World Civilizations

Searching for History
on the World Wide Web

"Every search engine will give you good search results some of the time. Every search engine will give you surprisingly bad search results some of the time. No search engine will give you good results all of the time." 1 Don't get frustrated if your search isn't yielding the results you'd like to see. Try another angle. The purpose of this page is to pass on the knowledge we've gained about searching specifically for historical information. Anyone who's "surfed" a bit can tell you than often your search yields very little actually related to the topic which you intended to pursue. The reason many of us stay up until three o'clock in the morning is that even the "misses" in a search can yield incredibly interesting sites. You get involved clicking into a beautifully designed site, oohing and aahing at stunning graphics, reading fascinating accounts of people who have nothing to do with your paper topic, and soon it's time to get up for school! Well, your time is precious. You need to decide how much time you are willing to spend searching, then proceed to more structured finding aids. If you're dead set on keyword searching, remember these tips:


Directory Services

Some of the vehicles we call search "engines" are actually directory services, collections of related links categorized by subject. These services can give you access to some super resources. The service starts out with general categories, and as you click and choose your areas of interest, the list becomes more and more specialized.

There are lots of other directory lists out there, almost every major search engine features one. Now that you've explored a couple, you've got the hang of it. It's a matter of figuring out where the company puts "history" as a category. Always check Education, Humanities, and Social Science categories if there is not a specific History category listed. Don't neglect cross-category lists which might apply to your topic. If you are studying the effect of the Cuban missile crisis on Russian diplomacy, you'll want to check lists devoted to Politics, Government, and even Geography as well as History.


Index lists are never comprehensive (after all, things are added to the web daily, and no librarian can keep up with all new developments). However, there are topic specific lists for many historical periods which can save you hours of searching. The advantage of an Index List over a Directory Service is that you don't have to click up and down and in and out of hierarchical pages to get to your information. You get simply a straightforward list of information dedicated to a more or less specific topic. Click to visit an annotated collection of our favorite Index Lists (We confess, some of them are not truly indexed, but they are all great collections of history links on all sorts of topics.) At the very bottom of the list, you'll find a link to return you to this page. Tips for using this type of list:

Other Notes

This page will not discuss the technical differences in search engines -- those of you interested in this type of discussion can visit Spiders and Worms and Crawlers, Oh My! for a very good, well written and easy to understand explanation of the major engines. For the more technically minded, check out the statistical study at Precision among World Wide Web Search Services (Search Engines): Alta Vista, Excite, Hotbot, Infoseek, Lycos.

1 Just the Answers, Please, by Susan Feldman. Back
2 Searching the Internet, by Karen Campbell. Back
3URL - another computer geek acronymn which means the unique name given to the page - you know, the long string of characters with lots of slashes / and words. Look up in the location box of your browser, you'll see the url of this page, which is Get it? If not, ask a techie. Back

World Civilizations

RESEARCH: Ralph'sWorld Civilizations
Page created by Thomas Pearcy, Ph.D. and Mary Dickson.
We welcome your comments. Please contact Steve Hoge, Editor.
Last revised June 5, 1997.
Copyright (c) 1996. W. W. Norton Publishing. All Rights Reserved