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19th November 1999 at 00:00
Foreign amp; Commonwealth Office

Curious that what is often regarded as the snootiest of government departments should have the most accessible website in Whitehall.

Forget polished marble staircases and the inscrutable utterances of mandarin diplomats. The FCO site addresses its many audiences in plain English. For teachers and students, there are archives of speeches, and a concise guide to key foreign policy issues. The history section even offers light relief in its account of changing attitudes to women in the diplomatic service.

Great swathes are devoted to alerting travellers to the perils awaiting them abroad. There are lists of no-go countries, and regularly updated advice notices for others. Armchair travellers can take comfort in the massive "Y2K Statements" database which reveals how well air traffic controllers around the world are dealing with the millennium bug.

* Spartacus Encyclopaedia of the First World War*.htm

Run by a group of teachers in Sussex, Spartacus Educational has developed a series of websites, chiefly focusing on history, which offer a home-grown alternative to megabuck online encyclopedists from the US.

This First World War site is typical of the Spartacus approach. The top level is utilitarian and rather uninviting. but as soon as you dig into the topics and begin to use the system of cross-references, you get hooked. An enormous amount of work has gone into this and its sister sites, including much original research in local history.

Bill Hicks

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