Week 2 – Twitter – the future of the past?

In the realm outside of the academic, historians have been trying to find a way to nurture ideas and create conversations in a way that does not require lengthy peer review or substantial and intricate research, and what they found, alongside its many other uses, was Twitter.

Founded in 2006, Twitter has been a tool for academics to generate communities of fellows with similar interests, and a way for them to become more familiar with current events in a given field. However, given the limitations of 140 characters versus the usual standard of 8,000 words minimum for journal articles, is Twitter the way forward for academia? Or is it just a side-along for more laid back musings?

Being a mainly mobile platform, Twitter is generally limited by not only number of characters, but the interface that it requires. While it is available on all mobile platforms, traditional academics may see the digital aspect as a drawback to its use in the first instance. The internet can be fickle, and when updates for mobile applications are required, or even server issues for web platforms occur, Twitter can become unreachable and therefore unusable for historians. A further issue in the use of Twitter for historians is the brevity required. Whilst browsing the popular #twitterstorian tag, it is difficult to find a tweet within the 140 character limit, with tweets often linking to other pages to continue the discussion. While this is a valuable way of promoting blog posts or other such articles, it can be argued that this defeats the object of Twitter’s set out parameters.

However, Twitter had become a widely utilized platform for discussion despite these reasons. The use of ‘#hashtags’ has expanded the means of connecting people as it is much simpler to identify interest groups by era or subject, on a more informal  level. Organisations as well, that have their own twitter page are a hive of information, not only about collections, but about links to other opinions in the wider debate. For academics, the ability to share thoughts on conferences is an effortless way to network with others in the field, creating communities in an instant outside of grey brick university offices and peer review journal articles.

Bringing history to be ‘down with the kids’ on Twitter can be seen to demean its prevalent academic standing, but perhaps creating a more open community for the new generation of historians working in the digital age is what history is calling for, to bring the study of the past into the 21st century.

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