New Website Organizes the Social Media Voices Associated with History
By Dr. Mark Bowles
Professor of History, American Public University
One of the greatest benefits of the internet is that through social media everyone has a voice.
One of the greatest challenges of the internet is that through social media everyone has a voice.
While these statements seem inherently contradictory, both are quite true. In the realm of the digital humanities, there is an explosively growing wealth of new information available each day. Every scholar, student, and institution can use Twitter, the Web, Facebook, etc., to share research simultaneously with the world.
On the other hand, this benefit is also a significant challenge. In today’s multi-channeled, cacophonous digital world, sharing a blog or Twitter stream in the humanities is often like whispering in a crowded sports stadium. The author often wonders if he or she is being heard. From the student’s perspective, finding a quality stream of thought is sometimes like wandering around a giant physical library 50 years ago without the aid of a card catalog. The only search strategy is serendipity.
This was the challenge I sought to overcome for my students in creating a new website called HistoryFeed.org. With a mission of presenting “All the news about history and the profession you need to know,” I built a tool to help organize the social media voices (or feeds) associated with the world of history. By “feed,” I mean a regular and scheduled content flow of digital information delivered through a variety of social media conduits, including RSS, Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, and LinkedIn.
There were three main tasks in this tool building process:
The first task was to tame the world of Twitter. There are countless numbers of institutions, journals, libraries, archives, and historians that send out regular tweets. In order to manage these, I vetted many of them and followed the very best in terms of the historical profession. Then, to make this content accessible to all, I began porting them to the home page of HistoryFeed.org. The website constantly updates to display relevant content of interest to anyone with a passion for history.
My next task was to provide additional content at HistoryFeed.org by subscribing to RSS feeds. Currently these feeds include those from the American National Archives, the British National Archives, the Library of Congress, and Encyclopedia Britannica. Again, this enables HistoryFeed.org to become an automatic aggregator of some of the most significant historical feeds.
My final task was to determine a way for my students to participate. I have invited all of my students to share their historical insight in the worlds of Twitter and Facebook by using a hashtag I established: #HistoryFeed. Any time a student includes this hashtag, the post collates with all others using it, thus making a vast repository of historical information. Of course, all of the posts containing this hashtag are also searchable.
As a scholar, I am also sharing my voice by creating my own historical feeds. For example, I am currently in the middle of an experiment that I believe is a first for the world of Twitter. I have rewritten one of my academic books and am tweeting the story several times a day (you can read it at #ScienceInFlux). Think of this as a 19th century serialized book in a magazine but retooled for the 21st century world of Twitter. I started this story in September 2013 and will complete it in May 2014. More on this experiment is available at my HistoryFeed blog. As NASA tweeted on September 30, “Mark Bowles condensed his 2006 AIAA award-winning book #ScienceInFlux into 756 tweets; likely a first for the Twitterverse. Follow along daily.”
Another important feed I have created is with my Twitter account, @TheHistoryFeed. At least four times a day, I tweet information about key books in history, significant historians, essential primary sources, valuable places of archival research, and general historical articles of interest.
Since HistoryFeed.org was created in early 2013, I have had some terrific feedback: @TheHistoryFeedis now up to over 2,000 followers on Twitter; HistoryFeed.org has had over 2,000 visitors; and in August 2013 the American Historical Association listed #HistoryFeed as one of the top four educational hashtags for historians.
I look forward to continuing my work with HistoryFeed.org and better integrating it with my APU classroom. However, its power is in the people that come to our digital table. I welcome you to tune in to the conversation by following me @TheHistoryFeed, visiting HistoryFeed.org, and sharing your historical insight at #HistoryFeed.
About the Author:
Mark D. Bowles is Professor of History at American Public University System. He earned his Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University in 1999, and he has authored or co-authored twelve books focusing on the history of science and technology. His most recent book is a college-level textbook on Digital Literacy.
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