English Historical Documents Online
Routledge and the Institute of Historical Research, Sch. of Advanced Study, Univ. of London; englishhistoricaldocuments.com; to request a trial please contact email@example.com
- By Cheryl LaGuardia
Content English Historical Documents Online (EHDO) is an annotated collection of significant documents in British history covering the years 500 CE to 1914. It contains approximately 5,500 primary sources (and related editorial commentary) selected by leading British historians. The print counterpart began in 1953, with subsequent volumes produced over the following 60 years.
Documents here are fully indexed using a historical thesaurus created by the Royal Historical Society for its Bibliography of British and Irish History. The primary sources include acts, declarations, diaries, cabinet and government proceedings, military dispatches, newspaper articles, official letters, orders, pamphlets, personal letters, sermons, statutes, and treaties. They address cultural, constitutional, economic, political, religious, and social issues. Some of the documents were originally in Anglo-Saxon, Latin, Old Norse, and Old French; these have been translated into English.
Usability The homepage of EHDO has a number of access points and information types. At screen top there’s a button for “Take a Tour” next to one leading to information for librarians. Below these is a toolbar offering the options home, browse, volumes, time line, and short-list. Beneath that is a simple search box with a nearby link to advanced search.
The tour is a five-minute video that immediately began moving through the product, with arrowed directions popping up on screen. Unfortunately, there was no sound and after about two and a half minutes I clicked back to the homepage. Next I tried the librarians’ section, but after entering my login information as required, got an error message and could go no further.
Returning to the homepage, I tried a simple search for the term “magna carta” (without the quotes), which garnered 110 results, the first of which was the general introduction to Volume 2 of the printed series, the volume covering 1042–1189 AD. This confused me since the Magna Carta was signed by King John at Runnymede in 1215, a date outside the range. At this point I redid my simple search, bringing up a screen with a search criteria box that gave me the chance to search for a document title, a person’s name, and a place. Entering Magna Carta, King John, and Runnymede in those boxes, I got zero results. Omitting Runnymede from the place box unearthed 20 results, the first of which was for “Magna Carta, 1215.” Clicking into it, I got the text of the famous document, preceded by a helpful editorial note saying that “There is no ‘original’ of the Charter of Liberties of 1215. Four copies sent out from the royal chancery shortly after the meeting at Runnymede on 19 June survive.”
Reading the previously mentioned search tips, I discovered an explanation of Boolean searches that revealed the system defaults to an OR search when you put in two words such as Magna Carta, bringing up any document containing either word. The way to search the system successfully was to enter: “Magna Carta,” in quotes. The guide also explains that entering “Queen –Victoria” would find “any document that contains the word queen, but not if it also contains Victoria.”
Advanced search offers four boxes for filtering searches. Users can search everything, or search by document title and/or/not person name and/or/not place (which unfortunately didn’t work using all three in that Magna Carta search), or use an adjustable time line running from 500 to 1914 to limit by year. It requires pretty fine motor skills to get both time line buttons set to particular spots to select a range, though selecting just the lower end of the range searches between that date and 1914.
Another advanced search option was to search by subject filter (these are the terms listed in browse by subject, above) or to select a (print) volume number to limit the query.
The system allows personalized logins that let users annotate and highlight documents, bookmark them, and save search strategies. All the material can be printed and/or downloaded for educational use, and it’s easy to share and cite entries using the tools provided. The content is superlative. Having the text of all these documents available through an electronic device is mind-boggling. But in essence, this electronic resource seems to be the transfer of the print to online with an emphasis on the printed format, rather than making good use of the power of online tools.
I wish that the printed material could have been translated into a digital presence with greater agility and power. Especially given the titles of these sources, it’s going to be difficult for most users to locate what they’re seeking given the present search interface. Either through browsing or searching, it will take time for them to zero in on their research targets.
Pricing Perpetual-access pricing is based on institution size and starts at $7,000.
Verdict While this database has drawbacks with regard to searching, based on its valuable content, research libraries serving serious students and scholars of English history should try this out to see how their researchers experience it.
