Live Tweeting a Historical Event


Spokane’s Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture, the site of the Twitter “re-enactment”

Over at Northwest History, Eastern Washington University public historian Larry Cebula writes about how he and some local historians conducted a Twitter re-enactment of Spokane’s 1889 fire.  According to his post, several folks got together with historical documents and began composing tweets using the hashtag #greatfire1889.  They even got coverage in the local newspaper!

Cebula writes:

It was a blast. We each worked from a different resource about the fire, books and letters and newspaper articles, and pulled out striking and dramatic bits. The 144-character limit of Twitter was not as much of a problem as I would have thought, and we quickly figured out that 144 characters equaled about one-and-a-half lines on the Google Doc. We tried to keep the Tweets roughly chronological as we added them to the document. The Google Doc had the great advantage of allowing everyone to see what the others were working on and avoiding duplicate tweets on the same subject. We added brief citation notes to each tweet, not to be tweeted but to document where we had found the information in case there were questions later. We also looked at some of the dramatic photographs that Harbine had identified from the collections and wrote tweets to highlight those images.

After ninety minutes or so we had in excess of thirty tweets that did a really nice job of telling the story of the fire. Camporeale then assigned times to each tweet. The tweets went into Hootsuite, a social media tool that allows one to schedule tweets in advance, each set to be tweeted at the right time.

Cebula offers some tips for doing such a project in a public history or digital history course:

Live tweeting a historical event would make a great classroom project for digital and public history courses. This presentation lays out how they did a similar project on the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald has some good tips. Here are the steps as I see it

  1. Pick a historical event. Something dramatic, well-documented, and with contemporary interest. It needs to be an event that took place over a few days, not months. Choose a time period that you will be tweeting, maybe 3-7 days?
  2. Choose a hashtag. Make sure that it has not been taken.
  3. Assemble some resources. It really worked well to have different people pulling their tweets out of different sources. Resources could be a mix of physical and digital, with digitized books and newspapers offering a rich set of perspectives. Make a Google Doc with links to the digital resources.
  4. Write the tweets. If I were working with a larger class, I would organize the Google Doc a bit in advance by making headings for each days tweets. Encourage students to find relevant images to attach to the tweets.
  5. Schedule the tweets with Hootsuite or a similar social media manager

Read the rest here.

On Writing Your Second History Book


Benjamin Park, an early American historian who teaches at Sam Houston State University in Texas, has live-tweeted a great session from the annual meeting of the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic (SHEAR) on how to go about writing a second book.

For most academic historians, their first book is a revised version of their dissertation. Much of the research and writing for the first book is accomplished during graduate school. (Although revisions are always necessary for turning a dissertation into a book). Second books, however, are usually written under different circumstances.  Graduate students become faculty members and their lives change.  They have to prepare lectures, attend meetings, and, for some, take on the responsibilities of family life.  Writing that second book become a lot more difficult when one’s attention is pulled in so many different directions.

The members of the panel:

Kathleen DuVal of UNC-Chapel Hill

Paul Erickson of the American Antiquarian Society

Timothy Mennell, University of Chicago Press

Tamara Plakins Thornton, University at Buffalo

Catherine Kelly, University of Oklahoma

As I read Ben’s tweets I once again realized how different my career has been when compared to the traditional career trajectory (or at least the one that is considered normal among people who attend SHEAR) in the profession.

Here are some of Park’s post

Trump’s Presidential Diary


Check out Michael Kruse’s piece at Politico on Donald Trump’s tweets as a primary source for future historians.

Here is a taste:

The people, though, who want Trump to keep tweeting are the people who rely on his words to do their jobs—reporters, biographers, political scientists and strategists, and presidential historians. They often are appalled by the content of the tweets, just plain weary like everybody else of the volume and pace of the eruptions and deeply worried about their consequences as well—but still, they say, the more Trump tweets, the better.

Trump’s Twitter timeline is the realest real-time expression of what he thinks, and how he thinks. From his brain to his phone to the world, the “unfiltered” stream of 140-character blurts makes up the written record with which Trump is most identified. “I think Twitter,” one White House official told POLITICO, “is his diary.”

It is, presidential historian Robert Dallek told me, “a kind of presidential diary.”

“A kind of live diary,” Princeton University political scientist Julian Zelizer said.

“His version of a diary,” said Douglas Brinkley, editor of The Reagan Diaries.

