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the magic of the interweb

Anyone with a blog or an online journal knows how much the internet has changed our lives. There's the social element, of course, and there's the fact that so much information is so easily available. But what sometimes I forget is how quickly this has all happened. I wrote my Master's thesis in 1998, and at the time, the internet simply wasn't a viable method of research for my subject (Revolution for Fun: Counterculture and the Underground Press in England, 1959-1974. Fascinating stuff! Actually, it kind of was). There literally wasn't anything online about it - not very surprising, really, and as I had come through my BA degree in the days when the world wide web was in its early infancy and simply wasn't considered as a research tool for an arts degree, I didn't care. I was used to doing my academic research the old school way, and didn't expect anything else. But just a few minutes ago I googled Spare Rib (the Spare Rib Reader was one of my second hand purchases yesterday), and up came a bunch of articles on the subject. Stuff that I had to dig around to find and call up from stacks is now at my fingertips. I know this makes me sound a million years old, but it's really kind of odd how quickly this has changed.

And it's not just academic research. Last week I was listening to a very interesting play of Radio 4 about two aristocratic English cousins in the 18th century, one of whom was white and one of whom was mixed race. The latter was the acknowledged daughter of an English aristocrat and a former slave who was brought up with her white cousins. The play was centered on the two cousins sitting for a portraitby Zoffany, so I assumed this portrait really existed. A quick google later, and there they were - the real people from 200 years ago whose story I'd just been hearing. It's times like this that make the internet seem like a miracle.


Feb. 24th, 2005 12:21 pm (UTC)
What terrifies me is that I can't imagine how people did research before archive search engines. Most of the sources I have, I have because I went to a computer and typed in a keyword. I was asking my mum how they did it Back In The Olden Days and she spent hours and hours looking through card indexes and lists of publications. And once you'd got one article, you searched through its bibliography desperately looking for something else directly relevant. Terrifying!
Feb. 24th, 2005 12:28 pm (UTC)
Though I still find bibliography scans dead useful - perhaps because I totally suck at WOK searches. My keywords (particularly because I'm looking for sex and gender when they're variables in almost all psych stuff) bring up undifferentiated crud.
Feb. 24th, 2005 01:56 pm (UTC)
Search engines also make it easier to see where students are plagiarising from - all though many seem unaware that they might actually get caught. Or just don't understand the difference between "research" and "copying out large tracts of someone else's work".
Feb. 24th, 2005 02:07 pm (UTC)
And once you'd got one article, you searched through its bibliography desperately looking for something else directly relevant. Terrifying!

Yup. Thus I did my masters.[/venerable] I've never done proper academic research on the internet, but I can see how it could make a vast difference.

Hmm, though after a quick Google on my research topic (St. Bridget of Sweden, fact fans), I would have had to plough through an awful lot of useless Holy And Prayerful Websites....


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