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Essay, evaluating a website on medieval Islamic culture

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ASSIGNMENT: 1000-1200 word essay, evaluating a website on medieval Islamic culture by following the steps and answering the questions below
There are safeguards in place in the world of scholarly publishing, to ensure that errors, bias, poor methodology, outdated information, sloppy research, and plagiarism are eliminated. These safeguards are supplied by professional editors and by the process of peer review (see explanation at end of this document). Peer reviewed materials, whether in print or digitally available on platforms such as JSTOR or EBSCO, have met stringent standards for scholarship.

Very few websites, however, offer such safeguards. Very few websites are provided with notes, bibliographies, or other scholarly support. Because of that, in academic fields like history[1], we DO NOT use websites as authoritative sourcesfor serious research.
Nonetheless, we all use the internet for quick searches. ⇰ In addition, individual scholars and institutions like archaeological teams and museums now frequently post blogs and even videos for both general and scholarly audiences. Those however are generally not peer reviewed.
Therefore it is useful to develop some criteria for assessing the reliability of websites, so that we can avoid being duped by people who are not specialists and who may have their own agendas to promote.
What we discover about the authors and the sites will help guide us as to
⇰ whether and how we may use them.

The purpose of this assignment is twofold:
⇰ It will give you an opportunity to explore the culture and history of medieval Islam on your own. Communities of Muslims lived throughout Europe and North Africa. They lived both in Christian and in Islamic lands. You may explore any aspect of medieval Islamic culture that interests you.
⇰ Second, the assignment will sharpen your ability to critically assess and effectively use (or avoid) resources found on the Web.
(1): Read through the web evaluation tutorial at University of California, Berkeley:
(2): Using whatever search engines you like[2], look at websites devoted to medieval Islamic culture. Select a site that looks serious and substantial, something you might initially consider using if you were assigned to write a college paperon medieval Islam (except Wikipedia).
→ Do not use a peer-reviewed, digitally available article or e-book! The point of this exercise is to evaluate non peer-reviewed materials.
(3): Write a formal essay, 1000-1200 words,[3] elaborating on your research and evaluation of the credentials of the website, answering the questions listed below.
Pay extra attention to the “⇰ Think critically about this” bits!
At every point in your research, footnote the location of the information you find. See Style sheet on Sakai for proper footnote format. You may easily have 10 or 15 footnotes in your essay.
Once you have found a promising source for your pretend research paper, analyze it:
START your essay with the “Title” of the specific web page you are reviewing, the Title of the host website, and the URL.
1. Author:
Who wrote the page? Find the person who takes responsibility. Make sure you find the AUTHOR, not merely an editor or webmaster. If anonymous, evaluate the host institution (see 3 below) and find out who writes, edits and stands behind that info.
2. Credentials:
2a. List the author’s advanced degrees or certifications of expertise, and the institutions that awarded them. (Make sure it’s a real, accredited institution.) Identify the subject of those degrees, and verify that it is appropriately related to the topic of the website.
⇰ Think critically about this: an archaeologist might write intelligently about medieval Islamic culture if her specialty area is any part of the medieval world where Islamic communities thrived. However, an archaeologist with a specialty in Viking burials, for example, is unlikely to have much expertise in medieval Islam.
⇰ VERIFY claims by finding the person’s institutional affiliation. LinkedIn is not proof of credentials (though it can be useful), because LinkedIn entries are self-posted. Sadly, people lie (or exaggerate) on their resumés. Wikipedia isn’t much better because it mostly copies LinkedIn. A bachelor’s degree (BA) is not an advanced degree. If the author claims to have awards, assess them: are they just school prizes or inane “Best of web” by-popular-vote awards, or are they professional recognition by peers?
If the author does not have an academic degree, is there other proof of professional development or expertise? ⇰ [4].
In order to find out more about the site and its intended audience, look at the “About”, “Home”, “Contact”, “Policy” or similar sections of the site.
If the site includes multiple authors, investigate the site’s editorial policy: who gets to write for them, who oversees and edits the submissions?