Many modern presidents have kept a diary of some sort—that no member of the public sees until long after the author has left the Oval Office. The White House didn’t respond to four requests for comment on whether Trump is following suit, but people who know him well say it’s all but impossible to imagine him sitting down with a pen and paper in a quiet moment. “Absolutely zero chance,” one of them said. In the presumed absence, then, of a more traditional version of the form, Trump’s collected tweets comprise the closest thing to a diary this presidency will produce. And that is what makes the messages from @realDonaldTrump, almost 800 and counting since January 20, 2017, such a prize to those who care the most about lasting insight into the president and this administration. If @realDonaldTrump was to go dark, and Trump stopped tweeting to his more than 32 million followers, humans and bots alike, the loss from a historical standpoint would be acute. What else would there be to memorialize the breathtaking bluntness of the 45th president of the United States? But can the nation weather the daily injury of Trump’s epistolary eye-pokes?

Read the rest here.

Historians: Take Notes!


Check out Fernanda Zamudio-Suarez‘s piece at The Chronicle of Higher Education on historians, archivists, and scholars who are taking notes, keeping journals, tweeting, and blogging about the age of Trump.

As part of the story Fernanda Zamudio interviewed Rebecca Erbelding of the United States Holocaust Memoral Museum, Ari Kohen of the University of Nebraska (and the author of “Trump Watch” blog),  Chris Prom of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Melanie Newport of the University of Connecticut at Hartford.

Here is a taste:

History is made every day, but there’s no doubt that this November something changed for Ms. Erbelding. Now, she says, she feels like she’s living in “extraordinary times” worth journaling about.

“There did seem to be a more palpable sense, at least to me, of, ‘I am actually living through history,’” Ms. Erbelding said. “It felt different. And I guess I’m going to try to keep it up until it stops feeling different.”

She knows that the Library of Congress is working to archive Twitter, but Ms. Erbelding said there’s also value in people taking note of how specific political actions and policy changes make them feel. She’s careful to note that she doesn’t journal every day, but knows that documenting moments that feel personally important is significant for future scholars. It’s this type of documentation, written or typed on one-sided paper, that she could see archivists and historians using for displays in future museum exhibits, she said.

Read the entire article here.

Some Early Tweets on Alan Jacobs’s Essay “The Watchmen”


Alan Jacobs

As many of you know by now, Alan Jacobs has written an excellent essay on Christian intellectuals in the current tissue of Harper’s Magazine.  It is titled “The Watchmen: What Became of the Christian Intellectuals.”  I hope to do some posts on the piece very soon here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  Stay tuned.

Twitter has been abuzz with commentary on Jacobs’s article and Jacobs himself has joined the conversation. I have Storified as many tweets as possible here. (They are listed in chronological order and I have not commented on any of them in the story.  I did my best to capture some of the key threads, but my collection is certainly not comprehensive).

Some of the tweets are helpful.  Others are snarky.  Some are disrespectful.  Others are wise and insightful.  I will let you decide which tweets fit into which category! 🙂

Rowdy Gaines: Gold Medalist, Olympic Commentator, and Tweeter


A lot of great things happened last night in the Olympic swimming pool.  I got pretty excited about it:

On that last tweet about Ledecky, check out our post from this morning.

And yes, I am aware that I misspelled Anthony Ervin’s last name in these tweets.

After this initial flurry of swimming tweets, things got even better.  NBC commentator and former Olympic gold medalist Rowdy Gaines jumped into the conversation. He “liked” my tweet about Ervin sleeping on his coach.

I responded:

Then came this:

I responded as a total fanboy:

And then came another “like” from Rowdy.

Made my night!  And yes, I am a middle-aged man with a Ph.D who makes a living as a college professor.

Livetweeting Conferences

5bf22-twitter-logo-hashtagOver at The Junto, Jonathan Wilson has a nice post on the pros and cons of livetweeting at academic conferences.  As someone who often live-tweets conference sessions I found his post very informative.

Why do I live tweet?  For many of the reasons suggested by the people Wilson interviewed. Here are two of them:

  • To share information with those who are not present.  I see livetweeting as a form of doing public history.  Is this a form of “self-promotional” display, as one recent critic of the practice has suggested?  Perhaps. But so is giving a public lecture, or writing an op-ed piece, or publishing an article, or teaching a class, or blogging.
  • Selfishly, live-tweeting helps me to stay focused on the session.  I have a hard time digesting papers at conferences, especially when they are read at a rapid rate.  I see tweeting as a form of note taking.  When I tweet I get a lot more out of the session than if I don’t tweet.

