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Authors : Jeffrey G. Barlow, Phillip Huhta
Title: A Peer-Reviewed Web Ring for Students and Teachers of History
Publication Info: Ann Arbor, MI: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library
November 1999
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Source: A Peer-Reviewed Web Ring for Students and Teachers of History
Jeffrey G. Barlow, Phillip Huhta


vol. 2, no. 3, November 1999
Article Type: Editorial
URL: http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.3310410.0002.309

A Peer-Reviewed Web Ring for Students and Teachers of History

Jeffrey Barlow and Phillip Huhta, with assistance from Jason Gaskill, Daniel Pfeifer, and Chris Pruett.

1. Introduction:

After two years of experience with both publishing and evaluating electronic materials in The Journal of the Association for History and Computing (JAHC) we have decided to establish a web ring of peer-reviewed sites on the World Wide Web which meet our standards as developed in Project Epée. An extended discussion of our reasons for doing so can be found in an editorial article in Volume II, No. 2, "Quality, Imprimaturs, and Rings".

Briefly, a web ring is a group of sites which have agreed to associate, usually because of common interest in a given content area. The members of the ring incorporate a shared navigation device which leads the viewer smoothly from one site to the next, or perhaps to random sites within the ring. We are not aware of any rings composed solely of peer-reviewed academic sites, but there are thousands of rings on the web.

Our ring will be formed around both shared interest in common topical areas—such as content-oriented sites in U.S. or medieval history— and a common agreement upon a high level of quality as judged by a peer review process. Such a ring will be of more utility to students and teachers in conducting class-room assignments than to highly specialized researchers who presumably know of relevant sites or are skilled at finding them.

From our perspective, a ring would be the most efficient means for students and researchers to travel the web because it can links sites of related content. The navigational function of the ring is intuitive and it permits the researcher to browse the subject area of the ring in linear or random fashion depending on how far along he or she may be in the research project.

But convenience aside, the great strength of a ring of associated sites is that it permits the group to assess the quality of content, lending such associated sites equal authority. Of course, there are many reliable sites on the web, and we do not pretend to exclusivity in terms of the authority and reliability of the sites selected for inclusion in the JAHC ring, but will affirm that these sites have been peer-reviewed for these qualities.

A web ring obviously offers a number of means for organizing materials. Rings could be subdivided into types of content as well as subject fields. We plan that our initial ring will connect sites in American history, followed by sites useful to students and teachers of European history. Initially, we will not distinguish among sites offering primary documents and those offering secondary or interpretive information.

2. Why join the JAHC Ring?

Similar sites join together into a ring for a variety of reasons. For some smaller, newer, or lesser-known sites, a ring serves to increase traffic. There would not seem to be any way in which being part of a ring might decrease traffic on an already successful site. For even highly successful sites, a well-designed ring should increase the quality of the audience; those who come in via a ring are seeking content found in that ring rather than speculating on the nature of a given site via what may be a poorly-designed search. Such visitors will linger longer and "click through" more pages than a casual visitor. They will also be more likely to utilize and to cite material from the site, increasing awareness of it.

A well-designed ring site can also be a service to other historians and teachers. A ring can function somewhat like the reserve room in a library, a place where useful materials intended to be used in particular assignments are stored. A ring permits a teacher, for example, to let his or her students conduct individual research, but within acceptable parameters rather than via open-ended Web searches.

A well-designed ring supervised by members of the profession will also render the World Wide Web itself more acceptable to more members of the profession. If many high-quality sites join a ring and supervise content, that ring sets the standards for other sites as well. Subject or content oriented peer-reviewed rings would raise the standards for all such sites.

3. Required Qualities for Inclusion in the JAHC Ring

Content reliability will be the primary value for inclusion in the JAHC ring. Reliability depends on the authority of the authors and the verifiability of the materials assembled. This latter quality requires a high standard for citing materials and their sources. Therefore:

  • An outstanding site must have a statement on how the material was assembled and edited, and a statement of the purpose of the page or the central arguments of its contents.
  • An exemplary site must have at least one identifiable author who can be contacted with regard to content. The qualifications of the author or authors should be stated.
  • An exemplary piece should have an equivalent of pagination for on-line documents so that they can be cited properly. We have usually numbered headings and subheadings and used them to create a table of contents.
  • An exemplary piece must follow standard citation styles. While no one style is ideal, consistency and thoroughness is essential. Bibliographic references which are consonant with the citation style should also be present.
  • There should be clear statements as to when a document was last updated and references to when and how often it was updated.

In addition to issues of reliability, we are also concerned about those qualities that distinguish the exemplary sites from the merely good ones. An exemplary site should be well designed. An outstandinginly designed site should:

  • Load Rapidly.
  • Its graphics should complement rather than overwhelm or dominate the content.
  • Its Graphics and design should be esthetically pleasing, enhance the value of the site, and be appropriate to the content.
  • Be intuitively navigable, although it is reasonable to expect the reader to take a few moments to understand the organization of a very complex site which reward that delay with a correspondingly higher level of accessibility.

5. How to Join the JAHC Ring:

A survey of the demonstration pages we have created for explaining the JAHC Ring will make the following discussion somewhat clearer.

Because our overwhelming concern is to maintain the highest standards, it is important that sites included in the JAHC Ring have been peer reviewed as to the qualities listed above. We will be contacting sites which we have had occasion to review to ask them to participate in the JAHC Ring. In some cases we will be suggesting minor changes which would bring the site into fuller compliance with those standards.

We also welcome self-nomination from existing sites (For the present, to nominate a site contact barlowj@pacificu.edu). Once a site has been nominated, members of the editorial board will review it. If a site conforms to standards, the webmaster of the site will be informed as to where the necessary graphics and html commands can be downloaded. These are quite small and have been optimized for downloading time; they will add very little additional coding to an existing site.

Once a site has been registered it will be included in the JAHC Ring under the appropriate content categories. We will also take responsibility for registering the site with appropriate search engines, meta-sites, or portals.

5. Demonstration Ring Site.

(DEMO SITE (not available)) This site has been created purely from existing materials published by the JAHC or other organizations supported on Pacific University servers; it is intended not to illustrate our standards, but to show how a ring site works. Future members of a ring would not be in our pages but on the Web in their existing locations. In addition, the pages included in this demonstration site do not meet all the standards discussed above; they were selected primarily because they covered a common topic: ethnicity and migration.

For an example of a well-organized and highly successful web ring of 1700+ sites visit the Afro American Web Ring at: <http://www.halcon.com/halcon/1ring.html>. This site features a very complex navigation device that permits visitors to skip from site to site on a predetermined course, or to list out the next five sites from their current location.

6. Conclusion:

At the JAHC we recognize that the creation of this ring may be widely regarded as a solution for which there is no problem. We believe, however, that many members of the field, as well as students researching in academic environments at all levels, are concerned about the reliability of historical materials found on the World Wide Web. We think that a ring of associated sites meeting common standards is one partial solution to this problem. We also recognize that some might view this initiative as a hubristic one, which threatens to link their already well-established site to smaller and lesser-known "free riders." But we hope that the utility of this proposal for the profession and our students might outweigh such considerations.

Jeffrey Barlow
November 30, 1999
Revised December 6, 1999