In my college days the Internet as a research tool had the reputation of a con artist heading up a charity. Academia didn’t like the idea of all that unsubstantiated “chatter” out there.
Well, times are changing and a little over a decade has given the Internet a sheen of respectability. It’s still a jungle of information but not a dead loss.
The Internet is a useful tour guide. With regard to history, Wikipedia and the like are a good starting point if you want basic information and are prepared to swim through a river of bias to get it. Encyclopedic sites that are reader-written have obvious problems – anybody can say anything!
Start there and move on to verifiable sources: books, official journals, news items (although, depending on source and with the political bias of many news sources, take them with a grain of salt), and official websites. Some of these are available on the Internet. And then there are story verifying watchdog sites (like Snopes) that come in handy.
Find the Facts
“Verify, verify, verify” is the catch phrase of Internet research. So much information, often self-published, is circulating that you have to consider it questionable until you have two or three sources to back it up.
If I’m trying to recall an historical event and it’s just barely escaping me, search engines can take the details I do remember and lead me back to the source. That is the beauty of the being online.
I’d like to say a word for online bookstores, like Amazon, and their review pages. Thrown in with the occasional crank are useful bits of information that may lead to another book or source of study.
Research on the Internet is still much like putting together a jigsaw puzzle with part of the information here, another fact there, mixed in with a lot of repetition, or on the downside, a bunch of lies.
Tread the river of information carefully, and be grateful we have the freedom to produce it!