World Book Timelines
World Book; worldbookonline.com/training/timelines/index.htm
- By Bonnie J.M. Swoger
Content I was in fifth grade when I wrote my first research paper—it was about the state of Utah. My primary source of information on the topic was a multivolume World Book Encyclopedia that my teacher had on a rolling cart in our classroom. If I were writing that report today, the new and improved Timelines tool from World Book might make me more enthusiastic about the project. The tool takes advantage of modern web technology that wasn’t available when I was ten, allowing users to interact with content, rather than just passively consume it.
World Book Timelines gives users access to more than 420 prebuilt time lines of important events in art, literature, biography, geography, science and technology, society and culture, sports, and world history. The number of entries available in each category is variable; the “Parts of the World” category has many more than the “Science and Technology” category, for example.
The built-in time lines can be edited, added to, and saved to create unique chronologies. Users can include any of over 12,000 events within the product, or add their own. They can view one about the history of Utah and add other entries from World Book, such as other U.S. or world events. In addition to including built-in events, patrons can create custom entries, such as the election of Utah’s first governor and include images of their own. After saving the updated time line, it’s possible to add bibliographic information from the other books and websites.
The 12,000 built-in events come from information in other World Book products. Access to the Timelines feature is included in subscriptions to World Book Student, Advanced, Info Finder, Online Reference Center, Discover, and Academic. Subscribers to these products can find the new feature on the World Book online homepage. The Timelines feature is not integrated into these products, however. When they read that Utah became the 45th state on January 4, 1896 in World Book Student, for example, students can’t automatically add that event to a time line.
Overall, the tool is fun to explore. A new “featured time line” is presented each time a user returns to the homepage, and I got distracted from the task of writing this review in favor of exploring entries on “Australian literature” and “Indian Art.”
Usability The World Book Timelines tool gives users the ability to browse existing time lines and to create new ones. Exploring the existing time lines couldn’t be simpler. A subject list on the left side of the screen includes images and invites users to click on a subject, where they can then drill down into the chosen topic. For example, under “Parts of the World” is “United States,” and then “U.S. States and Possessions.” At this point a list of time lines appears on the page, each with an accompanying image. Scrolling through the list, I can finally click on “History of Utah.”
By default, time lines are displayed dynamically: the view changes as the size of the browser window changes, and users have the ability to stretch or constrict the horizontal axis of the time line to better view specific time periods or events. Users can also scroll along the horizontal axis, allowing for the creation of time lines that cover more than a single screen width. A static list view is available, which can easily be printed for offline reference.
Once a user is looking at a time line, it is easy to start making changes. You can add events by clicking on the prominent “Create event” link at the top of the page and add an image, event description, notes about the event (up to 2,000 characters), or color code how the event appears on a time line. Users can also edit existing happenings, add notes to an event, change the event description, add additional media, or change the existing image.
Adding custom events or editing existing ones is relatively fun and easy; finding and adding one of the 12,000 built-in events could be easier. There is no mechanism to browse the existing events by subject, although one can find events within a specific date range. Users must enter keywords in order to find events. The results yielded by keyword searches often miss relevant entries. For example, a search for “basketball” revealed some important milestones in the development of the game but didn’t include anything from the complete list of winners of the NBA championship game.
There are also problems with the search results display. The last items found for my initial “basketball” search were the 1941 NCAA men’s basketball champions. Why wasn’t 1942 included? I accidentally clicked “search” again, and a whole new set of results was included in my list, but a third click of the search button returned my original incomplete list.
World Book Timelines allows users to save time lines to either a “My Timelines” feature or the World Book “My Research.” Sometimes they appear to be saved in both locations, sometimes in just one. The terminology is confusing, and it took me a while to locate my saved time lines, which appear in multiple locations.
Pricing Timelines is available to subscribers of World Book Student, Advanced, Info Finder, Online Reference Center, Discover, and Academic. It is not available as a stand-alone product at the moment.
Verdict For users who already subscribe to World Book products, the Timelines feature could be a useful classroom tool, especially for K–12 institutions. Although the feature is a positive addition to the World Book products, it isn’t a primary reason to subscribe, especially considering that several time line-creator tools are available for free.