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American History Online

By Alice Kurtz - Posted Nov 1, 2006
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REPORT CARD
Overall Rating:4 Stars
Installation:A
Content/Features:A
Ease of Use:A
Product Support:A

Company: Facts on File, Inc., 132 West 31st Street, 17th floor, New York, NY 10001; Phone: 800/322-8755; Internet: http://www.factsonfile.com/.

Price: The cost is based on full-time student enrollment; K-12 library pricing starts at $530. The price includes unlimited use within the school and remote access privileges.

Audience: 7th grade-high school.

Format: Online database.

Minimum System Requirements: A computer with a browser and Internet access.

For Macintosh computers, the company recommends Internet Explorer 5.1 or any version of Safari.

For Windows computers, the recommendation is at least Internet Explorer 5, Netscape 4.74, or any version of Firefox.

Description: American History Online offers a redesigned and updated multimedia reference database that encompasses the history of America, from the Era of Exploration to the 21st century.

Reviewer Comments:

Installation/Access: The database is accessed online with a password and user name. There was no problem getting to the opening pages. Installation/Access Rating: A

Content/Features: American History Online provides access to thousands of cross-referenced hyperlinked entries that examine the people, places, and events that make up the story of America's past.

The encyclopedic content is contained in specific areas—Biographies, Primary Sources, Timeline, Image Gallery, Events and Topics, Maps and Charts—and is accessed through Search or Browse functions.

New program features include additional images, expanded and updated information, and a new interface. New Learning Centers highlight standard historical time periods such as Colonial America or the Roaring 20s with essays, articles, and hotlinks to people, places, and events of the times. The information in the database can be printed, copied, and saved.

American History Online divides the entries in its database into nine features or sections. The Biographies section offers thousands of biographies of historical figures. The Events and Topics area describes themes, events, movements, and organizations. Primary Sources includes the full text of speeches, court decisions, and other documents of American History.

The Timelines section generates timelines of events of selected historic eras. The Overview Essays, a new feature, outline various time periods.

The Image Gallery displays images of people, places, and events from American History. The Maps and Charts section offers a selection of maps, charts, tables, and graphs detailing statistics and trends in American History.

The 15 Learning Centers help users begin research on a specific time period, from the Colonial era to the present. The entries provide materials that give a broad and balanced look at a topic.

The Editor's Selection of the Month examines historical events tied to each month of the year and provides a spotlight on selected topics.

Each database section is reached through the main navigation tool available on every page of the Web site. Searching is not case-sensitive; it is accomplished by entering a specific term or phrase in the search box. The Browse feature allows users to peruse a section by topic, event, or time period.

The Advanced Search function offers a full-text search with exact matching or relative terms. Search words are highlighted in the text.

Browsing is accomplished by choosing one of the informational sections. A user choosing Biography, for example, may select a subject by occupation, event, or era.

All of the sections may be browsed by subject, time period, or topic. New features enable the search of Biographies by Occupation and Primary Source materials by Type.

The entries are cross-referenced and have a similar encyclopedic format. When I searched for Rosa Parks, a total of 34 Biographies, 11 Subject References, six Primary Sources, and one Image Gallery photo appeared. The located materials are displayed in tabs across the top of the page. The first biography offered the full-text biography, a sidebar of related topics, and bibliographic references for additional information.

Each entry also offers source citation information. At the time of this review, the materials were updated through 2006.

It would probably be a good idea to review search terms in advance with students, since each word in a phrase is searched independently when using the Search Box without advanced search. For example, if students search using the word Katrina, they will not only get information on the hurricane, but also information on Katrina from the story of Ichabod Crane.

The search function works well when users need to find historical information fairly quickly. The cross-references and hyperlinks make the articles so much richer than a print encyclopedia; these are the best features of the Web site. In addition, the new tabbed search results and the Learning Centers also provide quick access to materials and related resources that offer a broad look at a topic.

The newly designed interface is visually appealing. Images and colors are used broadly, making the pages attractive. The clear navigation allows both inexperienced and experienced researchers to have quick access to rich cross-referenced information on a selected topic.

A fair amount of scrolling is necessary to read a complete search entry; there isn't a quick way to jump through a list of items. For example, if there are 489 hits for a topic, the user can't jump from article three to 300.

The text is clearly written and hotlinked, with background information on related subjects, people, and concepts mentioned in the body of the text. Most students in middle school and high school could read and understand the entries without much difficulty. Content/Features Rating: A

Ease of Use: This database is quite easy to use and the interface is very simple and clear. The newly updated use of colors and the tabbed resources that appear with a search allow for easy access to topical materials.

The search by keyword or phrase, browse feature, and advanced search tools are fairly straightforward. The navigation is very user-friendly. When I read the first biography of Rosa Parks, the top toolbar offered the choices of Home, Category Results, and Biography Search Results. Clicking on any of these options took me quickly to the selected location.

Home and Help are available on the top of each page. Help offers suggestions for searching, together with an annotated description of each of the database sections. Home returns the user to the starting page of the database. Ease of Use Rating: A

Product Support: Product support is available by toll-free telephone consultation or by e-mail. Product Support Rating: A

Recommendation: American History Online offers a huge range of American historical information gathered together into a database that is easy to use. The search tools provide a variety of ways to access information, making the database a great place for students to begin projects and papers.

The new features, such as the Learning Centers, alert students to other materials on their topics that will provide a richer research experience for them. The program also provides links to other historic Web sites and bibliographies offering additional sources of information for more in-depth research projects.

In addition to its use as a reference tool, the database can be used to teach beginning researchers about the types of resources to consider when seeking complete information on a topic. This newly redesigned database offers an excellent reference piece on American History for any school library. Highly recommended.

Reviewer: Alice Kurtz, 5/6 grade teacher, Irving B. Weber School, Iowa City, IA.


 
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