January-March, 1994. p. 3.

[4]Roszak, Theodore. The Cult of Information; A Neo-Luddite Treatise on High-Tech, Artificial Intelligence and the True Art of Thinking. Berkeley, University of California Press. 2nd edition. 1994. p. 11.

[5] Ibid. p. xiii-xiv.

[6]Ladner, Sharyn and Hope N. Tillman. "Using the Internet for Reference" Online. Vol.. 45. Jan., 1993. p.47.

[7]gopher InfoLib/Research Databases by Subject/History/Electronic Resources for West European History and Culture.

[8]UC Berkeley Interlibrary Borrowing Statistics: July 1992- June 1993.

[9]Ladner, Sharyn and Hope N. Tillman. "Using the Internet for Reference" Online. Vol.. 45. Jan., 1993. p. 49.

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