At its best, Twitter serves as a showcase for wit and a tool for grassroots mobilization. At its worst it is a platform for inane updates on the daily lives of celebrities and–even worse–of normals. How can public historians harness the potential of Twitter?
A brief investigation of institutional and scholarly Twitter feeds in the nebulous field of public history reveals the overwhelming tendency to link to websites and articles of interest. As a result, Twitter functions as a quick pulse of public history discourse and a personalized database of potentially relevant information. It offers a useful platform for institutional updates and facilitates connections in the scholarly community.
Despite these benefits, I can’t shake the suspicion that academic and professional tweeting fails to capture the spirit of Twitter. What should be an exercise in brevity instead operates as linking system to more traditional manuscripts. Scholars are at risk of replicating the institutional and intellectual isolation of the Ivory Tower in cyberspace. To reach out to the public, historians should take Twitter seriously as a culturally relevant form of communication without limiting it as an extension of their traditional work.