Despite that fact, it is linked to by several thousand sites around the world, including some with .edu addresses. Although I can't determine its traffic, its #1 position on Google surely produces lots of visitors, most of whom will not realize where they have ended up. They will get a peculiar slant on German history. There are surely other dubious sources out there, but I use the HHM since it is a particularly egregious example.
Why should historians care?
The Internet is increasingly the place people turn to for information. Surely historians should have an interest in the quality of public information. Harold Marcuse made this point at a 2004 GSA roundtable (click here for the text of his remarks). He provides excellent suggestions, including:
1. We can publish our research (and our teaching, and even our students' research) on the Internet in appropriate formats.
2. We can assess, on the Internet, materials already available there, by: a) participating in on-line forums (esp. those that are archived, like H-German); b) utilizing customer review features on sites like amazon.com, and c) having annotated links on our own research pages. This latter point is especially crucial, since search engines-the primary means most people use to access information on the Internet- use links to rank pages. We need to transcend and "re-rank" search results, so that over time search engines will "come into line."
That leads me to several specific proposals that I would like to toss out for discussion.
1. We should all pay attention to our institution's web sites. As I said, I found a number of .edu sites that link to the "Hitler Historical Museum."
2. Some of us can do what we can to reduce the number of links to the site. For example, I have removed about 20 links to the site from Wikipedia (which anyone can edit) from about a dozen language sites. This is worth doing, since whatever one thinks of the Wikipedia project, an astonishing number of people, including many of our students, use it. It also requires continuing monitoring, since there is nothing to prevent people from putting the links back on Wikipedia. I've emailed sites that look to be linking to the HHM in ignorance urging them to remove the link, with some success. It takes Google a while to register such changes, but I'm hoping that over time, the reduced number of links from reliable sites will lower the HHM's Google ranking.
3. Finally, following Marcuse's suggestion, we might consciously choose to link to high quality sources. The more links to such sources, the higher their ranking on the search engines will be. We don't all have to link to the same sites, but if people could agree on a few of the best sites on the Internet, it would surely help (e.g., Gerhard Rempel's site). I don't find a lot of good sites with .edu addresses, but it might be a good project for someone to develop a solid page on Hitler. My German Propaganda Archive, for example, averages about 8,000 visitors a day, and has led to all sorts of interesting things.
As one historian put it when I recently proposed this idea: "I must confess that I'm not entirely sure how successful this enterprise will be; it may well be that the racists & fanatics are more obsessive in their glorification of Hitler than our community in the work of Aufklärung [Enlightenment]."
I hope that is not the case. I'd be interested in hearing whether anyone else thinks this is a challenge worth undertaking.
This article first appeared on the H-NET List on German History on April 7, 2006.