The #twitterstorians archives and the OHA


The main part of the proposal I submitted to the Open Humanities Awards went something like this:

Since late 2011 I have been archiving tweets containing a range of hashtags used by historians on Twitter. (Some are accessible online at The largest hashtag archives are #twitterstorians (c.30,000 tweets) and #histsci (c.20,000), alongside smaller ongoing collections such as #earlymodern and #OzHst, and archives for conferences and events (eg, both #AHA2012 and #AHA2013). These archives represent important data about the work and experiences of historians in the digital age, and this project will help to further humanities research in two ways.

Firstly, it will analyse and visualise the archives, exploring the ways in which historians have been using Twitter to connect among themselves and to engage with public audiences; and, secondly, it will create a ‘toolkit’ which will provide resources for using, researching and teaching with Twitter.

Research questions will include:
*who is using the hashtags and for what purposes. What does the #twitterstorians’ network look like? What are they talking about?
*how use varies between hashtags (eg, #twitterstorians might contain a high proportion of questions and conversations, while #histsci or #earlymodern might be more link-focused), and ways in which different hashtags are combined
*the use of ‘live tweeting’ at conferences and how it opens up discussion around previously quite closed academic spaces

The research will be blogged on the site as well as written up for more formal academic presentations.

The toolkit will include:
*a collaborative resource for information on collecting and analysing Twitter data, focusing on open source tools and options which are likely to be particularly useful for humanities researchers (this may be in a wiki format, a discussion/Q&A forum, or a mix of both)
*search and visualisation tools for the hashtag archives on the website

I hope that some of this will happen over the next year or so, whatever happens with the OHA. I’m particularly interested in analysing the #twitterstorians archive to find out more about how it’s being used as an informal social network, and looking more closely at the conference archives in the hope that they will provide useful evidence about the real benefits of live-tweeting events and whether there’s any basis for the anxieties that this activity seems to generate.

Questions for the #twitterstorians


The Open Humanities Awards were announced a few days ago.

We are challenging humanities researchers, designers and developers to create innovative projects that use open content, open data or open source to further teaching or research in the humanities. [deadline 13 March]

I’d like to enter an application involving the use of the Twitter hashtag archives that I’ve been creating at The Broadside for well over a year now. The data, drawn from the Twitter API, is stored in MySQL, so all sorts of datamining analyses, visualisations, etc, are possible, and would be presented at The Broadside website itself. (This could include topic modelling, network analysis, sentiment analysis, impact analysis, etc.)

And there is a lot of data (including some that isn’t publicly displayed at present) there for the ways in which historians are using Twitter:

  • The biggest single hashtag archive is the original one for #twitterstorians which currently contains around 28,000 tweets dating back to August 2011.
  • There are also smaller ongoing archives like #histsci, #earlymodern and #dhist.
  • Added to that are the events archives, including the AHA conferences for 2012 and 2013.

I see three main facets to the project:

  1. research questions: analysis (with offline or online tools) for presentation and publication.
  2. resources and tools on the website, to go beyond the fairly basic search facilities currently available. This will also include resources on building and working with your own archives. I’d also like to make the data itself more openly available for re-use/research but bear in mind this is restricted by the Twitter API terms of service.
  3. open code: project software code wherever possible will be made openly available, probably at Github (including the original scripts to collect and archive tweets).

So, it seems only right to ask the #twitterstorians for their ideas about what to do with the data they themselves have created!

  • What would you most like to know about this stuff?
  • What sort of visualisations would you be interested in seeing?
  • What would you like to be able to do with the archives for yourself at the website?

It’s also important for the terms of the award (and the principle of the thing!) to use open source tools and software as much as possible. I have a few in mind, but am on the lookout for more. So if you have favourite tools that are not horrendously difficult to learn to use (the project would run for a maximum 6 months), please post links. I’m also looking for the most interesting recent research on Twitter use.

And finally, if you’d like to collaborate actively on the project – especially those with relevant programming expertise, but also researchers who’d be interested in doing analysis on the data to write up for presentations and publications of their own – please let me know as soon as possible.

Twitter AHA 2012


I set up some Twitter archives for the American Historical Association 2012 meeting. Now the meeting is finished and the Twitter streams are dying down, I thought I’d shove the data into a spreadsheet and get a snapshot for some stats (all counts at time of snapshot, 12 January).

#AHA2012 or #AHA12
Number of tweets: 4590
Number of tweeters: 679 (6.8 tweets per tweeter)
382 (56.3%) posted 1 tweet only
86 (12.7%) posted 10 tweets or more
8 (1.2%) posted 100 or more
Most prolific individual: 306 tweets

Number of tweets: 581
Number of tweeters: 151
78 (51.7%) posted 1 tweet
15 (9.9%) posted 10 tweets or more
Most prolific individual: 34 tweets

I can make the data available for analysis if anyone wants it! (In fact, will probably put a version up on Google Docs in the next day or so.)

