America History and Life on the Web – Reviewed 1999

Reviewed by Royce Kurtz, University of Mississippi Libraries, June 16, 1999

America : History and Life on the Web, 1964-date. ABC-Clio, 130 Cremona Drive, Santa Barbara, Ca. 93117, phone 1-800-368-6868, Fax 1-805-685-9685, http://www.abc-clio.com, Two to six simultaneous users cost $6,500 with prices increasing incrementally to over 20 users and negotiated consortium fees. Pricing is independent of ownership of the paper product.

Introduction:

ABC-Clio’s America: History and Life is the premiere bibliographic index for scholarly articles, reviews of media and books, and dissertations on American and Canadian history. Almosrtations on American and Canadian history. Almost 20,000 entries (5% of the database) treat the archaeology, history and culture of native North Americans, and there are thousands of citations referring to ethnic and racial minorities in Canada and the United States. America: History and Life on the Web contains all entries from the index’s inception in 1964 to the present. Students and researchers will find the Web version with its combination of boolean and menu driven searching a major advance over the cumbersome paper indexes. The Web version is simpler, more streamlined, and user friendly than the CD-ROM product. Blue buttons and blue highlighted links replace the pull down menus and function keys so daunting to beginning users of the CD-ROM.

Scope and Coverage:

America: History and Life on the Web defines its scope broadly as American and Canadian history and culture. Indexing is comprehensive for scholarly articles and reviews in history journals, including those of state and local historical societies. There is, according to ABC-Clio, selected coverage of appropriate articles from a broad range of other social science and humanities journals and learned journals in related fields, including many foreign language titles. After history, the thematic emphases of indexed journals are sociological and political. Articles from journals with literary, fine arfrom journals with literary, fine arts, or technological emphases are much less frequent, and these journals generally have either an historical theme, e.g. Technology and History, a regional theme, e.g. Western American Literature, or an ethnic theme, e.g. American Indian Art Journal.

Geographic scope of coverage is confined to Canada and the United States, but articles discussing the impact of American culture on other areas of the world are included. Cities and small geographic features are preceded in the list of subject terms by the province or state in which they are located, e.g. Nevada (Reno). The ability to keyword search the subject field means Reno can be located without going to the Nevada section of the alphabetic list, a major advantage of the electronic index.

Articles are written in 41 languages; 95% are in English with French a distant second at 2%. Of the 415,362 entries in the database over 60% are journal articles, 28% book reviews, and 11% are dissertations gleaned from the files of Dissertation Abstracts International. The list of journals (over 3,600) and the number of entries indexed from each journal are found by browsing the Journal Name field. No indication is given as to which journal titles receive full indexing coverage, but half of the journals listed have under 20 articles in the database.

America: History and Life on the Web is updated monthly. As of June 16, 1999, there were 342 entries with a 1999 imprint, 3474 with 1998 imprints, and 9021 dated 1997, compared with 12,679 for 1996 and 13,701 for 1995. Citations are added to the Web version of the database before completing the abstracting and subject heading assignment. This has greatly speeded up access to current citations.

Record Structure:

The entries in America: History and Life on the Web have as many as 12 fields depending on the document type. The four major document types are journal article, book review, media review, and dissertation. The standard journal article entry has the following fields: Document Type, Author, Title, Journal Citation, Abstract, Documentation, Abstracter, Language, Time Period, Subject Terms, ISSN, and Print Entry Number. Subject terms are assigned by ABC-Clio. Paragraph-long abstracts of between 75-100 words accompany each journal citation. Records for reviews and dissertations lack abstracts. The reviews have additional fields for the book or media citation, the book/media author, and the review author.