In the end, Wilson is right:

Conference livetweeting is socially awkward at the best of times, and it involves real risks. Its value depends on the good judgment of those who engage in it; they need to know how to read a room as well as how to summarize someone else’s work accurately. It also depends to an uncomfortable degree on the good faith of the far-flung audience. We rely on them to understand that livetweeting is ad-hoc, fallible, and fragmentary—a series of impressions that could be misleading in unpredictable ways. Thus, we should expect academic livetweeting to change as the overall culture of Twitter changes. And we probably need to be prepared to adopt defensive measures as Twitter becomes (so far) an increasingly charged public space.

Read the entire piece here.

Sunday (and a Saturday night) Tweets From OAH 2015

Here are my favorite tweets from the Sunday sessions at the OAH Annual Meeting St. Louis.  #oah2015.  You can find the tweets from Friday here and Saturday here.

Saturday Tweets from #OAH2015

As I mentioned yesterday, I am not at the OAH this year. But I am following the Twitter feed at #oah2015.  Here are some of today’s favorites:






My Favorite Friday Tweets From the Annual Meeting of the Organization of American Historians

I am not in St. Louis this weekend attending the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians, but I have been following the twitter feed #oah2015.  Here are the top tweets of the day:











Erin Bartram’s Busy Day at AHA 2015

Erin Bartram is back.  As some of you read this, Erin will be presenting at American Society of Church History session “American Religion Online: How Digital Projects Can Change How We Teach, Research, and Interpret Religious History.”  I am looking forward to chairing and commenting. Here is her latest AHA post.  I can’t believe she got a lanyard! –JF
My day began not-so-bright but definitely early at the Women in Theology and Church History breakfast. It was such a treat, but also such a shame that it was so short and I didn’t get to meet many of the people whose projects were so interesting to me.  I was fortunate enough to meet up with some of the graduate students from the breakfast at the ASCH reception in the evening. Perhaps the most important development at the breakfast – I got a lanyard from ASCH Executive Secretary Keith Francis!
My first panel of the day was “Doing More with Less:The Promise and Pitfalls of Short-Form Scholarship in the Digital HistoryAge.” Kathy Nasstrom talked about the Oral History Review’s foray into short-form articles which you can read more about here. She said most of the submissions so far had come from traditional university-based scholars but that she hoped to see more from alternative kinds of scholars. Ben Railton spoke about blogging, tweeting, and writing pieces for websites like Talking Points Memo. One of his main points, echoed by the others on the panel, was that blogging is very generative, but that there’s no built in audience (except your parents) so you have to find a way to connect to your desired audience. Stephanie Westcott spoke about the overabundance of knowledge being created by scholars in an online form, and offered two ways to help us manage that deluge. The PressForward plugin helps scholars stay up to date on a given topic by aggregating blog posts of interest, and Digital Humanities Now curates and promotes new and interesting DH projects.
Finally, Kristin Purdy of Palgrave Macmillan talked about the Pivot series, which publishes works longer than an article but shorter than a monograph. Of the many benefits to this series, most interesting to me was something all of the panelists extolled as a virtue of short-form scholarship: the relative speed with which material can get to its audience and make an impact. Purdy said that while monographs spend months in the editorial process, Pivot books can make it to press in nine weeks. She cited the example of Peter Conn’s book Adoption: A Social and Cultural Historywhich was cited one month after its publication in an amicus brief submitted to the Supreme Court in the Proposition 8 case. The potential of all of these new forms was palpable in the discussion, but the comments did return several times to that perpetual question whenever innovation in form is considered: “How will this count towards tenure?”
On I went to the Digital Pedagogy Lightning Round, where nearly two dozen of us took two minutes each to pitch or explain a way to use digital methods in teaching. The ideas came fast and furious and I gave up taking notes, but I urge you to read the #s95 hashtag to see all of the amazing things presented. The main thing that struck me, however, was that all of this technology was being used to help teachers help their students as people, not just learners, whether by empowering students to create history in new and interesting ways or helping professors streamline assessment to leave them with more time to focus on the meaningful connections that can drive learning and keep students engaged and enrolled. I pitched my own project, and hopefully after a few conversations tomorrow, I’ll have something to share in my next update. One major benefit to a DH session like this? You pick up a dozen newTwitter followers in a couple of hours!
I had planned on choosing from one of several panels in the afternoon but when it came down to it, coming back to my hotel room and resting my brain a little bit won out. Thankfully, with John tweeting the public intellectuals panel, I felt like I didn’t miss a thing. Feeling a bit more refreshed a few hours later, I wandered over to the book exhibit, made a list of a million books I want to read, and tried to avoid the throngs of scholars clutching their complimentary wine and cheese. I didn’t buy anything, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to hold out tomorrow.
Tonight, all that’s left is to pack up and prepare for my presentation tomorrow morning: “The American Converts Database: TheDatabase as an Expression of Scholarship on Religious History.” For anyone who might be coming to the panel tomorrow morning on American religion online, feel free to take a look at the database beforehand. (

