What would your average Civil War soldier have tweeted about the Battle of Gettysburg? Would he described the generals’ plans or the battle’s strategic importance? Would he have described his reasons for fighting, his fears, his sense of camaraderie with other fighters? Maybe he would have just reported about the beans he had for breakfast.
The creators of TwHistory have taken short tidbits from soldiers’ letters, diaries, and other written records and parsed them into 140 character tweets describing their perspectives on the major historical events unfolding around them. The first TwHistory project follows the events at Gettysburg and the second project has followed the Cuban Missile Crisis. Future projects will tweet the Mormon Overland Trail and the Lewis and Clark Expedition. These choices all make a lot of sense because participants left behind numerous journals, letters, and other eyewitness accounts of complex historical events.
By creating Twitter accounts for lots of different soldiers, TwHistory found a way to deliver multiple perspectives on the same event. If one follows multiple soldiers’ Twitter feeds, one gets a “real time” narrative of Gettysburg from ordinary soldiers. TwHistory is currently developing a package or application that would allow scholars, students, or cultural heritage institutions to create similar projects to document other historical events. Such a tool would allow individuals or organizations to Tweet the Boston Massacre, the Uprising of the 20,000, or the Kent State shootings. Can you think of a project for your organization or students to create a TwHistory? What local event might come alive by mining the archives and delivering content via Tweets? How would your students engage with primary sources differently if they were figuring out how to synthesize a diary entry into one or a series of 140 character microblog posts?
By the way, note that TwHistory uses WordPress and other free tools to build its website; it is also being developed cooperatively, as many innovative digital humanities projects are.