HistoryWorld is a general-knowledge website, designed for anyone above the age of about twelve with an interest in history. It approaches history in a way that is traditional but until recently unfashionable - as a narrative, making full use of chronology. 'What happened next?' is for all of us a fascinating question, and one of direct relevance in this context. At the heart of history there is inevitably a sequence of events.
The website also attempts to address a familiar problem. We all know separate bits of history, of different places and times, but it is often extremely hard to relate them to what was happening in other subjects or in other parts of the world. This is one area in which the internet has a distinct advantage over the printed word. Links are much more easily made online than in books. Through the medium of Timelines, linked to extensive background content, and interconnecting 'Tours through Time', HistoryWorld can provide the user with an unparalleled view of the fabric of world history.
The core material of HistoryWorld is about 350 narratives (or Histories )
and 6000 selected events (amounting in all to more than a million words)
in a database created and written by Bamber Gascoigne. He began this
work in 1994 when he was inspired by the arrival of CD ROMs to divert from a book-writing career of several decades and try his hand in the new medium.
In 2000, by which time the CD ROM market had long ago collapsed, Bamber Gascoigne teamed up with Peter Donebauer and Ian Henghes (colleagues in the well-established television company Diverse - see About Us) to publish the material online. HistoryWorld was
launched in June 2001. Just over a year later it won the New Statesman
New Media award as Britain's best educational website.
The concept from the start was that HistoryWorld must be extremely
interactive in its presentation and retrieval systems. It was also a
central theme that the content must have a precisely focused index of the traditional kind, available to the user on every page, rather than relying on the erratic results of word searches.
The other founding concept was that the idea of 'general knowledge' can be applied even to the vast stretches of world history. On a national basis general knowledge varies greatly
at the margins. But there are many people and events in history whose
fame transcends borders. These are the names dealt with in
encyclopedias, mentioned in passing in conversation, or asked everywhere in quiz questions. And they form the core of HistoryWorld
It was a quiz which gave Bamber Gascoigne this concept of general knowledge
as a definable territory. For 25 years he was the presenter of University
Challenge, a weekly quiz game in Britain for university students. Those
questions which could be seen to ring a bell, however faint, in the minds of the competing
students defined themselves as being within the field of general knowledge.
Gascoigne is also the author of several works of general history and
of the Encyclopedia of Britain (1993), which set out to define general
knowledge in a British context. Its usefulness was well expressed by
Auberon Waugh in the Telegraph when he wrote: 'So far, every time I
have had a genuine enquiry, he has provided the answer. It is like having
a good-natured friend available on the telephone.' This encylcopedia
(itself amounting to more than 500,000 words) has been integrated into
HistoryWorld to provide back-up material on British subjects.