How useful can a website be?: ‘The History Learning Site’ and the cardinal sins of history.

With around 1.2 million students turning to the Internet to help them revise, online educational resources are becoming ever more important.[1] How useful are these revision sites? For history, students are inundated with options. Whether it’s the YouTube channel Crash Course (with its almost three million subscribers), BBC’s GCSE Bitesize, or the ‘History Learning Site’: students are relying on the Internet to succeed in their studies. The History Learning site was established in 2000, and provides visitors with information on almost too many topics.[2]

Chris Trueman, the original author of the site, graduated with a BA (hons) in History, and taught History for 26 years.[3] Trueman himself had some significant training in history, and taught in subjects offered by the site. However, the sheer breadth of topics seems problematic. With subjects ranging from Tudor England to Hitler’s Germany, the phrase ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ does come to mind when visiting this website. Any academic would be hard pushed convincing an audience that they were an expert on this vast list of topics; which span from the 8th century to the 2008 presidential election. The website now lists Trueman’s niece and nephew along with a ‘team of history graduates’ as the new authors of the website. This description is rather vague, and the website seems to rely on Trueman’s credentials even after he can no longer contribute to the website.

The site itself seems out-dated. The graphics and fonts remind visitors that the website was created in the early 2000s. The homepage is simple to use. It lists the topics in chronological order, and splits them up into exam subjects as well. This seems to outline that the website is aimed at younger students; GSCE or A-level students.

The Civil Rights movement of the 1950s/1960s, and specifically the Civil Rights Act of 1964 are of a particular interest to me. The section on the 1964 Act provides a rough overview of the topic.

The biggest concern for anyone above GSCE level is that the information provided is not cited. For example, the section refers to the statistic that ‘57% of African-America housing judged to be unacceptable’.[4] Firstly, the information is not cited. An A-level student, or certainly any undergraduate, could not use that information in a project or an essay. Secondly, the website does not make it clear when this statistic refers to. 1963? 1964? It makes it almost impossible to rely on the evidence it’s providing to its users. This page also features the cardinal sin of history. It refers to ‘many historians’ when discussing the importance of the Civil Rights Act. You can almost hear the strained cry of academics screaming, ‘which historians?’.

This site succeeds in providing an overview of a topic. For GCSE students, this site could be a valuable resource when revising for an exam. A-level students could use this site as a quick reminder of information, but could not rely on it for essays or projects. For undergraduate students? This website is rendered almost completely useless by its lack of citations, and its ambiguous nods to historiography. However, whilst the website is irrelevant to undergraduate students, that certainly does not mean the website is not a useful resource. For a quick overview of a topic, or out of intrigue, this website provides a quick glance at history. Undergraduates could use the website to get an outline of a topic they might be considering for an essay, but this website could not be cited in any assignments. For history enthusiasts and younger students, this website could be invaluable in providing a quick and easy narrative of an otherwise complicated topic.

[1] ‘Children with internet access at home gain exam advantage, charity says’, The Guardian,http://www.theguardian.com/education/2011/may/21/children-internet-access-exam-advantage; consulted 27 April 2015

[2] ‘About the Author’, History Learning Site,http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/about-the-author.htm; consulted 27 April 2015

[3] ‘About the Author’, History Learning Site,http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/about-the-author.htm; consulted 27 April 20152015

[4] ‘1964 Civil Rights Act’, History Learning Site,http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/1964_civil_rights_act.htm; consulted 27 April 2015

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How useful can a website be?: ‘The History Learning Site’ and the cardinal sins of history.

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