July 22, 2024

Hankering for History

Hanker: To have a strong, often restless desire, in this case for–you guessed it–history!

The Internet as a Source

5 min read

The title says it all, the internet as a source. There is a growing problem, especially in academics. If one needs information, they tend to immediately log on to the World Wide Web and  look on Google. I have no problems with Google. Google performs like it is supposed to. It indexes websites, and using algorithms tries to give you a website that might house the information you are looking for. If you know how to use Google–properly–it is a dream for those seeking knowledge. There is one catch though; Google doesn’t have a ‘reliability activation switch’ that you can toggle. You can set preferences to turn on SearchSafe, which is responsible for “filter[ing] objectionable content.” So at least no pornographic material.

Internet as a Source

There is, however, another form of online material that is offensive to me. It lurks in the dark corners of the internet. This sinister material is called ‘incorrect information.’ This objectionable content is everywhere. This ‘incorrect information’, although not mean-spirited like disinformation, is still bothersome and annoying. I wish that Google had an option to block pages that couldn’t be verified as reputable. The picture to your right is an extreme, but I am sure that a bad decision or two has been made because of information found online.

In an earlier post, I was complaining about how “On This Day is History” websites have some un-history related facts on them: sports accomplishments, birth dates, etc. This post will be complaining about inaccuracies. I guess if I was being honest, the following is really a matter of opinion. Do you think that the following was intentionally skewed, or was it an error that has trickled through the internet and is now everywhere? It is probably just laziness. It does give you some insight on the internet as a source though.

I used Google, and I searched for “On this day”, “on this day in history”, and “today in history.” From these results, I clicked on the first ten (10) results from all three pages. Then I removed all the duplicates. I was left with twelve (12) pages still open. All of these are reliable, top Google-ranked sites: History Channel, New York Times, InfoPlease, On-This-Day.com, HistoryNet, Fact Monster, Scope System, History Orb, 440 International, Brainy History, Associated Press, and Reference.com.

I realize when you are conveying tidbits of information–factoids–that there are only so many options; however, I think that the following just copied each other. No originality. And that is the real problem when you use the internet as a source. Information is copied, time and time again. At least I borrow from multiple list, include some pictures, and I blast out handcrafted, unique “On this day” facts on Facebook and Twitter throughout the day. Even when I do borrow from list online, I try to verify facts before I simply copy and paste them. Which is how I ran across this…

The Misconception

New York Times, Associated Press, InfoPlease and Fact Monster all had the following listed on their list for today:

1851 Herman Melville’s novel “Moby Dick” was published.

Scopes System, History Orb, and Brainy History all had the following listed on their list for today:

“Moby Dick,” by Herman Melville, published

HistoryNet had:

1851 Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick is published in New York.

Umm, I guess that is a little better.

Reference.com had:

Herman Melville had written five novels before the one which was published on this day in 1851.

Some originality, a sentence with substance…

On-This-Day.com had:

1851 – Herman Melville’s novel “Moby Dick” was first published in the U.S.

Now we are getting closer to the truth….

The problem with the aforementioned is that there is no mention of October 18, 1851, or London. None of those bother to tell you that Herman Melville’s novel was published first outside of the United States, almost a month earlier. You may think, “Oh, well they are just saying that it was first published in America on this day. I am sure that they give recognition to London on its day in October.” Nope… if you go back to the post for October 18th, hardly any of them–if any–bother to mention that it was published on this day.

440 International, while humorous, posted an entire blog post about the book and did not mention London or October 18th. This was the extent on the book’s publication.

Thus begins Herman Melville’s book Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, which was first published in New York City by Harpoon & Brothers on this day in 1851. (Sorry. We meant Harper & Brothers.)

This Day in History Moby-Dick

Probably what struck me as the most odd is what History Channel did. “Nov 14, 1851: Moby-Dick published” was the title and featured item on their This Day in History post.

Nothing else interesting happened today in history? You can’t top this?

The most interesting thing that happened today was that America came in second place in publishing a novel? They did mention that it was first published in London. (Assuming that you read the 147 words to get that far.) 

Personally, I would rather hear about illegal stock trading or Apollo 12.

I am far from perfect. I am sure that I have a mistake or two on my site, but I try to fact check. I mean, I am not going to be a snob and harp on the fact that I covered the publishing of Moby-Dick on its proper day, October 18th…

In all seriousness, I hope that you take something from this and be aware when you use the internet as a source. Do not let me dissuade you from using the internet as a source, but double-check your facts. I figure I should leave you with a good example–other than Hankering for History–of a site that would be a good source. Christopher Matson, a Stanford University Reference and Instruction Librarian, doesn’t always do an “On This Day” post, but when he does, he does them right. Matson covered the publication on its real date on October 18th, and immediately covered both dates in his post. His first two sentences were:

It was on this day in 1851 that Herman Melville’s novel Moby-Dick was first published (under the title The Whale) by Richard Bentley in London. The first American edition was published on November 14 of that year by Harper & Brothers in New York.

Internet as a source

That is how it is done!

The picture to your right shows that you are “desperate for an answer.” Maybe it is desperation–to find a correct answer! So do not always take Google’s first page at full value. It doesn’t hurt to go back a few pages and see what the little guy has to say.

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