McCormack, Matthew: Historians and Twitter

Matthew McCormack

Historians and Twitter‘, Twitter/History at Northampton blog, 20 November 2017

This is a first for Honest History – turning a Tweet into a post – but it is done gladly because Matthew McCormack up there at the University of Northampton – that’s in the UK – has highlighted an important subject: the need for historians to mix it on social media regarding subjects they feel passionately about. Matthew reckons historians are Tweeting more often and better than people in other disciplines. We reckon they could do even better.

But why is Twitter so popular among historians? [Matthew asks] My theory is that we tend to work on our own but we like talking to people. Historians usually conform to the “lone scholar” model, and even those working in research teams or on joint projects tend to do their own thing from day to day. But we like sharing stuff: history is all about discovery and debate, and Twitter’s format lends itself to sharing snippets of information and punchy opinions.

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Yes, but … As players in the public history field, we at Honest History have been occasionally driven to distraction by the inability of historians whom we admire to spruik their work – or properly promote their occasional public outings and outbursts – while at the same time pseudohistorians and bullshit artists are peddling their meretricious wares as fast as their publishers’ marketing budgets or taxpayer funding can manage.

When we were finalising the text of The Honest History Book we came across a great little quote from the almost sainted Don Watson. It nailed a good part of what we were up against. We gladly included it in chapter 1: ‘That’s the thing about spin – or what goes under the banner today of “communications” – you begin to believe your own bullshit. Spin is the stuff that myths are made of.’ Yep, or Yip, if you are in New Zealand, or, as I put it rather more crudely Tweeting today:

Honest History has found value in tweeting to help counter the official/commercial commemoration industry during WWI centenary. Historians could do more of this. “Anzackery” bullshit will expand to fill the space available unless there is pushback. Messy but true!

David Stephens

21 November 2017


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