Military Research on the Internet

Matthew D. Bird

From Army History Issue 33, Spring 1995

The Internet--a global network of computers at government sites, libraries, and universities around the world--can be a valuable research tool for the military scholar. Internet users can "visit" museums and military academies remotely, participate in electronic discussions on topics of interest, search the library catalogs of hundreds of libraries around the world, and retrieve press releases, photographs, and sound recordings. There are virtual libraries and online reading rooms accessible twenty-four hours a day on the Internet, through which users can read and retrieve portions of dictionaries, encyclopedias, speeches, classic books, and other information. Internet users can also obtain the full text of historical documents such as the Magna Carta, the Mayflower Compact, the colonial Military Instructions of 1636, the U.S. Constitution, the German and Japanese surrender documents of 1945, the Tonkin Gulf Resolution of 1964, and many others.

For those who do not yet have access to the Internet, there are many options for getting connected. Students and faculty at many universities have "free" access privileges, i.e., supported through their student fees or departmental budgets. Some universities also offer Internet accounts to their alumni at student rates--as little as $75 per year. Many government employees also have no-cost Internet access through their offices. Some local governments now offer free, or almost free, Internet access to their citizens through so-called "Free-nets"; examples include the city of Cleveland and the state of Maryland. For those who do not fall into any of these categories, there are commercial firms such as America Online and Delphi which offer Internet access for a fee, typically $120 to $200 per year. To locate a commercial Internet access provider, browse the ads in a magazine such as BYTE, Internet World, or PC Magazine, or contact your favorite reference librarian or local academic computing center.

One of the most exciting recent developments in Internet access is the World Wide Web (WWW), which permits users to retrieve audio and video information as well as text. With the proper equipment and connections, WWW users can view graphics files (such as photographs and paintings from museums) and listen to music or speeches, as well as retrieve text files. One major drawback of is that because graphics files are so much larger than text files, accessing the WWW efficiently requires a very high-speed telecommunications link, typically 28.8 KB per second or faster. (The modems used with most home personal computers typically handle 2.4, 9.6, or 14.4 KBps.) Some commercial online services, such as Prodigy, are now offering the World Wide Webb to their customers, but until faster modems become the norm, such home access to the WWW will remain unacceptably slow. Full WWW access is available by purchasing special services known as SLIP and PPP (Serial Line Internet Protocol and Point-to-Point Protocol), but these require a fast modem (14.4 or 28.8 KBps) and the cost of the services--typically over $500 per year--puts these options out of reach for most individuals. Scholars at institutions with access to the World Wide Web will want to explore this new resource, but this article will focus on text-based applications accessible from home with a personal computer and a modem.

For the beginning user, one of the easiest ways to sample the Internet is through the menu-driven GOPHER system. A gopher is a set of software menus and telecommunication protocols that lets users "tunnel" or "burrow" through the Internet, hence the name. (It is also the school mascot at the University of Minnesota, where the first gopher software was developed in 1991.) Because the software is standardized, all gopher menus have similar formats, and by making selections from a gopher menu, users can connect to host computers at universities and research centers all over the world. Many university gophers provide access to local information (campus phone directories, course listings, schedules of local events, etc.) as well as to library catalogs and archives containing subject-specific data. Users can connect to a gopher at a university in England or South Africa or Japan and search the library catalog or search one of the many Federal Government gophers here in the United States and retrieve information such as White House press releases, Supreme Court decisions, and other government documents. There are many approaches to "mining" the Internet for information. This article explores the following options, of interest to students of military subjects:

Military Sites on the Internet

On the Internet there are several gophers whose focus is primarily military; most are located at military academies. These include the Australian Defence Force Academy (Canberra, Australia), the Citadel (Charleston, South Carolina), NATO, the U.S. Military Academy, and Virginia Military Institute (Lexington, Virginia). Internet users can access these gophers in at least three ways: geographically, by subject, or directly by using the TELNET command. The geographical approach is to access a top-level gopher menu, then choose the appropriate continent, then the country, then the state, etc., until the desired gopher choice appears. From a subject tree or gopher jewel menu (explained further, below), one typically selects the subject area "military" and then the appropriate gopher site. Users who know the numeric or domain Internet address of a particular site may connect directly by means of the telnet command. (For example, to access the library at West Point, one could either issue the command "telnet" or "telnet LIBRARY.USMA.EDU.")

