#TikTokStorians? Is TikTok the New Platform for Historians and Historic Content?

Similar to Amanda’s proposal on #historyontwitter, I am also interested in the ways in which historians are engaging broader audiences about conversations on history. While the realm of social media sometimes appears to be rapidly changing, TikTok’s popularity as a forum for rapid consumption of entertainment and information, has surged in recent years. TikTok is a platform in which users can create short videos, up to 60 seconds, using their own sounds, or viral sounds. It has quickly become a platform for dancing, comedy, and trends. But it is also a platform that has the potential to engage viewers in short informational videos, and a platform in which history can be and has been presented. 


For the purpose of this print project I plan to write a research paper that examines the different ways in which both professional historians and non-professional historians engage their audiences with historic content on the app. I think that by discussing both professional and non-professional historians, the paper’s scope will be set to best understand how all historical content is portrayed on the app. To discuss professional historians’ use of the app, I plan to examine the hashtag #historiansoftiktok and to primarily use the account @historyinhighheels as a case study. This account is run by Ashley Buchanan, a historian with a Ph.D in history who lives in Washington, DC and works as a Mellon-funded postdoctoral fellow with Harvard at Dumbarton Oaks. Her videos aim to inform about what being a professional historian entails, featuring videos titled “A Day in the Life of a Historian (in quarantine)!”, “History Degree? What are you going to do with that?”, and videos that talk about her career path, as well as other videos. Ashley’s videos discuss being a historian as a career, less historic content, although she does discuss her research in some videos. She has also used her viral videos on TikTok to create a Facebook group titled “Women in History” and on February 23, 2021 had 822 group members, who could introduce themselves and participate in discussion surrounding pursuing history as a career, higher education, internship and job advice, etc. Ashley’s videos have also been shared by the American Historical Association on Twitter. 

I also plan to examine TikTok videos that discuss historical content, more specifically than the historical profession. To discuss historical content I plan to use popular videos that included hashtags such as #history (which has 8.7 billion views), #historyTikTok, #historyTok. I plan to use engagement statistics, such as the number of views, likes, and comments, to decide which videos reach large audiences and then include conversation about how the comments were engaging with the video. Were they asking further questions? Commenting that they had not learned this information? Making jokes about the information? I am also curious about the way these viral videos, especially ones that claim to be telling ‘unknown’ history, discuss source material, or if they do at all. Often the videos I have seen just make a claim, without any further explanation or evidence. I am curious how these videos are engaging their audiences in conversations surrounding history. A potential case study account that could be used to discuss these videos is the account @thisiscory run by Cory Bradford, which features an account bio that states “The CEO of History”. 

While this project is broad, as I mentioned the hashtag #history has 8.7 billion views as of February 23, 2021, I believe that through examining comments and engagement statistics conclusions can begin to be drawn about some ways in which audiences engage with viral videos on TikTok that discuss both historical content and the historical profession. One historiographical source that I plan to route this study in is, Jerome De Groot 2016 second edition, Consuming History: Historians and Heritage in Contemporary Popular Culture, which argues that historical knowledge in all forms of consumption is important and should be considered as such by professional historians, especially those understanding the various ways people consume historic information. 

One Reply to “#TikTokStorians? Is TikTok the New Platform for Historians and Historic Content?”

  1. Love this idea! I’m also thrilled that you’ve identified De Groot’s book as a source to anchor some of your exploration in this.

    Given that you have a particular person to anchor some of your research on in @historyinhighheels I think it would also be a great idea to reach out to her to see if she would be up for answering some questions over email about why she got into this and her thoughts on the reaction she has received. For another person to consider for the historians using TikTok, you might also check out some of the videos that Maggie McCready has been making like -> https://www.tiktok.com/@zombiespaceship/video/6912195159757245701

    For the part where you are interested in exploring history broadly on TikTok you might be interested in some of the examples I found last http://www.trevorowens.org/2020/04/22-history-tiktoks/

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