Tweeting the 2014 Meeting of the Conference on Faith and History

If you have been reading this blog or following my twitter feed (@johnfea1) you know that I just returned from the biennial meeting of the Conference on Faith and History (CFH).  This year’s CFH was special.  It was held in Malibu, California on the campus of Pepperdine University.  Lori Hunnicutt and her team at Pepperdine did an amazing job of hosting the 300 Christian historians who attended the conference,

But this year’s conference was also special because of the program.  Jay Green of Covenant College brought together a very impressive array of Christian historians and intellectuals to discuss the conference theme “Christian Historians & Their Publics.”

It is fair to say that this was the best CFH meeting ever held–both in terms of location and program. I have already started blogging about some of the sessions and hope to do a few more posts throughout the week  But to get us rolling, here are some of my favorite tweets from #cfh2014:

Tweeting the AHA

The AHA will be a working conference for me this year.  As a result, I will probably only make it to about one or two sessions.  I don’t even know if I will have time to wander the book exhibit.  Perhaps Sunday morning. 

When I AM attending a session I hope to do some tweeting.  Follow along at @johnfea1 or at #aha2014.  

Academic Tweeting

When do I use Twitter?  First, I have all the blog posts from The Way of Improvement Leads Home sent directly to my Twitter feed (follow me @johnfea1).  Second, I occasionally tweet academic conferences. For example, I was the top tweeter at this year’s American Historical Association conference in New Orleans.

I rarely post a random tweet that has nothing to do with a conference or the blog.  I thus use Twitter primarily, and almost solely, for professional purposes. Since I joined Twitter about a year ago, the number of people who read The Way of Improvement Leads Home has grown considerably. 

Over at The Junto, Joseph Adelman explores some of the positive aspects and the negative aspects of academic tweeting.  Here is a taste:

On the other hand, I like to think of myself as relatively clear on some of the drawbacks of Twitter. First of all, it takes time. We all get exactly 168 hours a week, unless you’ve figured out some sort of wormhole thing that you haven’t shared with the rest of us. Time on Twitter is time you are not doing something else. And yes, it’s not the place for nuance—at least once a month I end up in a conversation that goes off in a silly/bad direction because it’s hard to get one’s point across in a sophisticated way in 140 characters. It has also in the past year or so (at least on my feed) seemed to become a bit more of a closed loop. That is, it’s become a bit harder to my mind to offer unorthodox opinions. I still find it an enormously useful service, but lately I’ve found it somewhat less welcoming. I don’t think it reflects well on the humanities, nor does it bode well for the possibilities of the service. But that may be a topic for another post. 

Top Tweeters from the OAH Meeting in San Francisco

It’s almost like being there…

In no particular order with a representative tweet included:

History News NetworkEric Foner: I don’t think the 14th Amendment could be ratified *today*, so let’s not underestimate impact of Reconstruction

Samuel Redman: Academic historians tend to emphasize analysis, theory, and tough questions. NPS generally emphasizes story and narrative in programming.

Mark Robertson: The discussion ranged far beyond their subjects into social activism and the role of historians in society.

Alexis Coe:  “It wasn’t in the archives” and “It didn’t factor in” are disappointing answers from really good historians

Dianne M. SommervilleFoner took issue with hd history teacher who said Reconstruction Act worst law in Am hist. No, Foner said, Alien & Sedition Act

OAH: Nancy Cott, University, chosen OAH President-Elect

Suzanne Fischer:  These are great papers, but what’s with this reading of papers and no pictures? All these pamphlet/alt press sources are important

Adam Arenson how, online, the research never ends – book has more interactive post-publication life