Using Subject Trees and Gopher Jewels

Among the richest Internet resources for military scholars are gopher jewels and subject trees. These two types of Internet tools are variations on the same theme: collections of Internet resources, grouped by subject. Many gopher site menus include gopher jewels, which are collections of the favorite Internet resources of a gopher site's administrators and/or users. Gopher jewels are often eclectic, but can provide links to previously undiscovered resources.

Subject trees are available at fewer sites than gopher jewels, but they tend to be more extensive. One of the best subject trees for those with military interests is on the BUBL (Bulletin Board for Libraries) Information Service gopher in England. From a top-level gopher menu, the path is Europe/United Kingdom/BUBL Information Service/ Subject Tree/1.BUBL Subject Tree/20.Military Art & Science. This yields more than a dozen screens of menu choices on military subjects (over 100 separate items), and includes links to most of the military gophers around the world. The gopher at Rice University in Texas also has a subject tree with many military items.

Using Internet Search Tools (VERONICA, JUGHEAD, ARCHIE)

Although subject trees and gopher jewels are often useful, they may not contain the specific terms or subjects of interest to a user. In that case, one can use an Internet tool called VERONICA (Very Easy Rodent-Oriented Net-wide Index to Computerized Archives) to search hundreds of gophers for menu items containing relevant terms, such as "nuclear weapons" or "naval aviation." Veronica literally searches the titles of every menu item on every gopher on the Internet. If the search retrieves any matches, the user can immediately connect to the relevant host by choosing it from the list of Veronica search results.

Two related tools are JUGHEAD and ARCHIE. Jughead, which is available at some gopher sites, permits users to search all menu items at that single site. For example, a Jughead search for the word "military" at the Oxford University gopher retrieved five files--a five-part list of frequently asked questions and answers about military aviation.

Archie searches files at anonymous ftp (file transfer protocol) sites worldwide. An anonymous ftp site is a host computer which permits remote users to access and retrieve public files anonymously, by sending the computer a request for a particular file, and specifying the address to which the file should be sent. The computer then retrieves the file and sends it to the requester by electronic mail.

Retrieving Historical Documents from Text Archives

There are several collections of historical documents accessible through the Internet. In most cases, users can download the full text of a document to their hard drives, then view the text at leisure or print it locally. To explore three examples of document archives, try connecting to the University of Michigan Libraries gopher, then select "Humanities Resources" followed by "History." You will then be able to choose from the following:

Currently, the most complete document collection seems to be the one at Mississippi State; among the categories to choose from are 19th century, 20th century, Afro-American, Gulf War, Revolution, Vietnam, World War I, World War II, Colonial, Early Republic, Constitutions, Bibliographies, and Reviews. There are, of course, several different ways to connect to this--or any other--Internet resource. For example, the Mississippi State Historical Texts Archives may also be reached through the military section of the subject tree on the BUBL gopher in the United Kingdom.

Searching Online Library Catalogs

One of the least glamorous uses of the Internet can nevertheless be extremely fruitful for the serious researcher: searching library catalogs remotely. Although users as yet cannot retrieve the text of books found on most online library catalogs, a keyword or subject search may turn up a relevant book with which the researcher is not familiar. The book may then be purchased or borrowed locally, or ordered through Inter-Library Loan. Among the best library catalogs for military scholars to search are 1) those at military schools (e.g., the U.S. Military Academy), 2) those at universities with strong military history holdings (e.g., the University of Michigan), and 3) those associated with very large libraries (e.g., Harvard or the Library of Congress).

