American Revolutionary War Website Review

By: Steve Sandor

Websites for comparison:

Website Comparison – The American Revolutionary War
By: Steve Sandor

Initial Search Results

Given the fact that the American Revolutionary War (ARW), as a whole, serves as the defining act of the foundation of the United States of America, one would expect no shortage of information-dense websites. Surprisingly though, the contrary seems to hold true. Websites that provide accurate, researched-based information founded on archival evidence were very sparse.

To begin with, a basic Google search for the topic yields many sites that only provide a basic timeline of events. This result seems to suggest that most web users are often looking for just basic information about the war and/or a cursory overview of the events. The Google algorithm, after all, works simply to push the most popular sites up front. Therefore, in my attempt to research sites for comparison, I felt it important to include several of the top results (given that this would more accurately reflect what the average user would happen upon) as well as an additional site which, though not listed highly in the search, seemed to provide more research friendly information.

Another factor seeming to contribute to the lack of strong sable search results was the large number of sites aligned to meet the needs of younger students. This also makes sense given that the ARW is a topic addressed several times in the course of the primary and secondary educational classes of American students. The assumption is that there are more likely thousands of students (and their teachers) in a given year accessing the internet to research information about this core subject than there are scholars and adults. The latter of which are more likely to turn to more comprehensive texts by established authors who may not feel the need to create a website to pair with their book.

Site Evaluation

1. History Channel

This site appeared as a top result more often than not when searching for the ARW. The fact that this site came up first and seems to be the go-to site for the average adult user came as little surprise. If there is one main strength in the efforts of the History Channel, it is its ability to disseminate a refined view of the ARW that is palatable to the average viewer. The function of the History Channel is to inform its viewers about historical events through realistic reenactments and recreations of historical events like the ARW. The website itself helps to support this function.


The site is set up to guide the user through videos pertaining to the topic that show reenactments of historical events. There is a slide gallery of related videos which scrolls across the top. Underneath the scroll the specific article pertaining to the topic is listed with a summary of information. The article pertaining to the topic is embedded with hyperlinks to related information within the site where applicable.

Beneath the information is a bank of links to related topics broken down in several categories: People and Groups, Theme, Events, and Related Topics. There is also separate side column of information listing related articles (also within the website) as well as a, “Did You Know?” section which offers up a little-known fact pertaining to the main article.


The main weakness of the site is due to its seeming intended mission – to provide a relatively informed overview about a given topic to the general public. While the site does offer a decent amount of information, it still is just detailed enough to provide a basic textbook overview of events. It does not offer citations, sources or in-depth analysis. No authors are credited to the articles; therefore there is no way to even attempt to judge the merit or expertise behind the information.

Another distracting aspect of the site is the advertisement. While the ads are all professional, they do take up a significant portion of the screen space and do not provide an option to minimize or remove while viewing.

2. The American Revolution


At first glance this site appears to be a comprehensive site with transcriptions of key documents. The site is relatively well organized with easy navigation between pages. There are links at the top and bottom of the pages and there seems to be a wealth of pages within the site to navigate to. In contrast to the History Channel site, this site appears much more information dense with detailed information about a large variety of topics associated with the ARW.

However, upon further inspection there is a glaring flaw within the site – verification of authenticity. To begin with, there are no links at all to primary source documents. This fact becomes painfully evident when it comes to the transcriptions. As a reader, there is no way to verify the veracity or accuracy of the transcriptions.

For example, in a view of the Stamp Act, there is a seemingly very good transcription of the document itself. There is even a section below that offers some analysis of the impact and meaning of the document. However, there is absolutely no link to a primary source or even a reference to where the author took the information from. While there is a small image embedded in the article, there is no way to click on the image or to get a closer or more complete view.



Even more troublesome from a research perspective is the details to the author himself. While the author seems to have done a very thorough job in setting up the site, he offers little to verify anything about his expertise in the subject.

