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Portals to the Past

By Michal Strutin
November 10, 2023

Finding historical information takes time. Hopefully, this curated list of best websites will help. I’ve put on my research librarian hat and discovered comprehensive sites that embody a culture or a specific period with reliable authenticity. Wikipedia is an option, but caveat emptor and check the references at the bottom. This list of portals is not comprehensive. They’re simply those I’ve picked. If you want to go deeper, try the databases and books at your local library.

 

“Hair Stories” by Monica Rickert-Bolter from museum’s art exhibit

American Indian

“American Indian” or “Native American”? It’s best to name native peoples by tribe: Seminole, Ohlone, Lakota, etc. Sometimes, the name tribes call themselves is not the same as what’s been handed down, often by others. So, Navajo = Dine’; Sioux = Lakota; Chippewa = Anishinaabe. The best comprehensive site is the National Museum of the American Indian. Within the site are visual collections that include basketmaking, clothing, games/gambling, and more. A research department provides emails to researchers and their specialties. When I get stuck on hard-to-find information, I’ve found that experts at museums and universities usually are willing to help. Native Pasts is another good site to check. National Congress of American Indians, founded in 1944, “is the oldest, largest, and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native organization.” The alphabetical tribal directory allows you to filter a tribe’s official name by region and by letter. The directory includes contact information, but not websites. Search for one of the 646 tribes, then do a website search.

 

United States History

United States History Timeline, by the Library of Congress (LoC), offers classroom materials from primary sources to tell America’s history, divided into nine periods, from Colonial Settlement to Post-War U.S. Each period offers an overview and links to some of that period’s most significant events embedded with further links to specific letters and documents. Plus primary sources that include everything from Abraham Lincoln’s rise to national prominence to children’s lives at the turn of the twentieth century. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History Price of Freedom units begin with the War of Independence and end with New American Roles.

 

Minute Man National Historical Park

Colonial Settlement and American Revolution

The National Park Service tells the story of the American Revolution through a timeline that offers links to seventeen national historical parks and battlefields, in timeline order: from Fort Necessity National Battlefield to Independence National Historical Park. Also: LoC’s Colonial Settlement and American Revolution.

 

Civil War

Wikipedia offers a robust portal to the American Civil War. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History’s Price of Freedom site covers all of America’s wars including a twelve-part Civil War component, from John Brown to Reconstruction. In The Valley of the Shadow “explore the lives of people swept up in the great American dramas of slavery, war, and emancipation. The two communities, one in the North and one in the South, experienced every national challenge from secession through Reconstruction.” Plus LoC’s Civil War and Reconstruction.

 

From the museum’s exhibit “Slavery & Freedom.”

African American History

The National Museum of African American History & Culture provides a four-part look at Slavery & Freedom 1400-1877. In the museum’s Resources section, explore Slavery and Freedom from a variety of curated sources. Use the search box for specific queries. Slave Voyages documents “36,000 voyages that forcibly transported enslaved Africans across the Atlantic between 1514 and 1866.” Plus origins of enslaved people, the tortuous Middle Passage, and destinations in the Americas.

 

Western Expansion / “The Old West”

LoC’s Traveling Overland Trails provides primary-source documents and ways of searching for more on frontier and pioneer life. Smithsonian magazine’s “The American West Gets a Much-Needed Rewrite” and The Real Wild West, a four-part mini-series on CuriosityStream via Prime, rectifies the mythologizing of the “Old West.” If it’s legends you want, try Adventures in the American West, with cowboys, trappers, miners, scoundrels, etc. Or Old West, with subsections on lawmen, outlaws, women, life in the West, and more.

 

Early Twentieth Century and World War I

LoC’s Progressive Era to New Era, 1900-1929 includes segments and photos on the growth of cities, immigrants, prohibition, women’s suffrage, and WWI. The Roaring Twenties and Jazz Age is covered in The Collector, a “community for scholars, classrooms, and enthusiasts.” For WWI alone, see The National WWI Museum and Memorial, tagged as “The World’s Most Comprehensive WWI Collection.”

 

The Great Depression and World War II

The Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum includes Great Depression Facts and much more, especially about FDR’s New Deal. Also see LoC’s Great Depression and WWII and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History WWII. Although a number of Holocaust museums exist in America and elsewhere, the U.S. Holocaust Museum is the most comprehensive: from an introduction, Nazi propaganda, and antisemitism to podcasts and an encyclopedia that covers, for example, race laws, concentration camps, and survivors.

 

Map of the Roman Empire

The Roman Empire

History of Ancient Rome, “much of it written by academics and historians,” offers six sections: Daily Life, Economy Military, Government, People, and Provinces with subsections to each. Daily Life includes 16 subsections: from gladiator to literature, religion to roads. It includes a section on provinces; another on maps. Plus a “forum,” where people can exchange information on various topics. The Roman Empire is also an “illustrated history,”  divided into nine subset period pages from The Founding (1200-625 BC) to Constantinople (326-1453). Separate topic pages include architecture, army and battles, people, society and life, etc. Plus there’s articles. Be forewarned: you have to swat away ads.