After accessing the catalog at a likely library, one useful approach is to look up a relevant known title, check the subject descriptors on the library record, and then run a second search using one or more of those descriptors. Another approach is to search by the name of an author known to have written on the subject in question, in case he or she has published (or collaborated on) something else of interest.

Participating in a USENET Group

USENET groups are electronic discussion groups which focus on specific topics. Participants may post questions and answers, engage in debate and discussion, or simply read what others have posted. The Campus-Wide Information Systems (CWIS) at many universities have news reading services that permit users to read the offerings of USENET groups. Alternatively, anyone able to access the gopher network will find that several gopher sites offer USENET access, usually under a menu choice described as NEWS. To sample some of the available USENET discussions, try the Michigan State gopher in the United States or the BUBL gopher in Britain. There is an astonishing range of USENET groups, but beware!--the quality of the offerings varies tremendously. Some of those which military scholars may find worthwhile include the following:

sci.military | sci.crypt | sci.crypt.research

rec.aviation.military | soc.politics | soc.history.war.misc | soc.veterans | alt.war.civil.usa

Joining a LISTSERV

LISTSERVs are similar to USENET groups; each one focusses on a specific topic of interest. With a LISTSERV, however, users add their e-mail addresses to the list, then they automatically receive a copy of every message posted to that LISTSERV. In some LISTSERVs, that may add up to a dozen or more messages each day, so new users may want to try out a particular LISTSERV for a few days to determine whether they want to continue to participate. Some potentially useful LISTERVs include the following:

AEROSP-L Aeronautics and Aerospace History

CONSIM-L Conflict Simulation Games

DISARM-L Disarmament Discussion List

H-WAR Military History

MARINE-L Marine Studies/Shipboard Education Discussion

MILHST-L Military History

WWII-L World War II

VWAR-L Vietnam War

Maintaining Current Awareness of Articles in Scholarly Journals

One of the most intriguing uses of the Internet is for electronic dissemination of publications on demand. Many university gophers permit users to browse the tables of contents of scholarly journals; often there are brief annotations describing the articles. To access this type of service, look for a gopher selection such as "Electronic Newsstand" or "Electronic Reading Room." There also are commercial firms which, for a fee, will fax or e-mail subscribers the tables of contents of specific journals as the journals are published. One such service, Uncover, will also provide full-text copies of specific articles for a charge, currently $9.00 per article. The article is faxed to the user within hours of the request, which makes Uncover faster than many other commercial methods of document retrieval.


This article has touched briefly on just a few of the ways in which military scholars can use the Internet for research and current awareness. One other resource worth mentioning in passing is electronic mail. E-mail enables people around the world to keep in contact with one another faster and more cheaply than via conventional surface mail or air mail. (Those services are collectively known as "snail mail" or "paper mail" by Internauts). And by attaching a text document to an e-mail message, users can exchange documents within minutes. In theory, two or more scholars could collaborate on writing a book or article together via e-mail without ever meeting face-to-face. The only drawback would be maintaining the security of their intellectual property, since the privacy of e-mail is not guaranteed.

Matthew D. Bird, formerly a Regular Army officer, is now a major, USAR. A Research Specialist (Law Librarian) at Kirkland & Ellis in Washington, D.C., Mr. Bird is a doctoral candidate in international politics at the University of Wales. He hold a B.A. in history from Princeton University, and M.A.s in strategic studies (Wales) and information and library studies (University of Michigan).

Suggestions for Further Reading

Those interested in learning more about using the Internet will find a wealth of user guides and fact sheets available online. Access your favorite gopher and look for a menu choice such as "Internet Resources," or check a gopher jewels collection or a subject tree for Internet information. There are also several good books on the subject, available in local bookstores and libraries. Two particularly useful titles are as follows:

Brendan P. Kehoe, Zen and the Art of the Internet: A Beginner's Guide to the Internet. (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1993), 112 pages; and

Ed Krol, The Whole Internet User's Guide and Catalog. (Sebastopol, Calif.: O'Reilly and Associates, 1992), 376 pages.

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