Tag Archives: #twitterstorians


I teach at the Program in Cultures, Civilizations and Ideas at Bilkent University, in Ankara. The Program teaches a year-long intensive course focusing on the meaning of culture, to students of the various departments of the University, for many of whom the course is obligatory. Bilkent is an English-taught university, and my students are from a wide range of departments, including computer sciences, mechanical, electrical and industrial engineering, law, archaeology, and management. This term, I teach a reading course in ancient and classical civilization, covering texts ranging from the Epic of Gilgamesh to Plato’s Republic; at the moment we are tackling Homer’s Iliad.

The Iliad is not an easy text to read. Robert Fagles’ translation is not an easy translation to read. This would be true for most students (actually, most readers); and my students are further disadvantaged in that for the vast majority of them, English is not their native language, and many of them, they don’t read (or even like reading) literature all that much to begin with.

This is one of the contexts of the #Iliad assignment I did with my students (inspired by, adapted from Alun Withey’s ‘Peasants’ Revolt … in 5 tweets!’). I wanted to explore with my students how we can engage with the classical text through various media (later in the semester, I want them to do a project where they choose their own medium); a second context, therefore, was provided by Almeida Theatre’s fabulous reading of the Iliad, which in addition to streaming video feed, was live tweeted. I first showed my students a snippet from Bertie Carvel’s intensely expressive reading from the work, and then gave them a handout of the @iliadlive tweets for the first book – which part of the text, at this point, most of my students had read. I asked them to comment on the different things the tweets provide: summary, explanation, commentary, humour, etc. were mentioned. Students were particularly good at picking up the humour, and were for example able to identify several layers of irony referred to in this tweet:

I then introduced them to the assignment:

#Iliad, Book Three

Write “tweets” –on paper!– describing (a selection of) the narrative of book 3, from the perspective of the person whose identity you have been handed in class:

Paris (@FoolForLove)

Menelaus (@BattleHungry)

Helen (@TooPretty)

The Achaeans (@NotAHorse)

The Trojans (@HorseBreakers)

Use all 6 “tweets” of your handout to give your version of Book 3.

Each tweet: maximum 140 characters

Bonus for creative use of hashtags and @mentions

Perspective: think, for example, of what your character can know, what they would find important, how they would view certain actions and events, what kind of language they would use.

Subsequently, I handed each of them their ‘identities’ on pre-prepared ‘tweet sheets’ – ensuring students sitting next to each other in class would not receive the same character.


I had chosen to do the assignment on paper for several reasons, including the politicized position of twitter here in Turkey; the fact that I didn’t want to force them to participate in a particular company’s product; my fear that introducing too much technology into the classroom would take time, distracting from the principal aims of the assignment: I wanted to explore the limitations and possibilities of a particular medium, and felt twitter was especially useful for this, because of its very strict limitations and explicit set of ‘tools’ (e.g., hashtags, mentions). For me, personally, the assignment in this way also interacted in interesting ways with my (so far entirely serendipitous) thinking about what @senseshaper has called #dedigitizethearchive: exploring the various issues involved in moving back and forth between digital, mechanical, and manual media. I did ask how many students had their own twitter accounts, which about 70% declared.

So I sent them home with their identities, to read Book 3, and fill in their sheets. Next class, I grouped them according to their identities (all Helens in one group, all Achaeans in another – my classes are up to circa 25 students, so I had groups up to 5), had them compare notes, and fill in one more sheet as a group – some chose to select the “best” tweets, other created a consecutive series as a group. During their discussions, I circulated through the class – but after a little bit, they became so absorbed by the exercize, that my asking questions seemed more of a hinder than an encouragement, so I fell back until they were done.

When they were done, I collected the group sheets, and read them out in class, using them to discuss the various aspects that each picked up on. I put my twitter account up on display, but lack of time prevented me from tweeting all the group sheets during the lesson. In two of my three classes I did tweet one group’s tweets – after asking permission, to which no one objected (I expressly stated I would not tweet their individual work). I tweeted the other groups’ tweets later in the day, and am sharing responses to their tweets with them in our next class together. These are their tweets – written by groups of students who, in the vast majority, have never read a text like the Iliad before:

Class 1

Class 2

Class 3

I was very impressed with the range and variety of aspects of the text reflected in my students’ tweets – from Helen’s conflicted internal monologues to Menelaus’ asking the troupes for retweets, and from a baffled Menelaus wondering what just happened after Paris disappeared to Helen’s shocked ‘selfie’ watching the battlefield, there are many very interesting readings of the text, and very few poor ones. Many of the tweets also provided opportunity for further discussion in class. They particularly commented on paying attention to details which would give them clues for how “their” character would look at events. In the process, they also had found humour where they previously had seen little. Perhaps the best result from the assignment, however, was what the students reported about their reading experience: the assignment made them engage with the text in an unprecedented way, both in the ways in which they were able to talk about it, and in their own experience: several told me that the assignment had made them read the text in a more engaged way than they had ever read any literature before.


