This week we we are discussing the pros and cons of Twitter and other forms of social media presence that historians (and academics) may choose to use. I’ve had my own Twitter account for several years, but have just begun to really enjoy Twitter over the last year. I’ve started following historians and other academics whose research interests are similar to mine, as well as some professional organizations and other random people whose work I can follow via Twitter. Twitter is an interesting space for academics because it opens them up to discourse from/with the general public. For instance, Kevin Gannon and Kevin Kruse, both very active on Twitter, often converse with completely random people as well as popular culture icons (like Chrissy Teigen!!). The benefit to this is that it opens up conversation across people–possibly making the “ivory tower” seem less “ivory tower-ish” and more like a local coffee shop (maybe?). However, the problem with this can be when these relatively known historians start debating with people who don’t know what they are talking about. It seems to amplify voices who (imho) shouldn’t be amplified.
But that aside, a really cool thing I’ve discovered about Twitter is the amount of people you see. Facebook has been the space where I hung my social media hat for a long time, but it is easy to be isolated on Facebook. I’ve noticed that I see a lot of people on Twitter who I wouldn’t have followed if it weren’t for the fact that one of my virtual Twitter friends has liked or shared something. I’ve found historians, academics, clever people, complete trolls, and other entities through this method than I ever could have if I’d just tried to find “interesting” accounts on my own. What I’m saying is: Twitter can be a really good place to amplify voices and ideas, as well as meet new people (virtually) and hear voices from all sorts of places and ideologies.
We were also instructed to find a website for a historian and I found one for Kevin Gannon, who I first discovered in the documentary “13th” and found later on Twitter. Here is a link to his website: https://www.thetattooedprof.com/about/
A quick overview: the homepage is his blog space. Here he writes about what he is doing professionally but also often links interesting Twitter conversations and Tweets. He is VERY active on Twitter, so this doesn’t surprise me. His posts/blogs are very random. The most recent is from December 2018 and then a few in the months preceding. It looks like he probably spends more time Tweeting than blogging. The “About” page is exactly what you would expect. Here he has a bio, CV. and link to contact him about speaking engagements, etc. The Courses & Teaching link is my favorite because he actually provides syllabi for his most recent courses. There is a list of 10 or so syllabi. This is a really nice source–it helps to see what other people are doing when they organize classes, so I’m very happy about this. Finally, he has a page titled “Talks and Presentations” where he describes his research interests as well as any upcoming talks.
His website is clean, easy to navigate, and has little to distract you (I HATE going to websites with lots of ads or pop-ups!). It works well as a place to learn about his research interests and expertise. I’m not sure it works as much more than that. He does have a blog page which could be interesting if used more, but I think he’s basically transitioned to being a “twitterstorian” more than anything else. He does not have a space I can find that lists his publications. I like that Brandon Byrd has that link–it’s helpful to look at some of his work right in one place. Natalia Petrzela’s site is the most sophisticated. It doesn’t even look like an academic’s site. I like her videos and links to her podcasts. It’s also convenient how she has an Amazon link to buy her books. This website looks like something for a celebrity more than an academic, to be honest. I’m not sure how I feel about that (it probably shouldn’t matter).
I think in the end, what works is what you’re comfortable with. If you want to market yourself online, then you’re going to have to put the time and money into having a sophisticated website that people can maneuver easily and get all of the important information. I think having publications on the site is helpful, even if it’s just a title with a short description of the work. If you’re doing anything digital (like regularly tweeting, creating podcasts, blogging, etc.) then those need to be linked in your website so people can find you. I’ve heard from many people in the job market that having a website is important. Apparently job committees will look for a website. I’m not sure how I feel about this because it can take away some of the anonymity that comes with a paper application (for instance, most people are going to have their picture on a website), but maybe that’s just the world we’re living in now.