Paper for the German Studies Association
Conference, Oct. 7-10, 2004, Washington, DC
#89: Making it
Real: Intellectual Exchange, Virtual Space, and the Public Sphere
- My focus for this roundtable on historians interacting with the public
is on the role of the internet. Although film, television and other
news media reach mass audiences, they tend to be more ephemeral and
provide less opportunity for exchange--unless they are archived on the
internet. Even reviews of research in scholarly journals have much greater
potential for reaching a broader audience when they are published on
- I think scholars should make much more explicit and intentional use
of the internet in order to foster public knowledge of their research
results. I see three main ways this can happen:
We can assess, on the internet, materials already available
- We can publish our research (and our teaching, and even our
students' research) on the internet in appropriate formats. (These include:
"chunking," with clear source and publication information, enlivened
by graphics, with intuitive navigation, and being easily printable.)
See example web sites:
We can attend to public inquiries about research we have published
on the internet.
- participating in on-line forums (esp. those that are archived, like
- utilizing customer review features on sites like amazon.com and
- 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."
This would include:
responding to e-mail either personally or by making the requested
- monitoring which of our pages are accessed and how they were found
(what search terms, links from which pages).
- Example: the origin of Martin Niemöller's quotation "First
they came for the Communists…"
E-mail inquiries prompted me to create the page, which has evolved
into an on-line research project: http://marcuse.faculty.history.ucsb.edu/niem.htm
- Contrast that with: Did the Nazis use the body fat of murdered
Jews to make soap?
(subject of a GSA talk I commented on yesterday--even otherwise
reliable institutional websites have misinformation). Published
- [addition 8/29/05]: In March 2005, after viewing
Volker Schlöndorff's film "The Ninth Day" about a
priest imprisoned in Dachau, I got the memoir on which it is based
and created a web
page comparing the book and the film. Prior to the film US release
in May 2005 several journalists and film critics found that page
and contacted me. I did a telephone interview for NPR, gave information
to the National Catholic Register, and wrote an evaluation for a
publisher interested in publishing an English translation of the
memoir. Thus this is an excellent example of how a scholar can get
"good historical information" into the public sphere via
the internet, which can snowball into other media.
- [addition 8/29/05]: In 1997 I posted on my faculty
website a short biography of Herbert Marcuse
(my grandfather), that I had used to introduce a screening of the
documentary film "Herbert's Hippopotamus." Since it was
receiving a large number of hits, in 2001 I moved that page to a
web server my brother maintained, and expanded it into a "Herbert
Marcuse Official homepage." After many expansions it has
become a clearinghouse for research and conferences on Marcuse's
work, with over 100 new hits/day. An excellent blog
article in July 2005, which was republished in other media (In
these Times), doubled the number of visitors. The Marcuse site's
is a testament to the truly global reach a scholarly resource on
the internet can have.