Using the Internet for Research and Documentation
A Pocket Style Manual

MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing

Online!: A Reference Guide to Using Internet Sources

Librarian's Guide to Online Searching

The Extreme Searcher's Internet Handbook: A Guide for the Serious Searcher

The major benefit of the Internet – whether it's the web, email, forums, or mailing lists – is that it's easy to get online, get the information you're looking for, or post new information yourself.

The down side? Anyone can easily post information – even if it's inaccurate.

As a researcher, you have to learn to think critically when you're analyzing online source materials; and this exercise in critical thinking will help when it comes to analyzing other source materials as well. (See Mistress Celynen's article, "Tips for Research," in section 3 of the Atlantian A&S Handbook.)

While it's difficult to universally determine what aspects to look for in a good (or bad) source, there are several sorts of websites that can be useful tertiary source materials to the SCAdian researcher. I have provided a few examples of webpages which may be helpful -- but this is not meant to be a complete list.

The resources in this article were last updated in March 2009.

Museum and Library Websites

Many museums all over the world have websites, either describing their collections in general, or showing a detailed gallery of their collections. In most cases, they also feature online stores where you can order books or reproductions in order to learn more about items on exhibit. Another excellent feature: if you have a question about an item that one of your other sources has noted is in the museum's collection, you can use the website to find an email address so you can get in touch with someone at the museum to ask questions about the piece. You can find links to many of the museums with collections relating to the SCA's period of interest in the Museums, Libraries, & Galleries section of the Atlantian Arts & Sciences Links.

There are now more online resources for searching for specific sorts of items in museum and library collections. Some of the resources which I enjoy using for research include:

Online Art Galleries

While in many cases, the pictures in online art galleries are just scanned from art books, many of these websites can be helpful for viewing pictures (often in larger sizes or better detail than available in some print resources) as well as getting general information about the artist and the times in which he lived.

Online Reference Materials and Scholarly Projects

There are research sites with primary source texts translated and/or typed and put online, often hosted on university web space. In many cases, it is easier to use a "hard copy" book, but they are not always readily available.

Use Google Scholar to find books and articles relating to your research (you may have to use interlibrary loan to get a copy). You can also find some academic journals and organizations which relate to your field of interest.

Websites for Auction Houses

An auction house website may be your last opportunity to learn about an artifact before it goes into a private collection, and some of the higher-end auction houses are willing to answer questions about items long after the auction has taken place. If you are interested in getting a permanent record of the information (since many auction houses take down the information from the website after the auction has taken place), you can buy a copy of the auction catalogue to get photos and a description of the item.

SCA/Reenactor/Historian Research Work

While not always a reliable source for research, it is often good to read about how other SCAdians and reenactors and historians are approaching the sorts of questions you're trying to answer; and many of them provide excellent online resources too.

When analyzing an online reenactor research piece, examine the bibliography -- is there one? What resources did the reenactors use to come up with their conclusions? Some very good reenactors' webpages just give information on a procedure or a technique they have developed for making an item; these can be very helpful for understanding their point of view on how to make the same item, but if that's your only resource, it may not make for very thorough research on your part. Here are a few examples:

Additional Suggestions for Critical Evaluation of Internet-Based Source Materials

The websites listed below supply additional points of view in terms of methods for evaluating whether an online source is appropriate for your research, including criteria for such evaluation.

  • Evaluating Web Resources: Jaan Alexander and Marsha Ann Tate have provided teaching materials for a module on evaluating informational content for web-based source materials of different types. Their criteria for "informational web pages" are Authority, Accuracy, Objectivity, Currency, and Coverage.
  • Evaluating Internet Information: Elizabeth E. Kirk provides a long list of questions to help a researcher evaluate a source based on Authorship, Publishing Body, Point of View/Bias, Referral to other sources, Verifiability, and Currency.
  • The Six Quests for the Electronic Grail: Summarizes several sets of evaluation criteria, though some of the information in this paper is remarkably out of date.
  • Evaluating Internet Research Sources: Robert Harris suggests that the researcher consider a research source based on Credibility, Accuracy, Reasonableness, and Support (or CARS).

