Tweeting from History

Account of an examination of Wolfgang Mozart as a seven-year-old seeking to determine qualities of a child prodigy.

I’ve written about two organizations who have utilized Twitter to share important occurances and the thoughs of important figures in history, essentially pretending to be those people or observers of those events and tweeting their experiences in simulated real-time.

I got a number of comments and e-mails from history teachers explaining that although they could not work those specific projects into their highly scheduled curriculums, they thought that it was an amazing way to bring history alive.

It occurred to me, as I was responding to one of those comments the other day, that there is nothing about these projects that require the services and resources of an organization or association — that there isn’t any reason why a history (or science or other) classroom couldn’t do exactly the same thing — working it into the scope and sequence of their learning facilitations.

The not so insurmountable challenge is finding the material, and the Internet provides access to many primary source documents* — perhaps the most recent of which is the web-publication of papers from The Royal Society — which, according to a 30 November BBC article…

..grew out of the so-called “Invisible College” of thinkers who began meeting in the mid-1640s to discuss science and philosophy.

Its official foundation date is 28 November 1660 and thereafter it met weekly to debate and witness experiments. ((“The Royal Society Puts Historic Papers Online.” BBC News30 Nov 2009: n. pag. Web. 1 Dec 2009. .))

Among the publications in the Trailblazing web site are:

  • An article and drawing of an experiment to keep a dog alive by blowing air directly into its lungs with a bellows
  • Observations of a total eclipse of the Sun in April 1715
  • An article on using willow bark to treat fever
  • A letter from Benjamin Franklin to Mr. Peter Collinson, describing his (risky) attempts to show that lightning is a form of electricity by flying a kite into a storm.

So imagine having your students condense into 140 character messages their observations of a battery of tests administered to the musical prodigy, Joannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart of Saltzbourg, and the frustrations witnessed as the scientists could not seem to get the seven-year-old off of the stick he was riding around the room like a horse.  Imagine the fun your students might have and that of their readers as they put themselves in that room on 15 February 1770.

* Here is a link to the most recent web links stored on Delicious that were tagged with primarysources:

Tweeple in History

John Quincy Adams on Twitter

I’m probably late about this one, but in trying to catch up on my e-mail this morning, after a week on the road, I ran across a WRAL story (John Quincy Adams tweeting thanks to MASS. Society) that Brenda forwarded to me, about the discovery of a series of John Quincy Adams diary entries.  From the story,

It seems John Quincy Adams was way ahead of his time.

A high school student touring the sixth U.S. president’s archives recently noticed his bite-sized diary entries looked a lot like tweets.

Starting last Wednesday, the Massachusetts Historical Society began posting Adams’ updates from two centuries ago onto Twitter.  His Twitter name is JQAdams_MHS and you can follow his daily tweets here.  So far, Adams has:

  • 8/5/1809: Saturday. Diary Vol. 3. begins: Sailed in Ship Horace, Benjamin Beckford, from Charlestown to St. Petersburg.
  • 8/6/1809: Thick fog. Scanty Wind – On George’s Bank. Lat: 42-34. Read Massillon’s Carême Sermons 2 & 3. Ladies &c. Sick.
  • 8/7/1809: Fog. No Observation. Spoke a fishing Schooner from Grand Bank, bound to Plymouth. Read Chantreau’s travels.

The WRAL article indicated that the Society would include a “presidential tracker” of sorts, linking maps to show Adams progress on a diplomatic trek to Russia as U.S. minister.”  However, I was not able to find this map.  If you know of its URL, please post as a comment.

The instructional applications of something like this are almost limitless.  Students can map the progress themselves.  Students might be asked to take the daily short tweets and expand them out into a longer diary entry in period or in contemporary speech.  They might reply to the tweets, or pretend to be part of the entourage and tweet out from there.  This, of course, assumes that you have the ability to unblock Twitter for the activities.

Here is the Beehive post (John Quincy Adams, Media Darling) on the project from the MHS.

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