Explanation of PHRC Rating System
Application of PHRC Rating System
A Note About the Rating System
Public History Specific Criteria
Regular visitors to public history Web sites include historians and
non-historians; academic and non-academic publics. Oft times, Web sites are used
as the sole source of
historical information on particular topics, particularly by K-12 and
undergraduate students. Therefore, critical analysis of these sites is of the
utmost importance. We as public historians have a responsibility to critique and
evaluate these online resources, both to help improve the specific sites under
review and to raise the bar for the entire field of public history. Site analyses provide benefits to several
- The user gains an idea of the strengths and weaknesses of a site and the
validity and reliability of the information contained therein.
- The reviewed site benefits from a constructive outside appraisal.
- Un-reviewed public history sites benefit from having models of best
practices and common pitfalls.
- Critical site analyses encourage better scholarship and more engaging
presentations of public history.
- Ultimately, the historical record is served by site analyses; site
reviews provide traces of presentations of public history on the Web
during its first decade of existence.
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In order to facilitate Web site analysis and to create a uniform standard for
rating sites, PHRC has developed a list of criteria for evaluating public
history Web sites. The criteria have been divided into two major sections: basic
and public history specific. This division helps the reviewer analyze a site
from different perspectives and leads to a more thorough analysis. Basic
criteria for evaluating the quality of Web sites are readily available online.
PHRC's managing editors reviewed a number of different evaluation checklists and
compiled the criteria that we thought were most useful for our purposes into six
subsections (see below). The public history specific criteria have been created
by PHRC and are criteria that we feel are crucial aspects of the ideal public
history Web site.
PHRC has developed a weighted point system to standardize site ratings and to
create consistent ratings across sites. The Basic Criteria and the Public
History Specific Criteria each contain one hundred possible points. Therefore,
the maximum rating a site can receive is 200 points. The Basic Criteria section
is divided into six subsections, with each subsection worth 15 points for a
total of 90 points. The last ten points are available for the reviewer's
discretionary use in order to reflect his or her overall impression of the site.
The division of points in the Public History Specific Criteria section is
content oriented and driven by current practices as well as our conception of
the ideal public history Web site. This section is divided into four
subsections. Because public history’s unique contribution to the public sphere
and historical discourse is its "Interpretation of Materials," this
subsection is given the most weight. The remaining points are divided equally
between the final three subsections. "Primary Source Documents,"
"Education & Outreach," and "Promotion of a Community of
Interest" are all indicative of the direction in which public history
should be moving and in which the Web is positioned to make a unique
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This rating system works in the following way: a user reviews a site and
assigns points for each subcategory. These points are added up, and the total is
applied to a scale that indicates the rating that a site will receive (see
below). The bullets beneath each subcategory suggest specific facets of the
broader criteria to examine. They are not intended to be used as a strict method
for assigning points. For example, in the Timeliness/Permanence subsection
(worth 15 points total) there are three bulleted suggestions; these three
suggestions are not necessarily worth five points each.
The user is encouraged to apply the point system rigorously and to award
points judiciously. Rating sites is and should be a difficult task, requiring a
good deal of thought and analysis. Although it may be clear that the creators
have expended significant resources on their site, points should not be awarded
for "sweat of the brow," but rather for overall site quality. The goal
of PHRC is to be rigorous and analytic. With these reviews we hope to encourage
better scholarship rather than discourage the practice of public history on the
We recommend reading Issue Number 7 of our Web site reviews: PHRC's Rating System in the Classroom: Three Reviews of Canadian Web Sites to learn more about the application of the rating system. In this special issue, we have published three reviews as they were originally received by us, followed by comments from PHRC's editors regarding how the rating system was applied, where the editors agreed or disagreed with the author's assessment, and what the points that the editors would have awarded the site. The introduction to the issue is also helpful in its summary of some of the typical errors made in applying the rating system.
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These ratings are only applied to reviews of Web sites that present public
history. PHRC is currently in the process of developing a checklist for the
review of Web sites of public history consulting firms. Also, only reviews
posted on or after April 30, 2000, reflect the current ratings criteria; reviews
posted before this date use PHRC’s
previous rating system. Prior to March 2003, PHRC used the symbol of the statue of liberty to designate the levels of our rating system. A photo of the earth is now used in order to better signify the international aims of the site.
