Historical Websites – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Good: www.historians.org

The website of the American Historical Association. Perfectly serviceable homepage, with immediately visible access to user login, the search function, and links to major topics of interest. Features live feeds for “news” and “perspectives.” Each sub-section of the site manages to be both well-organized and varied, with a number of different sidebars and relevant feeds. It even features an academic job finder, which is a particularly helpful feature for people in this discipline.

The Verdict: 7/10

Bad: www.jareddiamond.org

This is the website of the famous multi-disciplinary crackpot behind “Guns, Germs, and Steel,” a book that trod the line between pseudoscience and pop history like no other. The main page is a symphony in blandness, entirely monochromatic except for two of the four banner images. The “About Me” page presents the author as a mixture of Lord Horatio Kitchener and David Livingstone: an intrepid, bewhiskered Anglo-American explorer who admires the noble savage in the way only an Edwardian gentleman can. He also engages in a form of advanced academic Jiu-Jitsu known as “dedicating a page of your website to a straw-man of your critics;” in this case, one of the headers on his website is a rebuttal of “geographic determinism,” in keeping with the modern academic tradition of referring to your critics as “_____ determinists.” In deference this heritage, he ignores the hundreds of scholars who have highlighted his completely uncritical use of primary sources, his propagation of thoroughly debunked myths about Columbus and Pizarro, and his pathological dedication to whig history narratives of progress and European technological superiority. His “further reading” page consists of 26 examples of his own increasingly non-scientific publications in scientific journals, which predictably peak with his recent sociobiological palm-reading of entire nation-states.

The Verdict: A paragon of the form; resembles a temporary Web 1.0 page for a 15-year-old game developer who intends to read a manual on Torque “one of these days.”  I give it three “Pants on Fire” and an opinion column next to Megan McArdle.

Ugly: www.ernestmandel.org

This is the website of Ernest Mandel, the Marxist historian who popularized the term “Late Capitalism.” The webpage contains carefully catalogued texts of all of his major interviews, articles, and debates; links at the bottom left translate the entire site into German, French, and Dutch. While fundamentally committed to open access, this website looks like it was assembled out of a geocities site and a Marxist dartboard. It encourages users to sign up for its “Mailinglist” (one word) and the “contact” page opens up the user’s desktop mail application. The home page features “many” “unnecessary” “quotes” “around” “headers,” as well as a text box perplexingly titled “Ernest Mandel?”

The Verdict: banished to the Shadow Realm.