 

Medieval

Medieval Digital Resources: a Digital Guide and Database is maintained by the Medieval Academy of America. It includes a detailed search tool. Plus you can browse an A-Z list or via subject guides to this fairly academic site. The Medieval period of Europe lasted from approximately the fifth through fifteen centuries. Medievalists.net covers Medieval Europe and the Asian Middle Ages, too. Articles, games, books, features, teaching resources (a bit pricey) are jumbled into this shaggy but fascinating portal. From tabs at the top you can choose features, news, online courses, and podcasts. And there’s a search tool.

 

English/British History

Rundown on English and British Royal Eras – just in case you can’t remember where, say, the Stuart Era came into the picture. This brief overview includes pictures and links within the text to royal palaces, politics, etc. For more in depth, there’s British History Online. Most of its 1300 volumes and their contents are free, plus thousands of images and maps. You can browse by source type, place, subject, or period. Or search via title and keywords. Try their subject guides. From the Institute of Historical Research, this is not flip stuff.

 

Tudors

Tudor Times’ content falls into six subgroups: people, places, religion, politics and economy, daily life, military and warfare. Each subgroup is further subdivided, all with images. The content is created by an editorial team and recognized authorities. Tudorhistory.org, run by a self-professed “amateur historian,” is full of content and easy to negotiate. But it hasn’t been updated since 2011. ElizabethI.org is devoted to the Tudor queen, Elizabeth I: the various stages of her life, church, government, food, Elizabethan women, important people and events. With links to Shakespeare, books on Mary, Queen of Scots, and more. Published by an author/historian.

 

The Duomo, Florence, Italy

Renaissance

Wikipedia’s Italian Renaissance site is particularly robust, with major divisions: origins and background, historical development, and culture. Each is full of detailed subdivisions. Check the references and other links at the end of the site. The Collector’s Italian Renaissance also has plenty of background and links to where the Renaissance led. Although I’m a bit skittish about the History Channel, it too has a robust Renaissance portal with subdivisions: Humanism, Medicis, Art & Science, Exploration, and more. Plus Resources links.

 

Regency

Regency Explorer Anna M. Thane provides a host of links and blogposts on all things Regency. Both Thane and Candice Hern, who offers Regency World, reference Nancy Mayer’s Regency Researcher: everyday living, food, marriage, politics, people, places, science, war, and more.

 

Victorian

The Victorian Web is truly one-stop shopping, with an opening graphic that makes it visually easy to get wherever you want to go. The site has lots of links, simply listed under headings. Some link to text only, some to images, some to both.

 

Ottomans

TheOttomans.Org is also one-stop, with tabs for History, Campaigns – Army, The Family, Art and Culture. Each tab opens a page full of links; for example Art and Culture has links to architecture, costumes, science and technology, and more than a dozen other subjects, including one to the poet Rumi. The top band links to maps, a glossary to Ottoman terms, and a robust list of references. Because Book 2 in the mystery trilogy I’m working on is set in sixteenth-century Istanbul, I’ve spent time at this site.  All About Turkey – The Ottomans is another site with history, plenty of links, and a linked list of sultans.

 

Ganges River from “The Story of India.”

India

Cultural India’s top banner includes links to history, Indian art, social issues, even Indian weddings. Click the history link and you’re offered about twenty links to India’s long and rich history. No images though. The same with art: lots of information; sadly, no images. The Story of India synopsizes the six episodes of the PBS series that features the history and cultures of India. There’s a timeline link, alphabetized topic links, a photo gallery, and a list of further resources.

 

China

Chinese History Digest divides into two parts: the first section looks at China’s historical periods, starting with prehistory. Within each of the numerous periods are images and links to further information. The second section tells about selected historic sites, along with images and links. Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s LibGuide on Chinese History & Culture includes a list of rulers, maps, links to histories of Song and Qing dynasties, and an annotated timeline. The timeline, from Columbia University, includes timelines to Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and South Asia.

 

The Story of Sundiata, founder of the Mali Empire

Africa

Africa is a huge continent…where to begin? Wikipedia’s History of Africa includes lots of links to pre-colonial states and kingdoms—Mali and Congo, for instance. A search for Africa at The Collector website yields dozens of articles, on random but interesting topics.

 

Books

Greenwood Press’s Daily Life in… series of books is a more in-depth way of exploring a particular time and place. This list does not include all of the series and many are now a bit rare, thus expensive. For others in the series, search Greenwood Press Daily Life.

Michal Strutin

Written by Michal Strutin

Judging Noa: a Fight for Women’s Rights in the Turmoil of the Exodus is Michal Strutin’s debut novel. She is now working on a mystery series set in the Late Renaissance. Michal’s award-winning nonfiction focuses on natural and cultural history and travel. Her eight nonfiction books include Places of Grace: the Natural Landscapes of the American Midwest with photographer Gary Irving; Discovering Natural Israel, a high-spirited discovery of flora, fauna, and people; Florida State Parks: a Complete Recreation Guide; and History Hikes of the Smokies.

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