The other day I received an email from Randall Bytwerk at Calivin College asking me to unlink a website from the archive of one of my class blogs from last year. The site, the Adolf Hitler Historical Museum (Hitler.org), is the first site to come up if one types “Hitler” into Google.
This is a website that I use with my students to help them come to grips with the perils of casual web searching…If one isn’t careful, one can end up at a site like this one and get taken in. The “Hitler Museum” site tells visitors right up front what a good source it is:
- The Hitler Historical Museum is a non-biased, non-profit museum devoted to the study and preservation of the world history related to Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist Party. True to its role as an educational museum, these exhibits allow for visitors to understand and examine historical documents and information for themselves. The museum, while acknowledging the tragedy that over 50 million people died during World War 2, retains its non-biased status by refraining from making political judgments of any sort.
And then it goes on to hone its unbiased credentials:
- Neither does it make the standard, uninformative, and cliched historical judgement that the victor of the war was “good” and that the loser of the war was “bad.” Instead, all materials and resources are provided as a documentation of the time period and as scholastic resources with notes for clarification. No biased judgments, slanderous labels or childish name calling exist here as they do in most of the writings on this topic.
Is it possible to slander Adolf Hitler?
In any case, the unwary undergraduate or high school student may well be taken in by this attempt to convince the world that this site is “unbiased.” One quick link check in Google, however, indicates the degree to which this site is deeply connected to neo-Nazi websites around the world.
Which brings us back to Randall Bytwerk. He is waging a campaign to knock this website off the top of the Google list by writing to people like me and asking us to unlink it from their websites (which is one reason I don’t link to it here). I’m sympathetic, because when I first discovered the site, I wrote to several website owners who provided links for high school teachers to urge them to unlink this site. I was worried not about the Google rankings, but that these link aggregators were steering unwary high school teachers and/or their students to this site.
Recently, my colleague Dan Cohen wrote in his blog about just the opposite thing…optimizing search engine positioning. Bytwerk is trying to de-optimize (if such a word exists) the Hitler Museum site.
All this back and forth about optimization and de-optimization raises an interesting question for historians. Can we “change history” in this way? By that I mean, can we change the practice of our craft by using the trade-craft of the advertising industry, boosting certain sites up the Google ladder and driving others down, thereby influencing what our students (and the general public) looks at first, second, and third? Is this a good use of the professional historian’s time? Is it much different than the reviews we right of books, making them more or less likely to be assigned to our students?