The America: History and Life on the Web opening screen displays a search menu with ten fields: Keyword, Subject Terms, Author/Editor, Title/Translation, Language, Document Type, Journal Name, Publication Date, Time Period, andme, Publication Date, Time Period, and Entry Number. The blue highlighted name of each field is linked to a help screen which clearly defines the elements in the bibliographic record included in the search field and the search operators available for that specific field. Helpful examples are also provided. Spyglass icons to the right of the Subject Terms, Author/ Editor, Language, Document Type, Journal Name, and Time Period search boxes provide access to the browse indexes. Blue buttons help the searcher perform operations such as starting a search (Search), accessing screens for general help (Help), and sorting citations for display (User Options).

A Keyword search is a combination of words in the Title, Abstract, and Subject Terms fields. Numbers and dates can not be searched in either the Keyword or Subject Terms field. The ability to search time periods, as opposed to date of publication, is a unique and important feature. Decades may be searched by using a “d” for decade, or centuries may be searched using an “h” for hundred at the end of the appropriate date, e.g. 1900h or 1950d. Sample entries by the Time Period field of the records retrieved in a search for 1950d are: 1920-58, 1940-94, 1954-62, 1950-55.

Six fields in the menu can be either keyword searched or browsed. By linking through the spyglass icon and then typing a term, the searcher moves through an term, the searcher moves through an alphabetic list which indicates the number of entries under each heading. By checking one or more items in the list, the researcher can paste the items connected by the or operator into the appropriate field in the opening search menu. The Web version provides the boolean search operators-and, or, and not-along with an exact phrase operator-the paired quotation marks-as well as nesting using parentheses (although not mentioned in the Help screens). The two adjacency operators-adj and near-which were available in the CD-ROM version, are not part of the Web search. There are two truncation symbols, the asterisk (*) for any number of letters and the question mark (?) for a single letter. The operator and is assumed between words and is also assumed between menu fields.

In the Web version the sort options (by Author, Title, Language, Document Type, Journal Name, and Publication Date) must beublication Date) must be set before the search is begun. The results of a search are displayed in a brief citation format. The researcher can tag desired records, go to a full display with abstract, or use the side menu bar to start a new search, modify the current search, display items tagged or advance to the output options screen which allows e-mailing, printing or downloading files in an ascii format. Records may be printed with or without abstracts. The records are displayed, neatly framed, in large, easily readable type. Blue navigation buttons allow the user to switch quickly between brief and full entry formats, advance quickly through many screens of records, or return to the top of the page to the general navigation buttons.

User Guidance:

A general introductory help screen is available. An alphabetic table of contents helps users navigate the help screen. Help screens are also available for each menu field. Directions are clear, detailed, and accompanied with examples. The thesaurus of subject terms, available as a browseable index, is often useful in locating personal names by revealing differences in the way names have been entered through the years. Variation in the spelling out of middle names often creates multiple index terms for a single individual. Some clean-up and standardization of terms is desirable.

Comparison with a Related Index:

Comparing America: History and Life on the Web with the electronic version of Anthropological Literature available through RLG’s CitaDel brings out important differences between the two indexes’ coverage. After adjusting for differences in time coverage and limiting the search to journal articles, a search of “Choctaw” yielded 45 entries in Anthropological Literature and 85 in America: History and Life on the Web. Only nine entries were duplicated. Anthropological Literature found articles uniquely in linguistics journals and state or local archaeological journals. America: History and Life on the Web indexed articles uniquely from state or local history journals. When searching for information that spans disciplinary lines on native North Americans and other ethnic groups, both indexes need to be consulted.

Summary:

America: History and Life on the Web‘s coverage of Canada and the United States is, as expected, weighted heavily in favor of history journals. Its coverage of other disciplines favors political science and sociology with literature, fine arts, and science/technology a distant third. Its coverage of prehistory is limited by its lack of indexing of state and local archaeological journals.

ABC-Clio has put a lot of thought and planning in cons a lot of thought and planning in constructing its database and search engine. The ability to search time period rather than just publication date is a unique and valuable feature. The ability to do sophisticated and complex searches easily and quickly deserves high marks. America: History and Life on the Web is a must for anyone doing anthropological research on native Americans or ethnic minorities in the United States or Canada.

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