The Education (formerly called Education/Outreach) and Promotion of a Community of Interest sections of the criteria were revised in June 2003 in order to more explicitly describe the editorial assumptions that had governed PHRC's application of these criteria since April 2000.
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1 - 20 points: Half Earth
21 - 40 points: One Earth
41 - 60 points: One and One Half Earths
61 - 80 points: Two Earths
81 - 100 points: Two and One Half Earths
101 - 120 points: Three Earths
121 - 140 points: Three and One Half Earths
141-160 points: Four Earths
161 - 180 points: Four and One Half Earths
181 - 200 points: Five Earths
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Scope/Content (15 points
- Audience for the site/ stated purpose/
- Comprehensiveness/ completeness/ does it do
what it says it will
- Adequate amount of material to allow users
to see a number of viewpoints and draw their own conclusions?
- Well written, free of grammatical errors,
- NOTE: Scope and Content are covered in more
depth below, under Public History Specific
Authority/Bias (15 points
- Who is sponsoring the site/ providing
- Reliable contact information/ snail mail/
- What is the point of view
Timeliness/Permanence (15 points
- Posting/revision dates
- Do links work?
- Do you think the site will still be there in
Value Added Features (15
- Annotated Links
Technical Aspects (15 points)
- Accessibility/ text only alternative/ alt
tags in images/ plug-ins/ browser compatibility/ ADA compliant
- Navigation/ knowing where you are in the
site/ knowing how to get back, go forward
Aesthetics/Visual Clarity &
Appeal (15 points)
- Consistent theme
- Visual cohesiveness/ page layout
- Readability/ colors/ font sizes/ background
Overall impression of the site
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Interpretation of materials (40
- Original interpretive essays/exhibit
available, written by an identified authority in the field?
- Secondary/primary sources used &
- Peer review of site/interpretations
- Does the site point people to additional
sources/ help them formulate their own view point of the subject/
- Is the site accessible to non-academic
publics/ jargon free/ visually appealing
Primary source documents (20
- Searchable database of materials?
- Does the site include both scanned,
verifiable, images and rekeyed, searchable information?
- Explanations of how primary source items
were described, digitized, etc.
- Physical location of originals cited?
- Scope of the collection? Reasoning behind
the selection of particular documents?
- Has the site taken into account copyright
issues regarding the material they're making available?
Education (20 points
- Available curriculum enabling a teacher to use the material in a classroom?
- Does the site contain interactive learning materials? For example, online games that promote critical thinking and learning of the material, tools that assist students in using the material to create school reports, and exercises designed for students to complete on their own, outside the supervision of an instructor?
- Does the site showcase or link to student work utilizing its on/offline materials?
- Any other special features that actively enhance the use of the site for the purposes of education? For example, an "Ask Doctor History" type of email address that students (or teachers) can pose questions to or opportunities to interact with experts through synchronous chat?
Promotion of a Community of
Interest (20 points possible)
In his discussion of the New
Deal Network, Tom Thurston writes: "I'd like to suggest a third
category of websites, 'associative portals,' or aortals. An aortal is a site
that enables the creation of social networks…. Its structure is designed to
foster the creation of distributed networks of academic communities. If a
website aims to be more than an archive, an online exhibit, a virtual textbook,
it must consider how it can nurture similar dynamic relationships" ("Building Social Networks with Computer Networks:
A New Deal for Teaching and Learning").
- Evidence of community involvement with materials? For example, mechanisms for community members to contribute to the historical record presented on the site?
- Evidence of active involvement in issues of importance to the communities whose stories are told on the site or to communities whose interests correspond to the site's topic? For example, the New Deal Network actively supported the preservation of Hugo Gellert's Seward Park Murals, using its electronic network and Web site to assist organizational efforts, publicize the issue, and further legitimize the preservation efforts.
- Does the site sponsor any Listservs, bulletin boards, conferences, outreach, etc around the topic?
- Interactive components outside of those covered under Education?