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What the swyve? Thing 4: Building a Network

February 26, 2013

Thing 4: Building a Network – or Twitter 101


I’ve had a twitter account for a wee while (@jonespalones) and have been using it as an information-gathering tool. In this respect, it has been surprisingly wonderful. I was on maternity leave when I joined twitter and during those months and months of sleepless nights and interminable feedings, my little phone with its twitter and kindle apps kept me sane. I could read and read and read and read. My favourite twitterer was John Self – I’d found his great book review blog, Asylum, years ago and wanted to keep up with his recommendations. On twitter he tweets about books of course, but he also tweets about the effects of small children and sleep-deprivation on his ability to think and write. To find such kindness and honesty while I too struggled with chronic sleep-deprivation was an unexpected gift. (Baby sleeps through the night 2 or 3 times a week now so the ‘chronic’ part can be deleted.)

I’d like to write that I also ‘kept up’ with my academic field via twitter, but that didn’t happen. I did find and follow some medievalists and I enjoyed reading their debates and blogs. It was more like keeping tangentially connected, rather than involved, which was more than I could have managed anyway. The most consistently interesting were tweets from participants on the group blog: In the Medieval Middle. Through them, for example, I could join in the outrage and read subsequent debates about periodization etc. when Stephen Greenblatt’s book, The Swerve, won the National Literary Award. The title of this post is stolen from a lovely pun on swerve/swyve in a comment proposing a book about early modern scholars’ misrepresentation of the Middle Ages. It made me laugh out loud in the dead of night. I’m sure you get the joke, but just in case further context is needed (and apologies for destroying the light wit of the original post), here it is in Chaucer: ‘yon wenche wil I swyve’ says a nasty Cambridge student in the Reeve’s Tale.

Being digital medievalists, this network also posted about the digital humanities. Through a tweet, I found an inspiring proselytizing post on the importance of tweeting and other social media by J J Cohen: “If the humanities are important enough for us to dedicate our lives to their study, then we need to share our work, our play, and our wit in proliferating contexts.” There was also a great Facebook thread on academic book reviewing. More relevant to Thing4 was an honest post about conference tweeting and politeness by Ryan Cordell. He included some guidelines for conference tweeting, which like most useful guidelines boiled down common sense and good manners in equal parts. My only addition would be not to tweet while someone is presenting. While I can see some benefits to livetweeting such as letting non-attendees participate by proxy, these benefits don’t seem to outweigh its rudeness. (Also, someone following a livetweet is probably in another session at the same conference, compounding the disrespect by not attending to their session.) To me, a tweet is different from note-taking because I’m not recording my own thoughts and reactions for future reference, I’m publicly voicing my opinions while someone else is speaking. It’s virtual interrupting and also increases the risks of breaking the other guidelines. I know, I’m a dinosaur.

Now that I’m back from maternity leave and reengaging with my work, I need to switch from stalking to participating in this community. HootSuite has been a great tool for managing my twitter feeds. I have all the medievalists in one list and find myself checking their posts more often than I did the general feed. So I’ve got the ‘keeping up’ sorted. Now for the active participation. I’m tweeting more and retweeting the best of the medieval links. I got very excited about Alex Gillespie’s new blog on medieval bookbinding. It looks great and, hooray, uses good quality images of books to illustrate her arguments. Obviously I won’t be livetweeting, but I will tweet about the next conference I’m due to attend: the Oxford Medieval Graduate Conference on Skill in April. I’m down to give a paper on humanist hagiography in late medieval England. (I’ll post about this strange phenomenon one day.) Regarding the other suggestions on the DH page, I can’t see how twitter or other social media could be a research object or method in medieval book history, but I have read about teaching courses using twitter. I wouldn’t dare try it with Part 1, Paper 1 at Cambridge, but I’d be keen to give it a go in the future. Finally, I’m not too worried about attracting a tribe of followers, but I would like to converse more with the community that I’ve been snooping around so I’m starting to use #hashtags and @mention, which I didn’t do much before.

So once again, I finish a blog post with revived enthusiasm for the digital humanities and lots of paving stones for my good intentions’ road.


From → DH 23 Things

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