I am still trying to figure out what is behind Nicholas Kristoff’s Sunday Op-ed in the New York Times in which he castigated academics for not embracing their responsibilities as public intellectuals. Kristoff is disappointed that not more academics have embraced social media as a means to engage the general public about important issues that otherwise would only see the light of day in obscure academic journals. Others have already pointed out that even a quick glance at his own newspaper would dispell him of such an absurd claim. There is nothing more that I can add to the discussion. Continue reading “Three Cheers for the Ivory Tower”
I first came across the controversy surrounding the highly successful @HistoryinPics Twitter account after reading Alex Madrigal at the Atlantic. What’s all the fuss? Two teenagers have leveraged a Twitter account based entirely on images from history to the tune of roughly $50,000. In a matter of a few months they’ve attracted over 1 million followers. In a guest post at the National Council of Public History’s blog, Jason Steinhauer weighs in on a host of issues that he finds problematic. Unfortunately, Steinhauer pretty much misses the mark.
They spot trends on social media, exploit them to gain massive followings, then monetize the traffic. It’s a business model, not an attempt at serious research.
And therein lies the discomfort: while museums, archives, and libraries worldwide are starved for funding, fighting for relevancy, and arguing daily for the value of serious historical research, two teenagers come along, grab a bunch of old images without permission, throw them up online without context, and suddenly they are social media superstars. Is that “right”? Does that contribute to the public good? Are we jealous?
The last question may be a bit jarring, but I believe we may feel a tinge of jealousy—and I write that knowing it causes me discomfort to think so. When any of us—academic and public historians alike—posts to social media, we want followers to click, or “engage.” We want people to interact with our collections and ideas, to learn, and to be excited. Why else would we post? Public history organizations have invested resources and commissioned studies in order to attain the level of engagement these teenagers reached in two months. The duo have cracked the code—but cheated in the process, by relying on other people’s work and embellishing it for effect. While we detest their methods, it’s permissible to admit we would accept their results if they were achieved differently.
It’s hard not to see the academic elitism in this comment, but just below is a naivete about how social media works. There is a sense of entitlement at work here and a defensiveness surrounding who has the right to share history on the Internet. I commend Steinhauer’s emphasis on wanting to encourage learning and meaningful online interaction, but that has absolutely no value until you are able to sell it. No, “Playing for the click on social media is not a sin”; in fact, it is the only thing that matters. If you use social media to build an audience or highlight a product than you are engaged in marketing. Some institutions and individuals happen to be better at it than others, but ultimately the click is what matters. Continue reading “@HistoryinPics Does It Better Than You”
When I learned that an essay on teaching would be included in the Common-place project I immediately thought of my friend, Chris Lese, who teaches history at Marquette University High School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Chris and I met at an OAH conference a few years ago and have stayed in touch ever since. We’ve exchanged ideas and on a few occasions I joined his class discussion via Skype. Chris’s efforts to introduce his students to the subject of Civil War memory as well as his use of digital tools and social media sit at the forefront of classroom innovation and creativity. Continue reading “Are We Coming to the End of Civil War Memory?”
Earlier today my friend, Keith Harris, published his manifesto encouraging people in his position to “reject the academic job market.”
Here is my advice: become an independent scholar and do what you love.
Having known Keith for a number of years I am not surprised by what I read. It’s straight and to the point. Without forming much of an opinion one way or the other I re-tweeted the post. Keith thanked me and suggested that I share my thoughts on the blog. At first I resisted, but taking a break from student comment writing is just what the doctor ordered, so here it goes. Continue reading ““Become an Independent Scholar and Do What You Love” – Keith Harris”
Earlier today I received an email from a reader who wondered if I had any regret about sharing a blog post whose author intended not to be read. It’s a reasonable question and I would be lying if I didn’t admit to thinking twice before posting. But here’s the deal. If the post in question reminded us of anything it’s that the delete button is a myth. You can make information published to the Internet more difficult to find, but, with few exceptions, it cannot be permanently erased. All of us who interact on the Internet through various social media platforms must understand this before leaving a comment, posting an image and before blogging. Continue reading “The Myth of the Delete Button”