Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Do Historians Have a Responsibility to Warn the Public About Misleading Websites?

Do Historians Have a Responsibility to Warn the Public About Misleading Websites? This is an interesting post by Randall Bytwerk at the History News Network. This is thought provoking and I am not sure what the answer is.

I do like these suggestions he offers for dealing with the Holocaust denial site Hitler Historical Museum which does well in search engines for the word Hitler:

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.

In essence, Bytwerk is suggesting that academics and historians actively become involved in promoting good sites on the Web and making it hard for bad ones to be found. This is called Search Engine Optimization and professionals in the Internet world do this full-time. History quacks tend to be good at learning the SEO ropes too. Although it will be hard for historians to beat the pros at the Web game, efforts in this area probably will pay off some. Google and other search engines like authority sites. And the .edu at the end of a site does mean something to the search engines.

2 comments:

sumir said...

Miland,

I visit your site and links suggested by you.

I find many of the links highly useful and after browsing other sites, I come back to the same link as suggested by you. The other visitors may be having similar experience. That is why there are so many hits. In a way the visitor find credibility in the recommendation given by you.

This shows that Bytwerk is quite right in his conclusion.

No doubt, when you want to check some facts, either you try to check official sites or a link which carrys '.edu'.

Some days back You made a posting on Bengal famine report. Now, I am checking my books and trying to make notes out of it. If I have tried to find that site on my own, I do not think when would I have found that link. I would have not reached there. It was work of one historian which helped the other person.

Simiarly, there was a site on Asoka by some Indian enthusiast. However, the person took the historic interpertation casually. That presents the history in a mutilated manner. I tried to place a commnent on it referring to the contents of Inscription XIII of Dholi in order to tell the time of the event of Kalinga war which was a turing point in the history of Piyadasi and latter in the spread of Buddhism. Later I found that the administrator had corrected the basic facts.

Historians may be impeded by technical knowledge but as far as the content of History is conerned, I think they must do what is expected from a student of a subject and that is to say a fact as it is and have courage to tell other who distorts it. I have seen a commotion and observed how some knoweldge person presented their case on educatioin forum of John Simkin when Shanet Clark, a historian from America started a discussion of Holocaust and revivalist apporach. That in a way turned up a lesson for me.


I do not know what the people related to other fields of knoweldge like Physics, or Biology or other natural sciences deal with such websites. Do you have any idea that how they deal with the information available on internet and what are their reactions if some one put wrong information in their filed of study?

sumir

Miland said...

Sumir,

Thank you for your thoughtful comment. Also, I am glad you have found this site helpful in locating good history sources.

I think the problem with history is that it can be interpreted in so many ways to fit the political, cultural, or religious beliefs of the person who owns the website.

Many times these views are valid and many times they are not. Some of the bad ones are basically harmless and ignored while others represent the views of native groups or large religious sects and are left alone by historians for fear of a backlash.

Of course, historians have gone after some bad history on the Web like holocaust denial.

One thing the bad history sites have in common though is they seem to have webmasters who know how to get their sites ranked in Google!

"I do not know what the people related to other fields of knoweldge like Physics, or Biology or other natural sciences deal with such websites."

Good question and I am not entirely sure. I have seen a coordinated attack on creation science and young earth websites by biologists and geologists. Clearly, some attempt is being made. I am not sure if this happens with less controversial topics though.

Miland