Historians have made Twitter a forum for education and engagement. They coined the term Twitterstorians to describe the growing community of historians on Twitter. Museums and other historical associations and businesses also have Twitter pages. This allows the general public to engage with sites such as the Smithsonian and see their events but the personal accounts of Twitterstorians allows for them to use the platform as a medium for conversation and debate. It is used to promote projects and books and to collaborate with or seek advice from peers. The digital world has many opportunities for historians and those interested in learning about history. Twitter offers a unique platform for anyone to participate in and learn from the discussion. Historians are taking advantage of it and I am interested in understanding how they use it and what they are learning from Twitter.
There are also subcommunities within the broad Twitterstorians, for example, the hashtag #BlckTwitterStorians is used to help African American historians to connect and engage with each other as well as discuss how their cultures and identities interact with their work. These historians are creating the space they need for themselves to show their research and share their experiences as historians of color. Should there be other hashtags for other identities, such as female historians and female historians of color? Twitter has the medium to establish these other threads that do not have to interfere with the others but can be connected, providing a space for intersectionality.
From my inital observations, Twitterstorians do an excellent job at using the platform to connect with each other and create connections. However, I noticed that both professional organizations, such as the Smithsonian, and Twitterstorians do not use Twitter to its full potential in connecting with the general public. There are many ways to engage in conversations and promote educational infromation and events. Without doing any in depth research or having conversations with Twitterstorians, I believe they could take more advantage of what Twitter offers to its users. As it is argued in, “Why Wasn’t I Consulted?” by Paul Ford, people want to share their thoughts and feel like they are contributing to the discourse about topics in history and Twitter is a useful tool to do so, it is free and widely accessible to the general public. I do believe there should be a space to connect as professionals, without directing it towards broader audiences but Twitter offers the opportunity to do both on one platform. Should Twitter be said platform? Is there something else more accessible and better designed for historians?
As emerging professionals, we have all been encouraged to create Twitter pages to participate in these conversations. For my project, I am proposing interviews with Twitterstorians and analysis of their use of the platform. I want to ask them about why they use Twitter and if they believe it is effective for their work. Do they think Twitter engages the audience they are trying to connect? What do they feel are the downsides to Twitter? Twitterstorians can also offer advice as to whether emerging professionals should be participating in the conversations and what it can do for their careers. I would interview a few Twitterstorians but also create a survey that I could share to reach a broader audience of historians. My questions would include book recommendations, advice for emerging professionals, and reasons why they use Twitter and its effectiveness. Twitterstorians are proof of the growth of the digital world in the field of history and ways professionals are capitalizing on the new mediums available.
4 Replies to “#historyontwitter”
Twitter’s always been one of the more difficult social media platforms for me to use, especially using it as a historian. I think looking at Twitterstorians is a great idea; as you say, the site has many ways to connect with the public and promote history. One important topic is also misinformation on Twitter. We’ve seen the impact it can have, with COVID and a certain prominent banned account. I’d love to learn what Twitterstorians have to say about combating misinformation on the site.
This is a great idea, especially since you want to interview those Twitterstorians themselves. I think you ask a really powerful question about identities and hashtags–I know that #BlckTwitterStorians has been used to create a community and a dialogue amongst African American professionals on twitter. I’m interested to see what your narrators say about creating more identities on twitter. Perhaps a good place you to find some narrators is the womenalsoknowhistory account!
This is a really solid idea. I think it’s also something that could develop into a great article for a journal like The Public Historian.
My sense is that it’s probably good to focus in this case on individual historian’s twitter accounts as opposed to institutional history focused accounts. Really I think either are great potential topics, but I think it’s going to be better to pick one of the two and focus on that and it seems like the Twitterstorians are the one’s that your more interested in of the two.
The next main issue I think is for you to sort through who you would want to focus on for this. My suggestion would be to think of identifying something like 8-12 historians, potentially with different levels of followers and ideally representing different subjects and demographics. A resource to consider for some of this would be to look at some of the folks from this New Yorker article from earlier this year. https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-twitterstorians-trying-to-de-trumpify-american-history
I think one key thing to consider is that it’s pretty wildly known at this point that Women and BIPOC folks face massive amounts of harassment on twitter, so it would be key to make sure that some of the subjects you focus on are women and BIPOC historians.
Once you have a set of folks you want to reach out to, I think you could develop out your interview questions and do interviews, even just in a simple form like over email with a set of 7-8 questions. It will be important to zero in on what you want your questions to be for this as this could go in a lot of directions. I think some of the most central things that would be interesting here are potential responses to questions like some of the following; “Why do you use twitter as a platform to communicate about history?” “Have your ideas about communicating about history on twitter changed over time in any significant ways” “Do you advise early career historians to communicate about their work on twitter? Why or why not?” “Women and People of Color face a lot of harassment on twitter, given the importance of twitter as a communications platform, what effect do you think that has on whose voices are being heard?”