Evaluate: At this point, summarize whether this site is professional enough or offers enough depth and focus to be useful in a research paper. If not, is it good for anything else? Does it provide reliable background information, or offer easy access to primary source material or bibliographies? Does it give you an idea of trends in scholarship or reveal areas of possibly inquiry you had not known about? If so, it might launch your research in a new direction. You would cite that blog or whatever as having alerted you to that area of inquiry, but you would not cite the findings as authoritative since they are not meant to be taken that way.
4. Documentation:
4a. What exactly is provided as supporting evidence for the website (primary documents, archaeological evidence, artifacts, secondary research…)? How is the documentation provided (bibliographies, notes, internal or external links…to what)? Remember that “Further reading” lists are NOT bibliographies or works cited.
⇰ Think critically about this: Complete, properly formatted documentation does three things: it credits the previous scholarly sources on which it relies; it shows the reader that your research has been thorough and not ‘cherry-picked”; and it engages with the reader who can read those sources for herself and agree or disagree on how to interpret that evidence. In short: it avoids plagiarism, avoids bias, and invites dialogue.
4b. Are the sources serious scholarly materials, or are they encyclopedias, media (journalism, entertainment), or tertiary (“third hand”) or “popular” sources? Does the author just rehash those sources? Is the source an expert interview? ⇰Think critically about this: “Sound bites” are brief and will lack nuance, context, time and other necessities for deep analysis. Interviews may be edited for their entertainment value: see above, 2b. Regarding new discoveries, keep in mind that it takes time to discuss, debate and verify claims made in the excitement of the moment.
To find out whether a journal is scholarly or popular (=for regular people, not specialists) see:
Ulrich’s Periodicals Directory supplies data on whether or not a publication is peer reviewed. See Cudahy Library Databases under U. Once you have located the publication in question, click on “Additional Title Details” and look for peer reviewed or refereed.
4. Evaluate:
Now put it all together. Based on the credentials of the author, the nature and audience of the website, and the reliability and thoroughness of the documentation, what could you use this site for as you write your imaginary 300-level research paper? What, if anything, is it useful for? What could you NOT use it for?
FOOTNOTE every references to each piece of evidence.
⇰When citing books, articles etc. found on WorldCat, do not footnote WorldCat!
Follow exactly the format on the Style guide.
⇰ “Simple and easy to use” is NOT a great recommendation!
If a site is “simple and easy to understand” it is likely to be simplistic.
⇰ Bias means “slant” – and you can slant for or against something. Biased expression will reveal an unfairness towards the subject. It will omit evidence, use subtly loaded words, and deny objections in order to heap lopsided praise or scorn on the subject, whether that subject is a person, an idea, or a thing.
Unconscious or implicit bias may be present in the writing or expression of a person who means to be fair, but whose education or cultural conditioning may have left that person “un-woke”, unaware of presuppositions, prejudices and errors that will keep her from seeing things objectively.
Scholarly argument is not bias. At least it should not be; and proper peer-review, at least in the last fifty years, should be some protection against implicit or express bias. Scholarly argument is a reasoned attempt to make sense of all the available evidence in response to a particular question (such as “were the vikings really more violent than their Christian victims?”).
An example: scholars have been debating for decades the question of “how bad was it for Jews in the Middle Ages?” Some argue that there was much cooperation, social integration, and mutual respect. Other scholars of the “lachrymose” school (so called because it emphasizes the more “tearful” aspects) focus more on expulsions, massacres, and other tragic events. Neither approach is biased, unless it denies or manipulates evidence to present a one-sided view.
When assessing if something is biased, ask yourself if the author acknowledges the complexity of the question and clearly states the reason for the point of view taken.
[1] Note that in some areas of contemporary history, anthropology, and journalism, what one finds on the internet (blogs, Twitter, etc.) may themselves be primary sources for research.
[2] Explore! There’s more to life than Google.
[3] Turn off the “include footnote” option in Word Count (under the Review tab). With many footnotes, your paper may be five or six pages, but you may NOT go beyond 1200 words. Select the most important criteria, edit out wordiness.
[4] Christie Ward, Viking Answer Lady, Accessed Feb. 22 2021. Ward is a dedicated amateur fan of all things Viking – the real ones, not fictional – and her site is very well researched. You could use it to find out which Icelandic primary sources talk about dragons – and then pick up your research from there. You would not cite the Viking Answer Lady’s conclusions about dragons in medieval Scandinavia, but you could use her bibliography as a start to your own research.

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