History and the Internet

Whereas the Internet provides a valuable research tool for the historian, to the extent that it permits the access to a plethora of historically relevant materials, at the same time, as Presnell stresses, the utilization of this technology itself does not imply rigorous historical research. Rather, drawing on the work of Carl Smith, Presnell defines "serious historical research" as "to mean original work that is responsibly based on primary sources...intelligibly informed by relevant scholarship, and makes a clear argument or group of arguments."  Accordingly, the primary concerns of the usage of the Internet are as follows:

  1. The information presented on the Internet still requires the researcher to distinguish between types of historical texts, such as primary sources, on the one hand, and commentary and relevant scholarship on the other;
  2. The access to such materials does not mean that the researcher has formed a unique historical argument - this can, inevitably, not be provided by merely such access, but is the product of the creativity, ingenuity and competence of the researcher.

Thus, in the first case, one must always situate information acquired on the Internet in its proper context. The primary source is an invaluable resource; however, this must be accompanied by examples of secondary sources, such as germane commentary and scholarship, that helps the researcher understand the primary source better, and also grasp what has already been written about this same source. Accordingly, such research, without being context based, can lead to a non-rigorous historiographical approach.

In the second case, the access to information does not, of course, create legitimate historical arguments. Serious historical scholarship must consider such sources, but also consist of a critical and creative perspective that is a crucial part of this same scholarship. Whereas the access to historical materials, at first glance, appears to simplify the process of historical research, in contrast, it can be considered as increasing the demands on the historian - the historian must be all the more conscious of existing literature, and thus, when developing his or her research, must innovatively appropriate such texts to present a piece of germane historical writing.

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