Like many academics this year, my travel budget has been cut, so I did not attend the annual meeting of the American Historical Association in San Diego, CA. Instead, I followed conference attendees on Twitter, using #AHA2010 to find tweets by those whom I don’t regularly follow. Many of the posts involved comments and retweets of comments on Dan Cohen’s well-received talk, “Is Google Good for Historians?” [short answer: “yes”] It was also nice to hear who won the Cliopatra awards and where all the #twitterstorians were meeting for drinks. In the end, though, #AHA2010 was a disappointment. Coverage of the conference was far more thorough at History News Network. So much for micro-blogging taking over blogs.
Cohen summed up with this tweet: ” So my sense is that the number of historians on Twitter at #aha2010 was roughly 0.1%. Something to think about.” He chalked this up partly to lack of wi-fi access in conference hotels (guess the 3G network for iPhones isn’t great in San Diego), but also the lack of a critical mass of historians on Twitter. @parezcoydigo put it another way:
“% of colleagues/others at History Cof that made fun of me for Twitter the past 3 days: approx. 90%”
So, in other words, most historians don’t use Twitter, haven’t heard of it, or if they have, make fun of those who use it. [even Dan Cohen’s colleague Mills Kelly has said “no thank you” to Twitter for now].
Why is this? I can only guess but based on my experience with my colleagues, many historians have yet to be convinced that new media is useful to their work as historians. I’m by no means a genius when it comes to digital history but the mere fact that I know something about it and teach a graduate course on the subject puts me way ahead of my colleagues. [Example: me: “hey folks, instead of emailing back and forth, let’s start a wiki for project X.” reply: “what the heck is a wiki? I don’t have time to learn that. I’d rather stick with what I know.”]
Time is the critical issue here — we don’t have enough of it, and what little we have is spent trying to keep on top of our regular work. There also doesn’t seem to be that many opportunities for those new to digital history to get help from those with more experience and expertise. I was fortunate enough to get a grant to attend one of the digital history workshops at the Center for History and New Media a few summers ago. However, the Center is no longer running this program, instead opting for a smaller and more exclusive THATcamp. I’ve searched in vain for other conferences that are somewhere in between the original workshop for beginners and those that seem designed for those who already know what they’re doing. If I’m missing something, someone out there please let me know.
added later: Yes, I know about the #PDP2010 conference at Yale. I’m looking for something hands-on so I can upgrade my skills.
I’m @parezcoydigo on twitter, and would just note that I may have understated the level of rejection or mockery in my tweet you mention above. Since then, I’ve also had people on facebook comment that they were ridiculing me behind my back as well- in jest, but on just. My twitter feed posts to facebook as well, and users there don’t seem to see the irony of criticizing social media through social media.
I’m relatively new to the digital history front- meaning, I only started using blogs to run my courses in Fall 2008. I’ve been on twitter for less than a year. Still never hosted a wiki or any some such. My initial motivation to to foray into the world of Digital History was disgust with Blackboard, and an attraction towards the short-lived manifesto of the edu-punk. I think it’s interesting that pedagogical interests drew me towards the digital. So many historians I interact with think educational technology = powerpoint, and have no idea of the potential for scholarly exchange and public intellectualism in new media, regardless of the extent to which their research or writing may (or may not) utilize computer technologies. My teaching interests have led towards broader interests in digital history forf research, processing/writing, and dissemination, and set me on the path of learning how to use the tools of the digital world more fully in support of those endeavors. It’s slow going, though, in part because of what you mention in your closing paragraph– the difficulty of getting training. The more time I spend figuring out a little CSS, XHTML, PHP, etc., the less time I’m devoting to other areas of my job. But, I do it because I want it. So many of my colleagues don’t want it, and won’t devote time to it.
Finally, as I wrote here a few days before the AHA, what I like best about social media is its ability to expand my world of scholarly community, and any given individuals voice in that community regardless of station-of-career.
Thanks for your comments — sounds like we have a lot in common.
I would have tweeted a lot more if I had a smartphone. Plus, I was so wicked busy that it was hard to find time, and if a person is messing around on their phone during a panel, other audience members give you the evil eye. They probably think I am texting my BFF or something, but really I was trying to tweet on my iTouch in some of the rooms where I could get a weak wifi signal.
Thanks for your comment, History Enthusiast. I think the issue is the number of people on Twitter, not the number of tweets (and retweets).
I’m not terribly surprised by the slow penetration of new methods into historians’ lives — I had an advisor express discomfort at keeping in touch by telephone in the ’90s (1990s, not his 90s) — but I am disappointed. The benefits of this technology are fairly obvious, and most of it can be learned fairly quickly on the fly if you’re willing to mess around a bit.
I really enjoyed the hashtag discussion of the conference: I even participated a bit (thanks to Dan Cohen’s posting of his remarks: an exemplary practice! However, Manan Ahmed and I did a panel last year which was posted in advance, and we didn’t get anyone there who’d read the abstracts, etc. It wasn’t a specifically Digital history panel, though, just slipped under the radar) and look forward to the longer-form discussions that follow.
My own reason for not tweeting is pretty simple…I’m just too busy. I must use email because my three jobs (professor, director of a graduate program, associate dean) require me to and with three jobs I get more than my fair share of email. Then there is my blog (http://edwired.org) that I have been writing since 2005. Then there is the book on teaching history in the digital age that I’m writing. Oh, and did I mention that I have two children? So, if I were to add yet another platform to my pixel output, something would have to go.
I can’t quit my job, love my wife and kids too much to drop them for Twitter, and if I don’t get that book done, I’ll never make full professor. So that leaves my blog as the only thing that could go. I thought about that as an option, but decided that what I like about the blog is that I can explore ideas in much more detail than would ever be possible in 140 characters. So I decided that Twitter was a bridge too far. I had to draw the line somewhere.
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