Tweets From the Past

Tom Scheinfeldt at wrote a post yesterday about the ways that Twitter is helping CHNM promote Omeka and create communities of practice for this new platform. In Tom’s post, he called my attention to an excellent post on the uses of Twitter in teaching.

I’m not a Twitter user, largely because I already get far too much email and read too many RSS feeds, so the idea of adding one more feed of data into my overloaded life is more than a little frightening. And I’ve got the world’s oldest cellphone, so being able to use the text message features of Twitter aren’t appealing to me. But that’s just me. Hundreds of thousands, or maybe millions of others out there live to send and receive tweets (messages on Twitter).

I am, however, a huge fan of what we might call “tweets from the past.” Consider the following gleaned from The New York Times on February 6, 1852 in the “Items from Abroad” column:

  • A Ladies’ Guild has been formed in London for the benefit of governesses;
  • The strangest and most incredible reports are rife about events in Algeria;
  • There are 5,468 physicians in Prussia, or one for each 3,000 of population;
  • A French Banker was knocked down in Constantinople recently and robbed of 505,800 piastres;
  • The number of persons who perished by the recent earthquakes in Albania was, according to an official return, 975; most of them women and children.

Now, lest you think that I selected out these “tweets” because they seem to be nothing more than facts reported at random that do not exceed Twitter’s 140 character limit (I cheated on the last one…it’s 147 characters), I’ll offer my favorite from the “Items from Abroad” column that day:

  • The portraits of the great African generals and leading men in France, that always attracted crowds to the shop windows of Vienna, have all at once been withdrawn, as is supposed by order of the police, and none are to be had for love or money.

I couldn’t include this one, because it is well over the 140 character limit, but it certainly piques the historian’s interest. Why, for instance, did Viennese shop owners display pictures of “great African generals” in their windows? Why the “leading men in France”? What was it about these generals and leading men that drew potential customers to their windows in February of 1852? And why would the Austrian police ban such portraits (seemingly) all of a sudden?

Fortunately, I’m far too busy to try to answer any of these questions. But I want to. Which helps explain why I don’t use Twitter.

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2 Responses to Tweets From the Past

  1. Pingback: Digital Campus » Episode 27 - All Atwitter

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