The GHIL’s New Website and the History of the Web

If you reached this blog via our website, you might have noticed some changes over there last week. And if you have yet to see our brand-new, mobile-friendly website, we highly recommend you check it out!

This fresh look is in fact the fifth incarnation of our website. Its ‘prehistory’ began with a humble abode kindly granted to us on the website of the Institute of Historical Research in 1997. Here, early adopters of the Internet were able to find out about upcoming events and browse the extensive catalogue of journals in our library.

The first independent website of the GHIL—handcrafted in HTML—was launched in December 1998. It was updated regularly over the years, as the Wayback Machine of the Internet Archive shows us. Launched in 2001, the Wayback Machine has been ‘crawling’ the web and taking snapshots of web pages since 1996. It allows you to track down websites (less so social media and similar Internet services) that have long since disappeared, including the GHIL’s.

In 2003, after an initial rejection from the domain name registrar, our website was deemed eligible to change its second-level domain from ‘ghil.co.uk’ to ‘ghil.ac.uk’. Although the GHIL receives its funding from Germany, its website thus joined many other academic institutions based in the UK. A first relaunch happened in October 2007, when the GHIL’s website moved to the content management system Typo3. Another design overhaul took place in December 2011, and the now defunct website diligently served the institute until 26 October 2020.

Thanks to the snapshots from the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, we can not only see how our websites evolved with developments in web design and technologies, but we can also see how our institution—its people, projects, and events—changed over time. It is notable that with the launch of its first website in 1998, the GHIL presented its journal—the Bulletin of the German Historical Institute—online as a PDF file.  This early commitment to what is now known as open access was soon translated into comprehensive online resources, a process that is very much ongoing. Like many other websites, particularly those of academic institutions, the GHIL’s online presence continues to evolve into a digital repository rather than a mere electronic business card, with the long-term preservation of its activities and publications becoming increasingly important.

In this regard, the Internet Archive with its Wayback Machine was another pioneer. ‘Website histories tell stories of the Web, media and cultural or political history.’1 In addition to the conspicuous decisions made by the Trump administration regarding the content of the White House website or the change in Google’s functionality, where ‘algorithm has taken over from the librarian on the Web’,2 this is also true for the history of academic institutions. The Wayback Machine is a brilliant—albeit not always unproblematic3—tool to rediscover seemingly lost content from the web’s past.

  1. Richard Rogers, ‘Doing Web History with the Internet Archive: Screencast Documentaries‘, Internet Histories, 1.1-2 (2017), pp. 160–172. []
  2. Ibid. []
  3. Anat Ben-David & Adam Amram, ‘The Internet Archive and the Socio-Technical Construction of Historical Facts‘, Internet Histories, 2.1–2, pp. 179–201. []

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