In the “About the Author” segment it states:

He started building the site in February of 2001 and had the initial elements completed within a year. He then focused on reading every book he could get his hands on relating to The American Revolution. He estimates that he has read over 200 books on the subject but remains a huge supporter and evangelist of John Adams' legacy.

Given the effort that the author went to in setting up the site, it would seem appropriate that, at the very least, to list some of the “over 200 books on the subject” that were read.

It goes on to state:

"We work with schools and universities regularly to deliver the content that they require to support their lesson plans and curriculum. Thousands of educational institutions link to TheAmericanRevolution.Org and the site received close to 5 million unique visitors during the past 12 months."

Again, it would seem to make sense that if this site is truly being used as a source by so many educational institutions then there would be more effort to establish the credibility of the author. Additionally, in the entire page of text there is no mention at all of the educational experience of the author or a clue to what background he has from which to offer perspective on these historical events.

Advertisement Persona

The final aspect of the site which becomes glaring upon review is the nature of the advertisement. Many of the ads running on the sides of the page seem dubious in nature and are not necessarily appropriate for a site that presents itself as an authentic resource for historical research.

3. The American Revolution (The Williamsburg Foundation)


This final site of the three was more difficult to find. It did not pop up on the initial search page for Google and took some more effort to ferret out. The results overall however, were much more promising then the previous two web sites. That being said, this site was not without its own weaknesses and could substantially benefit from some minor adjustments to structure.


The greatest strength of the site has to be its attachment to the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation (CWF). On its home page, the CWF states,

“Colonial Williamsburg strives to conduct its activities in accordance with the highest ethical standards to assure accountability, informed decision-making, and policies that are consistent with the institution’s mission statement and public service responsibility. This is articulated in the Foundation’s mission and is supported by numerous policies and standards.”

They even offer a link to their code of ethics. While it would still be better to have authors linked to the various articles, the effort to make their intentions clear add a weight of credibility that the previous two sites were lacking.

Another positive aspect of the site is the availability of primary source materials. Sprinkled throughout the site are various images, documents, and artifacts which relate to the content on the page. When an individual item is selected, a new page opens which is either a related page with further detail about an individual or an object page. The object page offers a zoom function for closer inspection of detail.

The main page of the site itself is relatively well organized. Four major subheadings grouped by time period related to the ARW provide the initial portal into the site. In addition, it is possible to go to either people, multimedia and collections relating to the ARW or to browse the content via a series of preset themes such as cities, faith, or fashion. This all makes the initial perusal of the site very easy for the amateur browser and provides a structure for the large amount of material. However this initial ease of interface also betrays the main weakness of the site as well – the difficulty in focused navigation.


For all the wonderful material and information represented on the site, it is too easy to get lost and lose focus on what the initial search may have been. The site seems to be engineered to allow the user to wander from page to page absorbing information while providing tantalizing related content. While this is suitable for the amateur user, it is not helpful for anyone interested in doing more serious research. The links to main topics and collection items are helpful, but there is no search function for the site itself. A site-specific search function would simplify navigation and add a crucial element needed for this A time line link posted on the initial pages of each subheading, is helpful but this becomes replaced by links to related content on any other page. Short of using the back button or referencing the user's browser history,there is no way to easily navigate back to the main topics of research.

Final Notes

In the end, each site has something to offer to greater and lesser degrees. It seems that there is no one comprehensive web site referencing the ARW that is both user friendly and has a comprehensive source of primary source materials. What does exist is a variety of content generators whose goal is to address different needs for a varied user base

For the History Channel, the intent seems merely to supplement information for its television program for the average viewer. For the creator of the second site, the goal seems more about satisfying a personal need to create a space where the creator can display and discuss his own interaction with the material. The Williamsburg Foundation site seems to be a combination of both. While the site does hope to drive visitors to its brick and mortar site in Virginia, it also seems committed to sharing the wealth of information it has amassed with a variety of users and, in the process, create a space where the information can be viewed, interacted with and even discussed (as evidenced in the podcast segment of the web site). Each site serves a niche and it is up to the user to identify what is needed or wanted, and then pull it forth.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License