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‘If the Page satisfie not, inquire in the Margine’

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have seen me tweet a poor image of this sentence a couple of times in the past, with the hashtag #JohnSelden, the seventeenth-century author whose work I have been studying over the past year. I started tweeting it a while back as a response to a couple of citations from John Selden that do the rounds on Twitter, apparently specifically among its droves of spam accounts. Facetiously, I claimed to aim to have the sentence picked up by the bots instead of, say, ‘While you are upon the earth, enjoy the good things that are here’:

While you areSo far, I failed in that aim, but people seem to like the ‘Margine’ tweet, and it usually attracts about ten retweets, and regularly a nice comment or two. This week, however, I went to the new Weston Library of the Bodleian, and because it was #MarginaliaMonday I took a new picture, which looks much, much nicer, and tweeted it:

In a day, it and two MTs based on it attracted a hundred retweets, which I thought was remarkable for a tweet that was meant to be part of a book historical running gag. It also made me realize, however, that perhaps it was time to get serious about the quote: what does it mean exactly?

The sentence comes from Poly-Olbion, a poem by Michael Drayton about the British landscape and British history, to which John Selden wrote a prose commentary, called, somewhat confusingly, ‘illustrations’. The work is now perhaps best known for its imaginative maps, samples of which can be seen on the Poly-Olbion Project website. It was first published, in 1612, as a series of eighteen songs about England and Wales (the northern part of England was to follow in 1622, a planned volume on Scotland never appeared). In 1613, this first volume of the work was re-issued with an additional title page, and with a selective index to subjects discussed in Selden’s commentary: ‘A table to the chiefest passages, in the Illustrations, which, worthiest of observation, are not directed unto by the course of the volume.’ It is in the margin to this final part of the sentence that we find the note.

With the phrase ‘directed unto by the course of the volume’, Selden points at the chorographical organization of the work: as the eighteen songs each deal with a specific geography within England and Wales, and each has a brief introduction to the geography treated in that particular song, the overall geographical organization of the work should suffice to guide interested readers to commentary to particular locations; the table was meant for those subjects that could not easily be located in that way, such as specific people (e.g., Arthur; Madoc), peoples (Saxons; Stuarts), and a myriad of other subjects (e.g., ‘Lipsius deceiv’d about Bearing the Dragon’; ‘Sheepe cloathed to save their wool’). Page numbers to each subject in the table direct the reader to the place where a subject can be found discussed in the ‘illustrations’. These prose commentaries, linked to specific verses in the poetry, are themselves accompanied by extensive notes in the margins, akin to our footnotes to academic writing, offering translations, source references, and occasionally additional explanations or digressions. The note ‘If the Page satisfie not, inquire in the Margine’, here, then, means: if you look for a subject indicated in the table, and you notice you can’t find it in the main text column, look at the notes in the margin to see if the subject is mentioned there.

In short, the meaning of the sentence is at the same time more prosaic, but perhaps also more interesting, than it seems at first sight: no, it does not mean that the margins are more exciting than the main text column; but within its context, it does bear witness to an early modern author’s preoccupation with how his work appeared on the page.

P.S. The sentence is also the title of a paper on the layout of the Poly-Olbion which I have recently submitted for publication to the Journal of Illustration Studies, which is open access, so with some luck I can update this post with a link to the published article in a couple of months.

P.P.S. There have been a number of interesting comments on twitter about this post, which made me think a little more about why exactly the image received so much attention; part of the explanation, I think, lies in the parallels between marginalia and twitter itself, which has been written about by Dorothy Kim. That made me wonder if we should be thinking through the implications of those parallels in relation to printed marginalia with reference to manipulated timelines (such as those of Facebook)?

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Twitter at historical conference: how to introduce it to those who are not #twitterstorians themselves

Below are templates for information sheets for the use of Twitter at historical conferences, aimed at attendees not necessarily acquainted with the medium. They are based on documents I prepared for the International Conference of the Medieval Chronicle (Liverpool), tweeted using the hashtag #MedChron; in compiling them, I based myself on several guidelines and lists of suggestions to tweeting at conference found online (such as those of the MLA), as well as the blogposts by Dorothy Kim and Jonathan Hsy referred to in the text, and discussion on Twitter itself.

My main aim with the documents was to inform, and to ensure everyone felt comfortable with the presence of twitter at the conference. The first was aimed at all attendees; the second especially at those interested in tweeting themselves.
In the end we had 1 opt-out, some sceptics, many people indifferent, and some very happy to have their papers tweeted and eager to know more about twitter. The Twitter stream achieved its main aim, i.e. to ensure the conference, which coincided with the Leeds International Medieval Conference, was visible within the larger context of #medievaltwitter, and I was happy overall, except I wished I had made explicitly clear that an opt-out did not need justification or explanation. Additionally, I am unsure about the “ask before tweeting pictures” suggestion.

