This web site is being constantly updated, as even though we are no longer directly involved in teaching courses, we like to keep up to date ourselves. URL changes seem to have slowed a little of late, but it still keeps happening. There is an increasing quantity of material on the web for medieval studies, particularly in the area of supplying text resources. This is a great boon as things get tight in the library. You can find primary sources and a great deal of secondary reading on the web. There are some great visual sites in the areas of manuscript studies and architecture, less in archaeology and other art areas. New truly blockbuster epic sites appear only slowly, but there are some very fine examples out there now. Major institutions like libraries and museums are steadily increasing the quantity and quality of their web resources. There is a trend towards putting significant database resources on the web for research use, which is a great boon. Alternatively, increasing numbers of pioneering sites are disappearing or just gradually becoming less than useful as their owners retire or give up the unequal struggle.
In order to make the most effective use of this truly global resource, there are a few basic points to consider.
The World Wide Web is now too important to ignore. You will be expected to be able to use it. In 1995 I kept yelling this at people, but I think everyone is aware of it now. Researchers are now finding that primary source material that was formerly tucked away in remote archives is becoming available to their desktop. Using the web does not just mean being able to type a few words into a search engine and accept whatever it spews out. Using web based material requires as much searching strategy and critical analysis as the use of print media.
The World Wide Web is now very very big. Some tips are included in this booklet to help you find information quickly. You can save a great deal of time, or you can waste a great deal of time, depending on how efficiently you search. You may also think you have found all the good stuff, but it is amazing how you can come across a great resource that had previously eluded your searches by chance or coincidence.
The World Wide Web is open to everybody. Sites are produced by educational professionals and research institutes, by your fellow students around the world, by interested amateurs and by complete fruit cakes. Assess the content of sites and the credentials of authors with the same degree of scrutiny that you would apply to the print media, if not more. Medieval history seems to particularly attract recreational participants. If the webmaster's name appears as Lord Pouncefoot or the like and there are griffins and animated gifs of flaming torches on the home page, proceed with caution.
The World Wide Web is a labile medium. The content of sites is periodically updated, sites disappear completely or their URL addresses change. Ensure when you cite material from the World Wide Web, that the information is up to date. Web citations should always include the date when the site was last accessed by you. Citing on faith on the basis of a link in another site, which you have not verified yourself, is dangerous as there are many dead links out there, even on sites of respectability.
Copyright is becoming a big issue. You may think that medieval material could not possibly be copyright, but photographs, translations, graphic materials and even published editions of medieval works are copyright. Treat material from the web with the same care as you would treat printed material from the library. You may feel, as I do, that holding institutions which insist on enforcing copyright on digital reproductions of ancient works are witholding knowledge from the intellectual commons, but it is still the law. The law may change under the pressure of sheer practicalities, but we have to stick with it until it does. By the same token, many works which are reproduced freely on the web may be there because they are old and out of copyright. This does not necessarily diminish their value, but be aware that they might not represent the latest word in any given debate.
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