Final Project: @MyDaybyEleanor on Twitter.

Katie Peter, Spring 2023

As you’ve all seen over the course of this semester, I have spent the last few months really getting to know Eleanor Roosevelt. We’re best friends now; I feel like I know about every thought she ever had. All that is to say, for my final project I created a Twitter account to tweet out excerpts of Eleanor’s “My Day” column (yes, we’re on a first name basis at this point).

You can follow along here!

“My Day” was a nationally syndicated column that ran from 1936, when Eleanor was the first lady, until she died in 1962. While the column often includes commentary on current events and world affairs, it is also something of a diary. It is literally just Eleanor describing her day. While doing research for a project at work, I discovered that every single one of these columns is digitized and made publicly available by GW’s collection of Eleanor Roosevelt Papers. I was enjoying reading them just for research purposes, and decided I should do something more with them.

To be quite honest, the idea to bring this to Twitter was inspired by sort of silly accounts that I follow such as @sondheimlyrics or @historyofglee (Somehow an account that tweets out daily blurbs about the television show Glee is doing some of the best public history I’ve seen on Twitter). I love that I can depend on something fun and interesting to show up on my feed every day. They often make me laugh, I often send them to my friends, and I often find relevance in these posts even without the poster needing to make it explicit. While there are a number of “on this day in history” type accounts, they are very random, don’t provide context, or cite sources. As we established in reading Rebecca Onion’s article for this class, those aren’t the types of accounts I want to emulate. Moreover, I decided Twitter was the right medium because its format creates the opportunity for hypertext as you can thread tweets, quote tweets, and even provide links right in the original post. 

So, I set out to tweet an excerpt a day, which meant I needed to choose a column for every day of the year. This was definitely a bigger task than I anticipated. “My Day” ran six days a week for twenty-six years. That’s around 8,000 columns to comb through. On the one hand, that means there’s nearly endless material and this account could go on forever. On the other hand, I am one person with limited time. I first created a spreadsheet that listed every day of the year. I started with significant days in history that I figured would be important to cover. Beyond just the dates off the top of my head, I pulled up a random listicle of a timeline of FDR’s presidency to use as a loose guide. I was surprised by how infrequently Eleanor commented on world events early on in her column. I thought I would be seeing her thoughts on every battle in WWII. Instead, I saw a lot of rousing passages about supporting the troops and the home-front. That being said, by the late 1950s Eleanor really let loose. Some of her later columns just sound like she’s reading through the front page of the paper and giving her thoughts as she goes. My next step was to use the index to look for significant people and places. Then I went year by year and randomly selected dates to look at. Each time I selected an excerpt, I would copy and paste it into the spreadsheet on the designated day, along with a link to the column to include in the tweet.

Then I got to scheduling tweets. This posed a problem because I over estimated just how long 280 characters would be. I have had to do a lot of editing to try to cut excerpts down without taking them completely out of context. Also, twitter does not let you schedule threads, only individual tweets. This means that if I ever want to thread something, I have to wait until the actual date and time and do it live. There are twitter management programs that make this all easier, but they all cost money. So, here I am, doing this all manually. Maybe as I go along I’ll figure out better ways to stream-line the process.

As for engagement, I started out just by going through the followers of other Roosevelt related accounts and following them in the hopes that some might follow me back. No one really understands the new twitter algorithm, but hopefully if I just put myself in the orbit of some historians and ER fans, some of them will find me. Trevor also boosted the signal on my account from his own twitter, which got me a lot more attention. Hopefully there will come a day when the excerpt I chose will really resonate with people and they’ll be inclined to share. As of today (4/23), I have 63 followers, which already exceeds my expectations. The amount of engagement I’ve already gotten makes me more excited to continue.

As of now, I have tweets planned for every day through August. I have them scheduled up until the end of May. My goal is to keep this account going for as long as I can manage. I will at least tweet the excerpts that I have on the spreadsheet now, but at the moment I don’t have the bandwidth to fill in every single day of the year. Also, who knows how much longer Twitter is going to last?  This is the spreadsheet as it currently stands. Dates highlighted in green are the ones I still need to fill in. Dates highlighted in gray are the ones I already have tweeted/scheduled. 

I’m really happy with how this project turned out and I’m excited by the prospect of where this could go. 

Project Draft: My Day on Twitter

For my final digital project, I created a twitter account from which I will tweet daily excerpts from Eleanor Roosevelt’s “My Day” column. The twitter account is @mydaybyeleanor, and I plan to begin tweeting on April 17th. This is something of an arbitrary day, but I wanted to pick a really momentous excerpt to start with, so I chose Eleanor’s first column after the death of her husband, which was published on April 17, 1945. 