PS: Some similar stats from the MLA conference held at the same time, as of 10 January:

12K tweets, 1341 twitterers. 80% of tweets came from 30% of twitterers. 53% of twitterers tweeted only once.

It’s striking how similar the one-time only stats are, though the number of tweets per tweeter is higher (about 9). The numbers are larger overall because the MLA meeting is larger and Twitter is more established there (and they had free wifi in every room, I think, unlike the AHA). (Public Google Doc of all #MLA12 tweets here)

On Twitterstorians Day; or, how Twitter saved the History Carnival


It’s two years since Katrina Gulliver posted the first #twitterstorians list. Doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun?

That also means it’s about 1 year since I really started using Twitter seriously for the History Carnival and Carnivalesque. The experiment has done wonders for the Carnivals. Twitter is perfect for communicating with existing readers and reaching new ones, for begging for help, calls for posts for upcoming editions and announcements when editions are posted. (Both carnivals have hosts lined up several months ahead – something that’s never happened before.) It’s spread the word more widely and effectively than anything I ever tried before, and I’m eternally grateful to all the followers and retweeters who’ve made it work.

At the same time last year, I launched The Broadside to collect history blogging (and similar material) that was being linked by the people the History Carnival account follows. That used Tweeted Times, an online service that aggregates and ranks links on Twitter and creates an online ‘newspaper’ of the most popular (and, importantly, publishes RSS feeds of the newspapers). Since then, Tweeted Times has extended its service to newspapers based on search queries, and I’ve learned a bit about how to use the Twitter API.

So I’ve been thinking about ways to do more with The Broadside and here’s the result:

The site is intended to do two main things, both of which will gradually be expanded:

Firstly, to aggregate the most popularly linked history blogging and news on Twitter and help with the perennial problems of how to keep up and find the good stuff amidst all the chatter;

Secondly, as a resource to highlight what historians are already doing on Twitter and help us make more effective use of the service in research and teaching.

So, happy 2nd birthday Twitterstorians!

History Carnival at 100


HC logo

I mean, blimey.

I didn’t make a huge deal out of reaching the 100th edition of the History Carnival because in a way the number doesn’t feel all that meaningful. As the host notes, the shifts in the Carnival’s schedule between the first edition in January 2005 and finally settling down to monthly intervals in 2007 complicate things somewhat. Carnivalesque, after all, is older (September 2004) but it’s not even reached its 80s.

Nonetheless, there’s something seductive about a nice big round number that provides an excuse to reflect – not to mention do some basic housekeeping that I ought to have done ages ago. I’ve checked and cleaned up the links to all the past carnival editions; as you might expect when going back several years on the Web, a fair few links weren’t working. Some blogs had simply moved and it was merely a case of updating addresses. However, a few are no longer in existence or are inaccessible.

Between the Wayback Machine and my own sporadic efforts at archiving, most of these have been retrieved in some form: at present 89 of the editions are accessible at their original blog, and a further 8 in an archived format. One of the remaining three may still exist in an offline database and I’m hopeful the host can retrieve it at some point; the other two are on blogs that are now restricted to invited members and I’ll try to contact the hosts to see whether I can get archive versions to post on the HC site. I’ve taken Zotero snapshots of all 97 available editions and will try to remember to do that as standard for future editions so there will always be a record saved for posterity.

So that’s the housekeeping; what about the reflecting? Last time I did that, nearly two years ago, I was in a notably pessimistic mood. I wouldn’t have been at all sure that we’d get to 100. And yet, here we still are, and the Carnival seems in pretty good shape. I should do some research on visitor traffic to the editions and links on the Web, but I do know that my worries about finding hosts and getting nominations have pretty much disappeared.

Twitter has made all the difference. The Carnival has been on Twitter since last September; @historycarnival at the moment of writing has 930 followers (and nearly all of them aren’t spambots). That’s 930 people reading announcements about HC and Carnivalesque, and other relevant carnivals I happen to learn about, calls for nominations, begging tweets for hosts – and retweeting them to their own followers who might not yet be following @historycarnival themselves – in return for a relatively minimal investment of time and effort.

Back in September ’09, I and others wondered if the speed and immediacy of Twitter were making blog carnivals redundant. Fortunately, it seems there’s still a place for the more leisurely round-up – and after all it shouldn’t be forgotten that there are still many people online who detest Twitter. I think I still need to work on new non-Twitter-based communication strategies, but it feels a lot more like hard work than the few seconds it takes to send tweets that will reach several hundred people. Suggestions welcome!

