The New Frontier in Historical Research: Twitter Archives

This post is in response to the New York Times’When History Is Compiled 140 Characters at a Time.

Prior to declaring journalism as my major at the University of Oregon, I seriously considered majoring in history. I have loved studying history ever since I was a wee child. Aside from English, history was always my favorite class. I found it so interesting to examine the ways in which previous inhabitants of the earth lived. After taking Advanced Placement (AP) European and United States history in high school, I was certain I would only continue studying this fascinating subject at the university level.

Courtesy of Mr. History on Flickr

Here we are, my final term of college, and I no longer study history. I miss it desperately. I think that is why this article by the New York Times caught my eye. As you have seen from previous posts, I love social media. I think it is the future of human societies, making aspects of it the soon-to-be-past.

The article discusses how, in the not-so-distant future, historians will use Twitter updates as a means to examine what was going on among the public on specific times and dates: a means to examine events in history. I believe that analyzing Twitter updates will provide future historians the perfect window into our present world.

For example, when these historians search the Twitter archives for the date May 6, 2010, they will be confronted with tweets revolving around the magnitude 6.5 earthquake in Peru. These tweets consist of real-time updates from those living in Peru, messages of sympathy and encouragement from those abroad, tweets sharing first aid information and tweets from news sources on the most current casualty and damage reports. If a historian in the future wished to research this Peruvian earthquake, the Twitter archive would provide a vast array of knowledge and primary documents for him or her.

Coming from one who has had to use primary documents dating to the third century B.C. for research papers, I believe being able to use the Twitter archives will make research much easier and understandable for historians in the future, while still providing the needed in-depth information.

The merits of using Twitter for historical research are clearly articulated in this New York Times article and I hope also by this post. While there are some issues surrounding privacy, I believe the benefits using this Twitter archive will bring most definitely outweigh the costs.

How do you feel about Twitter updates being used in historical studies of the future?

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