Should the search for piety and obedience start tweeting H. Frances Davidson‘s missionary diary? That’s the seemingly off-the-wall question I asked myself after reading this article from the Off The Wall blog.
In “Historical diaries find a new platform in Twitter,” the National Council on Public History points to a trend among historical organizations: using the social media site Twitter as a new and whimsical tool to help history buffs explore and experience the past.
Twitter, some of you will know, is a social media site that allows users to post short, 140-character comments. As the Off The Wall blog points out, folks have used the tool in all kinds of ways. London’s Big Ben has a Twitter page, and he “strikes” the hour, every hour. Twitter user LowFlyingRocks updates his readers on actual space-borne objects hurtling toward our planet. And John Quincy Adams — America’s sixth president — tweets about his 1809 trip to Russia.
Of course, it isn’t really John Quincy Adams tweeting about Russia in 1809 — it’s the Massachusetts Historical Society, using Adams’ diary entries as a way to generate interest in their Adams archival collections.
These kinds of projects — linking historical materials to new media — are quickly gaining momentum within the public historical community. From the Off The Wall blog:
The historical diary is a thriving genre of Twitter performance. There are around a dozen historical diaries currently being tweeted, daily or sporadically. Some are produced by historical organizations and some by descendants of the diarists. There are famous diarists . . . and everyday people. . . .
For tweeted historical diaries, what started as an imagined resonance between past and future communication technology—the observation that short diary entries feel like Twitter—becomes a real daily connection with people from the past. By reanimating and historical actors, we make this connection between historic communication platforms and Twitter real, and we also make this connection between us and historical characters real.
Thus, back to my original question: Should the search for piety and obedience start tweeting H. Frances Davidson’s missionary diary? I know it sounds crazy — but could it work?
2012 marks the 115th anniversary of the first Brethren in Christ missionary expedition. In 1897, a pioneering group of church leaders — women and men alike — set out fulfill the Great Commission, and forever changed the trajectory of their denomination. Perhaps using Twitter to share one missionary’s thoughts and experiences would be a great way to help twenty-first century church members better connect with a nineteenth century event that continues to impact our church life.
Readers: What do you think?