Part of the answer might be tools I’ve been playing around with, which can be used to automatically send Twitter communications to other destinations. I suspect I could do more with the Broadside in that respect. I’ve recently started using ifttt, a very quick and nifty way to convert tweets into various other forms: emails, Delicious bookmarks, blog posts, etc. We’ll have to see.

Here’s to the next 100 editions!

Twitter, blogging and historians


Tuesday 7 September was the first anniversary of the founding of the twitterstorians’ list by Katrina Gulliver. I couldn’t mark the day because I was away from home and struggling with slow and unreliable internet access for most of the week, but I wanted to post something anyway, and it gave me a few days to mull over my thoughts.

I joined Twitter in June 2009, and wouldn’t change any of my reasons for doing so:

And yet, what is Twitter if not another manifestation of the adaptability of the blog as a medium of communication? … Twitter’s genius is not the 140 characters. It’s the hash key. Oh, and the @. Tagging rocks, and metadata rules our world, baby.

But that doesn’t begin to cover what I’ve learned about Twitter in the course of using it, and being put in touch with so many historians via #twitterstorians. As someone who was around when academic blogging started to really take off five or six years ago, it’s striking how many complaints about Twitter – narcissistic, shallow, trivial – echo, in even more extreme forms, what used to be said about blogging then (but which you don’t hear so much now that blogging has become so ubiquitous even in the mainstream media. Funny, that…).

After all, Twitter as a form of blogging (‘micro-blogging’) takes certain aspects of the medium, brevity, rapidity and ephemerality, to new extremes. But Twitter doesn’t just shorten posts and move things along quicker. The single most significant difference, I think, is the way in which it removes the familiar blog structure of “post” and “comments”, and simply sweeps away the hierarchy of “blogger” and “commenter”. All tweets are equal. Getting started on Twitter is even simpler and more inviting than starting a blog.

Add to that the ease of finding and following other people and (crucially) making them aware of your existence: it’s easy to take for granted those automated emails when you follow people and the simple effectiveness of the @ and RT and the hashtag (I confess I didn’t immediately get the point of the RT: so I asked Twitter, of course, and it was gently explained to me). The nearest comparable tools available to bloggers were the damnably unreliable tools of pings and trackbacks (ah, you Twitter kids don’t know you’re born…).

The cumulative effect is that Twitter facilitates the networking and linking and community-building elements of blogging to a far greater degree, more effectively and rapidly, than blogs were able to do (so much so that, yes, it can become slightly overwhelming). Much of what is said on Twitter, far from being ‘narcissistic’, refers and/or links to something happening elsewhere. Blogs and twitter networks complement each other; 140 characters is more than enough for a (shortened, of course) link and teaser, to facilitate pursuit of the bigger ideas, the more nuanced conversations, elsewhere online.

Of course, that isn’t all it does; the flexibility of Twitter is apparently endless. It’s a place to hang out and relax, a place to communicate with work colleagues, a place to get news, ask for help, vent. I use Twitter to keep in touch with ‘real-life’ friends who live hundreds of miles away, as much as with people I’ve never met in real life. Its use as a ‘backchannel’ at conferences is well-established, enabling people who are attending to discuss (or criticise) presentations and share resources, and helping people who couldn’t attend to follow (and contribute to) the discussions. Innovative uses of the tools facilitated by the Twitter API (something else I didn’t know about, let alone grasp the significance of, a year or so ago) are emerging, such as Digital Humanities Now, which ‘takes the pulse of the digital humanities community and tries to discern what articles, blog posts, projects, tools, collections, and announcements are worthy of greater attention’.

I’ve been thinking, ever since I joined Twitter, about ways that it could potentially be used to revitalise the History Carnival. It certainly did help as a supplementary channel for announcements, but this seemed to only tap the surface of its potential. So, I’ve finally created a History Carnival account, which apart from all the usual networking things you can do with a Twitter account, has enabled me to appropriate the same tools used by Digital Humanities Now to create The Broadside as a regular, Twitter-generated supplement to (and resource for) the Carnival itself.

Early this year, we had our first experiment in tweeting and blogging a complete edition. Maybe that will become a regular occurrence. Hopefully it’s the kind of thing that can spread the word of blog carnivals to new audiences. And, like most things to do with Twitter, it was fun.

Twitterstorians’ anniversary posts
Andrew Devenney
Gentleman Administrator
Georgian London
The View East

See also…
ProfHacker on How to start Tweeting
Twitter and the book trade: the good, the bad and the ugly