In July 2017, I was in Philadelphia for the annual meeting of the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic (SHEAR). Washingtonians are open to pretty much any excuse to get out of town during the summer. We'll go practically anywhere to escape the scorching heat and unbearable humidity. Unfortunately, Philadelphia was brick-oven hot. I’ve never been more content to sit in hotel conference rooms soaking in all the history. This year, a traveling conflict kept me from attending SHEAR in Cleveland, but that didn’t keep me completely out of the loop. A quick scroll through Twitter and … yeah, I see you #Twitterstorians. Pictures of badges, laughs over cocktails, and practically verbatim coverage of some of the sessions. Were you at SHEAR? Were you tweeting? Should you have been tweeting?
Let’s talk it out.
There are historians who are incredibly good at live tweeting events. They stream together presenter remarks, share photos and videos, and they interact in ways that raise the discussion to a higher level. It’s a conversation in (sometimes) real time. It allows people unable to attend a particular conference to follow along at home, and it gives attendees a chance to contribute to related discussions happening outside the meeting room. Live tweeting builds community and expands the reach of historical work. This is exactly the good that Twitter can be used for and I appreciate those historians who maximize its potential.
Not to Tweet
But it’s no small thing to be able to record a conversation in real time in a way that will make sense to an outside audience. Mistakes are possible, in fact, likely. Misrepresentations of what was said during a presentation can challenge both the tweeting historian and the presenter. Juggling the need for accuracy with the desire to add value and process information is a tall order. For many, putting the phone away is the answer. There’s tremendous value in being singularly focused on a presentation, soaking in all the information, and using other mechanisms and techniques for communication after-the-fact.
So, What’s the Answer?
The answer is surprisingly simple: do what works for you. I’ve found I’m most effective when I use Twitter to let people know what sessions I’m attending, share some highlights, and provide a peek at some of the behind-the-scenes shenanigans. But during a session, I’ll be scribbling notes with a real pen on real paper for deeper consideration later. That’s just how I roll.
Whatever you choose, do it with professionalism, integrity, and authenticity. Everybody wins.