I have also created a google sheet with tweets prepared to be scheduled. My method for filling out the spreadsheet began with looking at important dates. I made sure to take excerpts from columns on days that were historically significant, such as pearl harbor, D-day, election days, etc. I then used the index to further find important columns. I pulled columns where people are mentioned that might be interesting to a modern audience (or just me). For example, I made sure to include mentions of people like Walt Disney and Prince Charles, but also people like Winston Churchill and Dwight Eisenhower. I then used the index to look at columns with mentions of organizations like Girl Scouts and the DAR. My next step was to use the index to find mentions of specific places. With every step of the search to this point, I would read the column, find a part I found interesting, then go to that date on the spreadsheet and insert it. This helped me to randomize the order that they will be tweeted because the year is an arbitrary criterion. At this point, I had about one third of the spreadsheet filled out across all 12 months of the year. I want to make sure that I have a tweet ready for every day of the next couple months, so I went day by day in the months of April, May, and June, then randomly chose a year. At some points the column I picked randomly had nothing exciting, so I just looked at the next open date. 

As of right now, I have tweets scheduled for the month of April, with tweets planned for May and June. As I progress, I will add more tweets to the schedule where there are holes. The tweets will follow this format: 

[Date written]: “excerpt.” 

Read more here:[Link to column].

There are certain instances where I might need to explain what was happening in the world to prompt such a column, in which case I will add that to the “read more” portion. Some of them also need to be shortened to fit in a tweet, which I will do as I add them to twitter. 

The link to the spreadsheet is here.

Digital History Practicum: Digital Archives

For our practicum this week, we’re looking at four digital archives to go along with the readings about digital archival practices. 

9/11 Digital Archive

This archive was created with help from New York institutions like CUNY and the Alfred P. Sloan foundation, as well as the Roy Rosensweig Center for History and New Media. It was created shortly after 9/11 and was accepted for preservation by the Library of Congress in 2003. While it has been updated a few times since, it definitely seems outdated compared to other things we see on the internet today. Here is a quick overview:

  • As you can see from the above image, When you first look at “items,” it is just a list of everything in the archive with no real way to filter it.
  • They have featured collections that include still images, scanned documents, and video testimonies. This at least helps to group things together.
  • The search function can be helpful, but you really need to know what you’re looking for. There is no advanced search option, only sorting the search. 
  • There isn’t a lot of information or metadata for a lot of the items so some things are definitely missed. 
  • Only images have a preview with the search function, as you can see here:

Overall, it’s a really great repository, but it’s maybe not the easiest resource for research.

Bracero History Archive

This archive is also part of the Center for History and New Media, along with NMAH, Brown University, and UT El Paso. It is dedicated to collecting oral histories and artifacts related to the Bracero program. Because people in the community contribute to it, a lot of items don’t follow the best practices. Some things about the archive:

  • It offers a video tutorial for navigating the archive and conducting oral histories, which make it user friendly. It also has a lot of great teaching resources and suggested reading.
  • The search function does not work super well. There is an advanced search option, but that depends on information being filled in on the items. Also, once it brings up search results, you can’t sort them.
  • Oral histories don’t always have transcripts or metadata.

It is a good archive to browse and learn. It can be a really good teaching tool. 

Shelley-Godwin Archive

This is an archive of select manuscripts of the Woolstonecraft/Godwin/Shelley family of writers. It has a lot of university partners as well as the Victoria and Albert Museum. It is useful for the very specific purpose of analyzing the writing process. 

  • The archive has an introductory video for that shows you how to navigate.
  • It has manuscripts and transcriptions to track the drafts of Frankenstein, among other works. The image below is an example of what it looks like.
    • However, some are just images of the manuscripts with no transcript.
  • You can go page by page and read the manuscripts and see where changes were made.
  • Each of the works has a detailed description and includes a lot of metadata.
  • There is currently no search function.

I think this is a really fun tool to play with, and can be a good teaching tool, but may be difficult for research.

Rosetti Archive

Like the Shelley-Godwin Archive, it preserves the complete writings of Dante Gabriel Rosetti, a 19th century Italian poet and artist. It is run by the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities at UVA. 

  • You can sort alphabetically or chronologically, and there is a timeline view of  his work, as seen above.  
  • For each item there is context and description of the work. They include a lot of metadata that make things easy to find.
  • The archive is kind of hard to navigate and involves a lot of clicking and scrolling. It also keeps opening new tabs.
    • The manuscripts are sorted by individual page, which makes them hard to read.
  • Search has a lot of categories and can be very helpful when looking for specifics. However, you can’t sort or filter the results.

