A message from your friends at Connecticut History Day...
Over the next few weeks, we'll be sharing research resources for students to use to further their research for History Day. Please feel free to share your resources with us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Historical research requires discipline, perseverance, and the ability to analyze and evaluate information. Nowhere are these skills more important than when conducting that research online (where significant amounts of fraudulent or misleading information can be found). But the Internet can be an excellent research tool when used appropriately and has brought previously unimaginable degrees of convenience to the research process. So where should students go to find the information they need and how can this information be evaluated to ensure its credibility?
Search engines are usually the first stop in any student’s research, but the manner in which the searches are conducted may not always produce optimal results. Students should be encouraged to use concise wording in their searches, and then based on the results, refine or broaden their searches to increase the likelihood of success. For example, a search targeting “earthquakes” in Connecticut might be made more complete through the inclusion of terms such as “seismic activity” or “natural disasters.” Even changing one or two words in a search can make a big difference in what information is brought to light.
It should also be noted that students need to look beyond the results produced by their favorite search engine. Not only does the Internet provide multiple free search engines (all of which may produce different results), but there are also research databases and reliable websites that may direct students to some of their most rewarding finds. A small sample of these resources include ConnecticutHistory.org (https://connecticuthistory.org/), the National Archives (https://www.archives.gov/), the Connecticut State Library (https://ctstatelibrary.org/), the Connecticut Digital Archive (https://ctdigitalarchive.org/), the Library of Congress (https://www.loc.gov/), and the Smithsonian Institute (https://www.si.edu/). Additional local resources can be found at museums, historical societies, and at history and heritage organizations across Connecticut.
Libraries can be great centers for digital research. Many libraries are free and open to the public and their digital resources may include online catalogs of their collections, academic journal subscriptions, and numerous specialized research databases. In addition, just because students are conducting their research online doesn’t mean they should remove human interaction from the equation. Librarians are trained to navigate research collections and know how to find information both on- and offline in ways most people don’t. A consultation with a local librarian can be an invaluable step toward discovering information a student probably didn’t know existed.
Evaluating information can be one of the hardest parts of conducting research, especially online, where information (and misinformation) are so readily available. There are numerous questions a student can ask about a resource when evaluating the reliability of its information. These include, but are not limited to:
Lastly, a student should be able to verify a “fact” in multiple resources. It is important to get information from several different sources offering varying perspectives and not just rely on the “loudest” voice on the Internet.
Gregg Mangan is an author, historian, and the managing editor of the ConnecticutHistory.org project at Connecticut Humanities.