Internet Reviews

Joni R. Roberts; Carol A. Drost


History Engine: Tools for Collaborative Research. Access: http://historyengine.richmond.edu.

Larry Cooperman, Everglades University,lcooperman@evergladesuniversity.edu

The University of Richmond has created a unique historical Web site. By searching History Engine, researchers can find historical articles on a wide range of topics in American history, from national events to local occurrences. Singular in its creation, History Engine is a student-driven effort—history students who are interested in contributing a historical event (or “episode,” as the site refers to them) register at the Web site to submit episodes. The episodes consist of one or more primary sources found in local or university records, along with additional secondary resources to provide a historical frame of reference. The University of Richmond’s librarians, archivists, and professors then screen each episode for historical accuracy and objectivity before they become a part of the site. A useful teacher’s guide can be found on the registration page with more information on student episode submission, along with a list of staff and sponsors of History Engine.

History Engine is very user-friendly and easily navigable. “Explore the Engine” provides quick access to basic and advanced searches, as well as tag and location searches. Advanced episode searches can be run by title or by episode content, date, and school-submitted episode. Location searches are chronological, and can be run by decade, from 1790 to the present. Searches can also be modified easily with the “Modify Results” tab. An additional and resourceful search method can be conducted by searching RSS feeds of newly added episodes to the History Engine site.

Finally, History Engine provides students and teachers with episode research and writing guides—of special note is the “Tuten’s Quick Guide to Writing” that specifically provides the required parameters for writing episodes. Also conveniently found in “Tuten’s Quick Guide to Writing” are style and citation guides, as well as sample assignments and worksheets to make the writing process more efficient and effective.

History Engine is a valuable tool for students and nonstudents alike who are searching for well-researched and well-documented events in American history. Highly recommended for advanced high school students, college students, and graduate students of American history.

National Archives of Australia. Access: http://www.naa.gov.au/.

Linda Frederiksen, Washington State University Vancouver,lfrederiksen@vancouver.wsu.edu

Like museums and libraries, archives are engaged in the work of documenting, preserving, protecting, and providing access to the human record. For a national archives, this work involves a nearly infinite number of documents and other artifacts, in numerous and varied formats.

The National Archives of Australia, in association with other agencies in the federation, cares for and manages a collection that documents the relationship between the government and its people. This well-designed and rich site is the means of providing comprehensive, equitable, and sustainable access to the archival resources of the Commonwealth.

The National Archives was built using the XML open standard maintained by the World Wide Web Consortium and a commitment to preserving a digital record using open source software applications. The site is organized into six main sections: “About Us,” “Records Management,” “Collection,” “Learning,” “What’s On,” and “Services.” Each section contains a wealth of subsidiary information, both about the collection and records management. There are more than 20 extensive research guides that are freely downloadable and include information on immigration, foreign relations, military history, and former prime ministers.

In addition, fact sheets that introduce and link new and returning visitors to a variety of subjects—such as family history, indigenous populations, sport, leisure, culture, as well as how to use the National Archives services and facilities—are available. Other features include downloadable audio lectures, podcasts, newsletters, RSS feeds, and a “Find of the Month.”

The collection itself consists of more than 6 million documents created by more than 9,000 Australian agencies and more than 18 million digital images. Keyword searchable records, which in general are accessible to the public 30 years after creation, include government and high court papers, photographs, posters, maps, films, and sound recordings and can be found using either the RecordSearch or PhotoSearch tools easily located from the main index page. The collection is immensely valuable as a finding aid, and while the online exhibits in the “What’s On” section provide full-text access to many of the archives’ most interesting digitized artifacts, the majority of documents are not available for online viewing, printing, or downloading.

More than simply a warehouse of government records, anyone with an interest in the fascinating history and people of Australia will find much to discover and appreciate here.

WolframAlpha. Access: http://www.wolframalpha.com/.

Mark McBride, Buffalo State College,mcbridmf@buffalostate.edu

“WolframAlpha’s long-term goal is to make all systematic knowledge immediately computable and accessible to everyone.” A rather daring objective that gives good cause for both skepticism and anticipation, Wolfram is focused on creating a product that could be employed by people of all professions and of all education levels.

Created using the software Mathematica and what founder Stephen Wolfram calls “A New Kind of Science,” WolframAlpha has many examples of how best to use this product. The creators do not consider this a search engine, but rather a computational-knowledge engine. Currently, WolframAlpha has more than 10 trillion pieces of data, more than 50,000 types of algorithms, and linguistic capabilities for more than 1,000 domains.

Users can enter either a question or a calculation into the search window. Unlike search engines, it does not retrieve pages and pages of information. It attempts to give you specific information on your query and also provide additional data you may be interested in.

Some of the searches that you can perform on WolframAlpha include mathematical computations, both simple and very complex. For instance, users can find information on an Internet domain, like the number of daily page views and ranking of the site by visits. Users can also search company stock information and conduct financial comparison of one company to another. One can receive detailed information about any city in the world, including geographical and historical weather information.

I suggest visiting the site and playing around. There are sample searches to get you going in the right direction until you are ready to run with it on your own.

The future plans include some short-range objectives. The creators are working on developing APIs, professional, and corporate versions, as well as creating a tool for mobile devices and other similar platforms.

WolframAlpha is focusing in on making custom versions and new connections so they may network with other forms of content.

Although this an alpha site, it is an excellent resource for all information professionals, teachers, and researchers. WolframAlpha is a very impressive beginning for this computational-knowledge engine.

Educators, especially those working in the math or sciences, will find this site very resourceful.

Copyright © American Library Association, 2009

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