Again, this can be very interesting for a Rosetti scholar and as a way to get an overview of his works. 

Digital Project Proposal: @Eleanor Roosevelt

What if Eleanor Roosevelt was on Twitter? It’s not such a far stretch when you consider that she published a column of her daily thoughts, six days a week for nearly thirty years. For my digital project I plan to bring Eleanor Roosevelt’s My Day column to twitter. 

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt had a very active media presence, both during her time in the White House, and after. She is notably the first first Lady to ever hold a press conference. Along with radio addresses, Eleanor engaged with the public through newspapers, starting with a monthly column in Women’s Home Companion and several one-off articles in various publications. 

This then progressed into her nationally syndicated column My Day, which ran six days a week. She began publishing these columns in 1936 and continued until she died in 1962. Eleanor’s My Day columns are a wealth of insight into the political affairs of the day, as well as her everyday life. She talks about her children and grandchildren right alongside her accounts of World War II, civil rights, and her time in the UN. Eleanor was involved in so many things and was outspoken about issues that are still relevant today. 

George Washington University is the home of the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers and has an extensive collection of diaries and letters in addition to publications. Luckily for me, they have digitized all of the My Day columns and made them very accessible. My plan would be to create a twitter account that tweets an excerpt from her column on the anniversary of the day it was published. I would do this by compiling excerpts from the columns based on exact dates, and scheduling tweets that correspond.

Currently there are a few Twitter accounts that focus on Eleanor Roosevelt.  When I searched for “Eleanor Roosevelt My Day” on twitter, nothing came up. There were individual tweets about it, but no accounts. However, there are a few accounts that just focus on Eleanor in general. One account tweets a single, out of context quote every day. It also only follows other daily quote accounts. I don’t really think it is effective. The twitter account that is closest to what I want to do is actually run by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers. Every day they tweet a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt with the year, which leads me to believe that the quote comes from somewhere in her papers on that date in history. However, the context is never clear, and they do not mention where in her papers the quote came from. The account follows various historians, presidential historic sites, and political figures, and has a relatively large audience at a little over 7,000 followers.

I would like to improve on both of these accounts by being more specific. The twitter account I create would tweet an excerpt from the My Day column once every day. The tweets will state exactly where the quote came from, and provide a link to the digitized version of the column. This will allow anyone who sees the tweet to look into the broader context fairly easily, without having to do any digging of their own. I also think that twitter is at its best when a short tweet can say a lot and lead you somewhere bigger. I don’t think it’s effective or exciting to read a long chunk of text. Short bursts of history can be a good way to welcome people in and keep them engaged. 

For this reason, I think it’s time for ER to tweet!

Print Project Proposal: All the Presidents’ Names

For my print project, I propose an analysis of the names used to refer to presidents, and how that may have changed over time. In many cases, American presidents have nick-names or abbreviations that the public uses to refer to them, regardless of if they use it in their personal lives. I hypothesize that presidents go by their full names early on in their careers, but then more colloquial monikers rise in popularity later in their careers, or even after it entirely. I also think that it is likely that a more popular news source would be more inclined to use a nick-name than an academic source. I think this has many implications regarding the public’s perception of presidents before and after they hold office.

Therefore, I plan to use both Google NGram and the Time Magazine Corpus to track the uses of nick-names and abbreviations of presidents’ names over time. Using both of these programs in tandem will help to highlight trends, as well as provide context for how they are being used. For example, if historians use a name that was not used by a president’s contemporaries, these tools would show that. Moreover, I would only look at presidents who have served since 1923, because that is when Time Magazine was first published. 

The names I hope to track are

  1.  Franklin D. Roosevelt vs. FDR 
  2. Dwight vs. Ike Eisenhower
  3. John F. Kennedy vs. JFK
  4. Lyndon B. Johnson vs. LBJ
  5. George vs. George H.W. vs. George W. Bush
  6. Joseph vs. Joe Biden

As an example, here is a very preliminary search of John F. Kennedy and JFK, as well as Franklin D. Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and FDR.

In both cases it is immediately evident that abbreviations for their names rose in popularity after they were no longer in office (which in these specific cases also means after they died). I hope to dig deeper into this phenomenon and its implications.

In addition to collecting this data, I will also read historiographical sources to try and understand the trends that I might find. Overall, I think this project will elucidate trends in public sentiment towards presidents, as well as trends in public understanding of who they are.