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.