Several other websites, including several created for university libraries, also provide exercises in evaluating web-based research materials:

Bibliographical Entries for Online Sources

If you do use an online source, be sure to reference it in your bibliography! Following are just a few of the sorts of internet-related sources and how they are cited in print bibliographies under the MLA style. For other types of sources, or for other styles of bibliographies (such as Chicago or APA), I recommend checking a recent edition of the style manual.

The editors at Tournaments Illuminated prefer The Chicago Manual of Style. (When I was the editor for The Compleat Anachronist, I generally used Chicago, too, but I personally prefer the MLA style.)

For updated electronic media citation style manuals, see www.bedfordstmartins.com/online/citex.html.

The MLA style for internet references generally requires that the writer include the date on which the website was viewed. Websites can (and do) change, not only in terms of content, but also in terms of location. For more information on MLA guidelines for electronic media, visit the MLA website.

Also, pay attention to how you "break" a long URL at the end of a line. Don't use hyphens unless they're in the URL already!

When citing a source written by a member of the SCA, be sure to cite the author's mundane name. (I also like to parenthetically note the author's SCA name, but this is a personal preference.)

Scholarly Project

Internet Medieval Sourcebook. Ed. Paul Halsall. 1996. Fordham U. 19 Apr. 2002 <http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/sbook.html>.

Professional Site

PotWeb. Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology. 19 Apr. 2002 <http://www.ashmol.ox.ac.uk/PotWeb/>.

Personal Site

Roullett, Brander (SCA: Frederic Badger). A 1503 English Beer. 19 Apr. 2002 <http://www.nwlink.com/~badger/1503.html>.

Book

Harrison, William. Harrison's Description of England in Shakespere's Youth. London, 1575. Ed. Perry Willett (1877). 19 Apr. 2002 <http://leehrsn.50megs.com>.

Poem

Skelton, John. "Vppon a deedmans hed." The Poetical Works of John Skelton. Boston, 1866. Luminarium. Ed. Anniina Jokinen. 1996. 19 Apr. 2002 <http://www.luminarium.org/renlit/deedman.htm>.

Article in an Online Journal

Kronenfeld, Nathan (SCA: Daniel of Falling Rocks). "Burgundian Basse Dance: A Reconstruction of the Brussels MS." The Letter of Dance 2 (1991). 19 Apr. 2002 <http://www.pbm.com/~lindahl/lod/vol2/brussels_reconstruction.html>.

Article from a Magazine or Periodical

Hodges, Brad A. "Group goes out gallivanting like knights of centuries ago." Salisbury Post 28 Apr. 2001. 19 Apr. 2002 <http://www.salisburypost.com/2001april/042801a.htm>.

Posting to a Mailing List

Howe, Bob (SCA: Magnus Malleus). "Info on Trinket boxes." Online posting, 21 Jul. 2001. Merry Rose. <http://merryrose.atlantia.sca.org>.

Posting to a Web Discussion Forum

McGann, Kass (SCA: Cáisín nic Annaidh). "Re: Cotton?" Online posting, 28 Mar. 2001. Authentic_SCA. 22 Apr. 2002 <http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Authentic_SCA/message/629>.

Posting to a Newsgroup

Fraser, Heather (SCA: Sarra Graeham). "Period songs and their content." Online posting, 3 Sept. 1992. 22 Apr. 2002 <news:rec.org.sca>.

E-Mail

Carroll-Clark, Susan (SCA: Nicolaa de Bracton). "Re: Class on Documentation-writing." E-mail to the author. 12 Mar. 2002.

In a related note, MLA's guidelines can be used to cite SCA publications, too:

Habura-Fisher, Andrea (SCA: Alison nic Dermot). "Occupational Heraldry." Tournaments Illuminated 87 (Summer 1988): 21-26.
Blatt, Elizabeth (SCA: Elianora Mathewes). "Yours Whilst Life Swayeth in Mine Inward Parts: Letters in Late Antiquity, the Middle Ages, and Renaissance." Compleat Anachronist 112 (Summer 2001).


Bibliography

Garibaldi, Joseph. MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing. 2nd ed. New York: Modern Language Association, 1998.

Hacker, Diana. A Pocket Style Manual. 3rd ed. New York: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2000.

MLA. 19 Apr. 2002 <http://www.mla.org>.