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Log on if history passed you by

Provo couple’s site fills in facts long forgotten

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PROVO — Jon and Kim Mott's high-tech handiwork is for folks who have forgotten chapters of Civics 101.

Here's a test of your history buffness: Does Independence Day observe the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation?

Is that your final answer?

If you're not sure, just hit the Motts' Internet site for help.

At ThisNation.com, browsers can find a list of important Supreme Court decisions, historical documents, speeches, and e-Books that can be read on the site or downloaded.

A political cartoon is updated daily. There's also a search engine for more than 5,000 political Web sites — and even a selection of Americana-themed wallpaper.

The Pleasant Grove couple launched the nonpartisan, easy-to-read Web site last July to both educate and earn some extra income. It logs 5,000 to 10,000 hits a month and is paid for by banner advertisements atop the site.

"My husband got a degree in political science. He was going to be a professor," said Kim Motts, who oversees the site's day-to-day updates. "I had no inkling we'd be doing Web design — and doing something to this extent."

Mott, who teaches history courses at Brigham Young University when he's not working out kinks in the university's Web-based classes, is often frustrated at the public's lack of knowledge about U.S. government.

He started thinking about ways to publish a free primer on American history when he finished his doctorate and started teaching at the University of Oklahoma.

Mott was stunned that college freshmen and sophomores often didn't know such simple facts as the difference between the Senate and House of Representatives.

"The thing I ran into a lot with students" he said, "is that they seemed like they wanted to know but didn't know where to start."

One of the most popular features on the site tests Mott's mettle. Teachers and students often lob difficult questions on the "Ask Professor Mott" section of the site.

He's been asked about the Federal Reserve, campaign fund-raising regulations and the definition of a "caucus."

"I've been asked questions like how many electors are in an electoral college — usually nuts-and-bolts stuff," he said. "I was also asked if I could summarize the history of modernization. Of course, the short answer was, 'No.' "

The site, which was recently named "Incredibly Useful Site of the Day" by ZDNet-Yahoo Internet Life, is attracting attention from education types.

Liahona, a private school in Utah County for students who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, next year will use the site for a history textbook.

Unlike printed books, Mott said, the site can be updated as the world changes. "I had a student who started using the site when he was student teaching," he said. "The textbook he had still listed Margaret Thatcher as Britain's prime minister."

Organizers of America's Freedom Festival at Provo also noticed the site. A page on the festival's site links directly to ThisNation.com's extensive e-library. The site developed by the Motts — who are self-taught Web masters — was a Britannica.com" Site of the Week" and a Netscape "Cool Site of the Day."

The Scouting Report, a publication of the University of Wisconsin library system that recognizes outstanding educational sites on the Internet also lauded the site.

"This extraordinary Web site bills itself as 'the most comprehensive guide to American government and politics on the net, and from an educational standpoint, it is surely a major contender for the title," the report said.

"We'll committed to doing it as long as people feel it is useful," Mott said.

E-mail: jeffh@desnews.com