60 Second History

By the end of its first year in 2018, Tiktok gained over 1 billion views on its content–and the numbers have only continued to grow (https://facts.net/lifestyle/entertainment/tiktok-facts/). Recent demographic trends indicate an increased diversity in the user population on the site as more adults are downloading the app. Educational content has expanded to include information on professional development, science lessons, knitting, cooking, yoga–and–you guessed it–history. As an experimental digital history project, I created Tiktoks focused on historic preservation using the hashtag #streethistory. My ultimate goal was to focus on a single neighborhood and share specific location-based histories through short videos.

I ultimately created 12 videos of varying lengths/styles, with the majority focused on the neighborhood of Georgetown. I included multiple sites from the African American Heritage Trail (https://www.culturaltourismdc.org/portal/web/portal%20/georgetown-african-american-heritage-trail) and utilized the National Park Service website in addition to community history websites as my informational sources.

While Tiktok videos are limited to 60 seconds, the amount of information that can be conveyed in a series of videos is substantial. Posting videos as a series not only increases the amount of information you can include, but it also increases your video’s visibility. The Tiktok algorithm operates through AI programming, so if you consistently post as part of a series, your videos will be shown more frequently. As a social media platform, Tiktok is a fast-moving beast that rapidly generates new trends. Working as an individual, I had the capability to create personalized content on my own account. If I was working as part of an institution, the process may have been a little slower, but just as worthy. The potential of education on Tiktok is enormous–with millions of users and thousands of hours spent on the app daily, it poses a new frontier for social media engagement.

Overall, I’ve really enjoyed this project and had a lot of fun exploring DC and capturing history in various places around the city. While creating the Tiktoks did take longer than anticipated (60 seconds isn’t a lot of time, and you have to find a good mixture of upbeat tone, information, engagement, video splicing, voiceover, etc.), it did get easier over time and is feasible as an institutional project. The most challenging thing I have personally wrestled with throughout this project and throughout our digital history class is the difficulty of balancing engagement and education. How can we, as historians, create content that is appealing to a wide audience but still educational and impactful? How do we balance engagement and education? Can we be funny and factual? How do we build works that intrigue, engage, and educate?

Facing that challenge head-on is necessary as we move forward in our careers. Utilizing Tiktok to experiment and work on balance was a gratifying and thought-provoking exercise. Interaction with the various corners of the internet is increasingly relevant and necessary for academic professionals. So many communities and audiences are available, if only we know where to look–and have the courage to proceed.

This is a critical issue that institutions will be contending with for decades to come: There’s just an enormous, humongous, gigantic audience out there connected to the Internet that is starving for authenticity, ideas, and meaning. We’re so accustomed to the scale of attention that we get from visitation to bricks-and-mortar buildings that it’s difficult to understand how big the Internet is—and how much attention, curiosity, and creativity a couple of billion people can have.

Michael Peter Edson

I’ve truly enjoyed this class and working with each of you! I hope you continue to follow along on my Tiktok journey and again, if you’d like to be featured, just let me know. Collaboration and suggestions for improvement are always welcome! Feel free to drop any questions for me in the comments about Tiktok as a platform, the balance of engagement and education, or the importance of the internet to our academic futures.

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Great work this semester everybody, hope to see you in person someday soon!

5 Replies to “60 Second History”

  1. Looking forward to you becoming a huge TikTok star and then we can all say we knew you when this all started. This is a great project Shae. Thank you for bringing history to the masses and demonstrating the adaptability of our field.

  2. Shae, I think you did a great job creating both engaging and informative TikTok history videos! It’s really interesting to hear you talk about the 60 seconds limit of the platform, when I explore the history videos on YouTube, I noticed so many of the most viewed videos are under 10 minutes. It seems like the short nature of these digital platforms could potentially attract more audiences, but as you mentioned, it also poses challenges of balancing educational content in such a short amount of time!

  3. Hi Shae, I enjoyed following you on TikTok and watching these videos when they came out. I learned a lot about the history of Georgetown and I think that they were fun, informative, and engaging. I could see them being a huge success. I think your project tackled the shortening attention spans of many and still did a great job of extending historic information and educational content, given the limits of the platform.

  4. Hey Shae! It’s no surprise, I loved your project! I think it is really important that academics go outside of their comfort zone and attempt making content for the most current social media platforms (like TikTok) to meet younger engaged audiences where they’re at.

    I think there’s this misunderstanding of a shortening attention span online, and yes TikTok videos are short, but people often engage repeatedly with series and users they enjoy for long periods of time, and use TikTok as a jumping off point for further research into topics they care about! I think you have definitely offered an example of how historians can start thinking about creating this type of content and look forward to watching your future TikToks!

  5. Hey Shae, nice post. Please remember me when you are famous. I thought the additions you made to this blog post were brilliant in showcasing the billions of views that Tiktok has amassed in 2018.

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