Twitter

For better or worse, social media has become a major part of late-stage capitalism this brave new digital world.  Twitter, that land of the 140-character tweet and disjointed Presidential ramblings has emerged as a pretty useful tool for historians; Ana Stevenson’s 2016 article, “How Can Historians Best Use Twitter?” is a very handy guide.  She points to the American Historical Association’s 2011 five guidelines for professional historians to get the most out of this particular platform: 1) follow organizations, 2) use hashtags, 3) tweet (and retweet) conferences, 4) Share resources, and (perhaps most important?): 5) job searches.  In addition, she also offers some tips as to the best way to frame URLs and photos for the Twittersphere to maximize their impact.  The question that needs to be asked then, is how successful have historians been at creating the kind of Twitter connections that Stevenson writes about?  Vanessa Varin has a pretty good estimate in “Mapping the History Twittersphere”, were she presents visual representations of the Twitter connections between #Twitterstorians, compared to more broad categories like #History or #PublicHistory.  Her findings are striking: there is a dense, interconnected network of Twitter users (Tweeters? Twits?) bound by the hashtag #Twitterstorians; the connections are nowhere near as interlocking when she compares #History.  The hashtag #PublicHistory, while comprising a smaller user base than #Twitterstorians, still exhibits the same network characteristics, albeit on a smaller scale.  Although this proves that there is a strong community of like-minded professional historians, is that leading to more research and collaboration via Twitter, or because of Twitter? As Varin asks, “Are we actually connecting with one another and exchanging ideas, or are we merely tweeting in a shared space without any meaningful discourse?”  She does not have an answer.  The benefits of Twitter are pretty obvious: it’s a great platform to drive potential customers to your work.  The 140-character tweet drives the public toward the 1000-word blog, which in turn points to the journal article or monograph at the other end of the spectrum, but is that all that it’s good for?

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