I’m eager to hear suggestions for improvements based on your experiences – and in the meanwhile, I hope these templates will be of use, for you to adapt to your own conferences.

In the templates below, I have put information that needs to be adjusted to your conference between square brackets.

[Edit, 13/4/2016: in the light of conversations on twitter following S.J. Pearce‘s blogpost ‘Why I Won’t Follow #KZoo16 on Twitter’, I want to stress: every conference needs a well-formulated social media policy, and that policy needs to include a well-considered decision whether live tweeting is going to be opt-in or opt-out.]

Introduction to Twitter at the [conference]

Dear all,
as [function], I am very much looking forward to meet you all and hear your papers at a vibrant conference in Liverpool. I am writing this message, however, not as [function], but to provide some information about another aspect of the conference: its presence on Twitter. Live tweeting has become a regular occurrence at humanities conferences, and we are eager both to ensure that everyone feels comfortable with its use at the conference, and to facilitate an interesting feed emanating from the conference. Twitter can be a fantastic tool to encourage discussion and raise awareness and interest; and for members of your audience, live tweeting a paper can be a more engaged form of note-taking. I have drafted guidelines on twitter at the conference, which are included below, and will be available in your conference pack.
Any speaker who does not want to be tweeted can make this known at any time; if you send me a message ([email]) I will ensure this will be announced before the start of your presentation. We will also be advising chairs of the individual sessions to double-check with speakers whether they are comfortable being tweeted. Barring such opt-outs, everyone is invited to contribute to the twitter feed. The hashtag of our conference will be #[hashtag]; a selection of tweets shall be retweeted via the [organization] handle @[handle], which will also continue to be used for Society and Conference announcements. I am hoping to ensure there will be at least one live tweeter at each session; I would be most grateful if anyone interested in tweeting gets in touch with me so I can try to coordinate our presence over the various sessions.
A good introduction to the why and how of medieval twitter can be found in this post by Dorothy Kim. Jonathan Hsy’s post about twitter at the International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo is very insightful. A fine example of live tweeting during a conference can be found here, in this report by Liesbeth Corens of the Transforming Information: Record Keeping in the Early Modern World conference.
If you have any questions about Twitter at the [conference], please do not hesitate to contact me.
Looking forward to seeing you all in July,
[email] / [Twitter handle]

#[hashtag]: Guidelines for Twitter at the [conference]

Twitter is a great medium to involve people who are not physically present in our dialogues; one aim of live tweeting at conference is to let these people follow our ideas and join in or create a conversation about these ideas if they so wish. Thus, a conference twitter feed allows for our discussion of [subject] to reach beyond the confines of the lecture room and the conference venue. Some scholars, however, are not comfortable with broadcasting the ideas they formulate as a conference paper so widely before committing them to publication, or are concerned their ideas can be misrepresented in other people’s tweets; it is important that when tweeting a conference, we take such concerns into account.
With those considerations in mind, we ask tweeters at the [conference] to adhere to the following set of guidelines:
• If a session chair, speaker or other attendee asks you to stop live tweeting, please stop. The presence of twitter at the conference should be a positive experience for everyone.
• Always tweet using the conference hashtag, #[hashtag], and a hashtag for the session #s… (e.g., #s3b); this will make sure your tweets are seen by everyone following the hashtag, and can also be used to compile an archive of the conference tweets.
• Attribute correctly and clearly: begin tweets of a paper with either the name or the initials of the speaker, so that readers of the tweet can recognize whose ideas are being reported.
• If you know the speaker’s twitter handle (e.g., @[handle]), include it, so that people can connect to them if they wish. (If you give a paper, mention your handle, or include it on your slides.)
• Be considerate to other attendees: ensure your device’s sounds are off, and it may be worth considering sitting at the back or the side of the room.
• If a follower asks a question, feel free to relay that question to the speaker during the question session, and report the answer back; questions from people in the room should, however, always take precedence.
• Tweet as little or as much as you like, about whichever aspect of the conference you like, taking into account what people may find interesting about the conference, and keeping to a high standard of collegiality and professionalism, particularly keeping in mind the very public nature of twitter as a medium. Do ask permission before posting photographs.
• Be civil, professional and polite (and beware that ‘tone’ is difficult to discern from a tweet); the medium is very public, so do not tweet what you would not say in public.
We are organizing a team of ‘official’ live tweeters for the conference, to ensure all sessions will be attended by at least one tweeter. All other attendees, however, are invited to tweet as they wish, taking these guidelines into account.
Any speaker who does not want to be tweeted can make this known at any time; if you send me a message ([email]) I will ensure this will be announced before the start of your presentation. We will also be advising chairs of the individual sessions to double-check with speakers whether they are comfortable being tweeted.
If you have any questions about twitter at the [conference], do not hesitate to contact me, [name] ([email], [handle]), or speak to me at the conference.


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