Guide to writing history essays



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Internet sources
2.6 The internet in general is not a reliable or acceptable source for researching history essays. The web is an unregulated medium and anybody, anywhere, can post material that looks impressive and sounds authoritative. Just because the opinions expressed on websites are ‘in print’ does not make them either true or reliable. At most, on-line sources can provide thought-provoking or unexpected perspectives on historical topics which must then be investigated further through reputable published sources. At worst, however, and far more common, on-line sources are wildly inaccurate, heavily distorted, biased or misleading, and unverifiable. Internet sources are thus not acceptable as the basis of your research for any of your essays. As a general rule, do not spend time on the web at the expense of the readings listed in your unit guide.
2.7 Nevertheless, the internet does have some potential value for history students in providing access to certain kinds of primary sources. Previously unobtainable sources can now be found on the web, including: maps and technical plans; visual sources such as photographs, cartoons and propaganda posters; original oral testimony and witness statements; newspaper articles; and especially copies of original government documents. It is worth noting that these sources are mostly available through the web sites of credible institutions, usually universities, governments, international organisations and museums, which allows for greater confidence in their reliability and accuracy. For example, the official website of the United Nations is a treasure trove of valuable primary material for students of post-1945 world history and politics. Students are encouraged to investigate the possibilities provided by such reputable sources and to put them to use in their research essays.
2.8 You should take the same critical approach to any internet source that you would with any published source: be cautious, sceptical and thorough. Websites which present a façade of respectability and impartiality may, under closer investigation, be revealed as clandestine attempts to spread political-propaganda messages. Please seek out guidance from your Unit Coordinator if you have any concerns or questions about a website.


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